Posted by: TBA News on Mar 1, 2021

Journal Issue Date: March/April 2021

Journal Name: Vol. 57 No. 2

Henry’s Profound Impact, One TBA President to Another

Thanks for the story about Justice Henry (“It’s the Volunteer State, After All,” by Suzanne Craig Robertson, January/February 2021 Tennessee Bar Journal). In the fall of 1979, I accepted an offer to serve as his clerk in 1980-81. I was never able to do that because on the morning of my hooding ceremony in the spring of 1980, he was out jogging and had a massive fatal heart attack.

There is one conversation I had with him that has stuck in my memory all these years. I asked him the previous fall about the best job he had ever had. Of course, I was expecting him to say that his job on the court was his best job. Instead, after pausing to think carefully, he said serving as TBA president was the best job he ever had. He said that the opportunity to advocate for the profession, travel the state, help lawyers and judges in trouble, and work to get the legislative branch to do the right thing was an amazing experience. Obviously, perhaps, that short exchange had a profound impact on me. 

I have been told that Joe was the only Tennessee Bar president who could “strut sitting down.” I was in the 10th grade in 1970-71 when he served. I wish I could have seen him in action.

— Buck Lewis, Memphis,TBA President, 2008-09


Mental Health Article Resonates With Readers

The following letters (the most ever received about an article in the Tennessee Bar Journal) were sent to Kent Halkett, who authored the January/February TBJ’s cover story, “Mental Health in the Legal Profession: A Crisis, a Case Study and a Call to Action.” They are published anonymously to protect the responders’ identities. 

Comments from current, former or retired attorneys, many from ‘Big Law”:

• You have done something important here … It is interesting how sorrows often lead to great good.  You’ll likely never know, but lessons in what you have written and shared about things not easily shared will save lives.”

• As you point out in your article, lawyer mental health is still taboo and I’m not sure anyone has written about it so nakedly before. We can tell our firms when we need parental leave or medical leave, or even when we have a body ailment. No one feels like we can tell our firm(s) that the pressure of the job is affecting our mental health.   

• Kent, you are my classmate. My friend. I know you. Yet I was completely unaware of your mental health challenges. Thank you for writing this emotionally raw and honest article and sharing your story of hope.

• Your article makes me reflect on the harm I actually may have done some unsuspecting associate, and I sincerely hope I have not been even a partial cause of depression or related illness in any of my colleagues. But the truth is, our desire to do things right and spare clients from the slightest oversights exacts a price, and your article wisely asks our colleagues at the bar to reflect on the potential for dire consequences of obsessing over a desire for perfection.

• Law in general, and Big Law in particular, has become a VERY hard way to earn a living. The problem you discuss is real, both in the practice’s effect on individuals and especially the culture that views “medical” issues so differently from “mental” issues and you have done a wonderful job explaining that.

• I was truly moved, and even a bit shaken, by your personal story. You are so brave to share this. What a burden to have carried over these many years. Your article sheds light on a topic people often avoid, but needs to be examined and better appreciated. I am confident your honesty will encourage others to seek help when they need it.

• Great article, Kent, and great courage to address this topic personally and for others. Everyone knows the truth of this and many have experienced lesser degrees without really even understanding. Good work!

• I have experienced the same problem and appreciated your article very much. I have moved out of full-time law practice...

• This is powerful. Thank you for authentically sharing your experience and insights. It is so critical to emphasize that just as there is no shame in diabetes, there should be no shame in mental illness. Unfortunately, shame becomes a prison that traps many from asking for help. I agree serious change is necessary to create a safe environment within law firms for attorneys to feel safe in asking for help.

• Mental health is as much a health condition as physical health and should not be stigmatized. I am encouraged by your courage in discussing your story, and the very important issue of addressing mental health matters without stigma, including in the legal profession.

• What brave words. What you said and Gabe’s widow said about the culture of BigLaw totally disregarding mental health and depression is correct.

• It is an important and courageous article. While I haven’t quite visited the same place, there have been times when I could see it from where I stood. You’ve captured very well the feelings of isolation and helplessness.

• I’m kind of speechless. I definitely recognize the concept described and I have been taking an antidepressant for years.

• In addition to being very important, it is informative — especially to those in the legal profession who either don’t know about the problem or are afraid to ‘come out,’ as it were — engaging and, ultimately, very courageous. …  EVERY lawyer should read this!

 •  I read your article with interest. It makes a very important point that is sadly ignored by big firms obsessed with metrics.

•  I am proud of your courage. I am gladdened by your adaption and survival.  I am ashamed that I have been part of firms that generated such outcomes. I got out of big law. Not because it is inherently evil, but because the pain within was becoming oppressive. .. I have had my own issues with depression. You have opened the topic. I pray others will read and begin to deal with it in their lives.

• Thanks for posting — what a real and important issue.

•  [A mutual friend] sent me the link to your article in the TBJ... It was very courageous of you to write about it, and I know it will help others.

•  [The article] is truly inspiring and I can sympathize with your message. I applaud you very much for your courage, and for finding the willpower to keep fighting. Your experience and your willingness to share it most likely has already changed someone's life for the better. ... Keep fighting, please never give up and know that each day is a blessing.

•  Excellent and compelling article and such courage to share your story. I am sure it will help those who may struggle and want to take steps to address the issue rather than cover it with alcohol and drugs.

•  I thought the article was amazing and really appreciated your honesty and vulnerability. This is actually a topic that I have been very invested in (especially after developing pretty serious anxiety in law school). I am a huge advocate of mental health and therapy. Please let me know if you ever need help in the future on this topic. Would love to be involved. ... I think it's so important to get this word out there.

