Lawyer stress and anxiety is ubiquitous. It’s no secret that law is a stressful profession and that many lawyers struggle with anxiety. The legal profession’s mental health stats are grim.

But what is it actually like to experience clinical anxiety and panic as a lawyer?

We need to talk about lawyer stress and anxiety.

On today’s podcast, former lawyer Annie Little and I deep dive into our own experiences with generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

Annie practiced commercial lending and real estate law for seven years before leaving legal practice. She is now a lawyer career coach.

Many lawyers can’t distinguish between “normal” stress and clinical anxiety.

I’ve written before about my own experience with clinical anxiety and panic and the importance of talking about lawyer stress and anxiety. We also talk about it often on the podcast.

But I wanted to talk more specifically about what it’s like to experience clinical anxiety. For many years, I didn’t know that what I was experiencing was clinical anxiety. It seemed like just “normal” lawyer stress.

Annie had a similar experience.

Losing her academic edge, or something more?

Towards the end of undergrad, Annie began experiencing extreme anxiety. She began struggling with test-taking after a lifetime of excelling.

During the LSAT, she completely froze during one of the sections. It just happened to be the section that was thrown out.

When she got to law school, Annie felt like her brain shut down anytime she was called on in class. She panicked anytime she heard her name.

Annie thought she was just “losing her academic edge.” She decided the solution was to push through law school and get into the “real world”.

Even some therapists think the stress and anxiety lawyers experience is normal.

Finally, Annie decided that her reaction to being called on couldn’t be normal. She made an appointment to see a therapist.

At her first appointment, the therapist told her that the anxiety she experienced was normal. According to the therapist, every law student and lawyer is anxious. There was no reason to think is was abnormal.

Anxiety is so normalized in the legal profession, it prevented the therapist from recognizing that Annie was suffering from clinical anxiety and panic.

Thankfully, the managing partner at the first firm Annie worked for also suffered from clinical anxiety and panic. When he shared about his experience, a light bulb went on. Annie was able to reach out to the right mental health professionals and get help.

In this episode, Annie shares about:

  • Why law school seemed like the path to freedom for her;
  • Wanting to be independent in every way, and thinking that law was the way to get there;
  • Not allowing herself to consider in law school whether law school was going to be for her;
  • Finding out that the funding for her post-graduation public interest job had disappeared—three weeks before graduation;
  • How she “panic-attacked” her way through the bar exam;
  • Why working for a partner who was actually a good manager (unlike many lawyers) was so transformative;
  • Taking medication for clinical anxiety and panic; and
  • much more!

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