From a suicide prevention advocate/retired military officer:

• What you’re doing to support the legal community is wonderful. They need you to feel comfortable talking about your experience and how they too can be healthy and happy at home and in their profession.

From state and federal court judges:

• Your article is well done and very timely. You have done a service to the profession by sharing your own story and observations.

• I commend you for your courage in writing the article. In my view an article like this truly has the power to change (and even save) lives.

From a law school administrator:

• Thank you for having the courage to write that piece. ... We are doing much more work at the school on these issues than would have been true in our respective days, but there is definitely more work to be done in the profession. 

From law school professors: 

•  This is really wonderful... You have done something very good and generous and... brave about something very personal that's widespread, insufficiently discussed and important.  I have no doubt - none - that this will save some lives and it may help to make a dent on real plagues in our profession.  There has been progress in recent decades (though not enough) with alcoholism (another destructive, if somewhat different plague) and law firms, like companies have employee assistance programs that gracefully but quite firmly compel people to get help.  But depression and related maladies of the mind are still a dark corner that few much care to discuss.

•  Very smart and accomplished people are clearly not immune, and in fact, to your point, may be more vulnerable because of the heightened expectations and fear of failure.  Telling your story is a gift to others, giving permission, indeed inviting them to reclaim wellness through acknowledgment and support. And I pray it leads to a meaningful shift in the cultural/workplace climate in the legal profession and in the Academy where we reach out before crises compels us to. We all need it and must demand it ... I know your writing opened my heart even more to the realities so may in our communities struggle with.

From current law students:  

• I urge everyone, especially fellow members of the legal community, to take the time to read this impactful piece ... As I get further into my final semester of school, this article crossed my path at a good time. The stress and pressure that many of us face in law school and beyond can be daunting, but it is always important to remember that resources are available to anyone in need.

•  I took some time to read and reflect on your article. I am at a bit of a loss of words. So much of this article rings true for me.  Although I currently see a therapist and psychiatrist, my mental health continues to be a struggle. I developed panic attacks my second semester of law school, and I began mental health treatment again after I had taken a hiatus from it when I graduated undergrad. Maladaptive perfectionism rings so true to me that it was a bit unnerving. I have performed very well in law school ... and will graduate magna cum laude. Yet, I am still unhappy with myself. Your article has made me reflect further and really realize the gravity of my situation. Although I know actual practice is much different than law school, I know that many of the same factors will continue to impact my mental health. I want to thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story.

•  Thank you for writing this article and sharing your insights ... I couldn't stop reading your article! I was hooked after the first paragraph and then terrified by the statistics you cited. It was a true wake up call to learn that maladaptive perfectionism could be so problematic. I have it and ... I'm worried that if I'm not a perfectionist I won't be as hard working or driven to succeed. ... Your story gave me a lot of hope, I was just shocked that upon learning how dangerous maladaptive perfectionism could be my initial reaction was I can't get rid of it. .. what would motivate me to work. I think God is sending me a message through you that this is something I need to work on and bring more balance into my life.

From an attorney's spouse:

•  I read your article and was very impressed... I have come to realize that everyone has some... issues in life and that we never know what people are going through. I always try to be kind to people even when they are not kind.

From law firm employees/staff: 

•  Gosh, I just finished your article, an excellent piece, and my heart really goes out to you! I believe there is a "stigma" about this topic, even in general society, and an unwillingness to confront or deal with it. I really appreciate your honesty and sharing on this topic, it has touched my life deeply in the way of two people in my life. ... As you so rightly point out, the legal profession as a whole has not effectively dealt with the problem of mental illness. "Toxic perfectionism" affects many professions and I'm grateful to you for shining a light on its manifestations in the legal profession, but it exists in various forms in many places.

•  Good article, written by a courageous man on a subject that needs far more attention. I hope this starts many conversations that reach far beyond the legal profession.

From a journalist:
• [A colleague] forwarded this article to me.  Thanks for writing it; I strongly suspect it will save lives.

From a general counsel/major university:
• It's a story to share ... It's important to share with law students before they find themselves in the workplace confronting challenges as described in the article.

From psychiatrists:
• Bravo!  A very nice piece. It is thoughtful, well-researched and brings a warmth and humanity to this very personal experience of suicidal despair. I was very moved by your article.

• I strongly believe that voices like yours will be essential to bring about change. We need a movement, and movements require people coming together to say ‘we can and we must do better.’ Your story is another step in that direction and I am so thrilled that you so bravely shared your call to action.

• Powerful call to action by a man who despaired of life. Professionals need to know it is safe and strong to be vulnerable.  Be that safety.

From non-attorneys:

• Kent, what an important issue you're addressing and courage you've shown by sharing your personal experience!

• In addition to being very important, it is informative -- especially to those in the legal profession who either don't know about the problem or are afraid to 'come out,' as it were — engaging and, ultimately, very courageous.  I hope there's a way this article gets somehow picked up by the ABA.  You may never know how many lives your effort will save, even if it doesn't get a wider audience. EVERY lawyer should read this!

• ... I believe that your writing could save lives. It's very important that things like that get out into the public arena.

•  Excellent article. I applaud your bringing this taboo subject out in the open. It required strength to do so and was very well written.  I experienced a couple of very difficult and high-stress situations in my career, and it impacted me adversely both physically and mentally.  I can only imagine how hard that would be to do every day.  I couldn't do it, and I've always wondered how guys like you could.  I would have been miserable as an attorney and am glad I chose against it years ago.

From a graduate psychology student: 
• Such an important article about mental health and the power of stigma.  Articles like this one are how we start to change the system. Thank you for your work.