#924: “My job is killing me. How do I get out?”

Dear Captain,

Thank you for indulging me by reading my email. I have been a lawyer for the last almost 13 years and been at the firm where I am for the last 5. I was so happy to get this job as I have worked in other firms where my desperation to qualify as a lawyer was ruthlessly exploited in the form of terrible pay, or where I was the only person in the firm doing the area of law I do when I was still in the period where the law required me to be supervised, meaning that I had no-one to discuss cases with and was forbidden from having my own stapler or printer and had to walk down 4 floors to pick up printing, which was massively disruptive. For the first 4 years everything was great. I started the job on the same day as an older lawyer called “Jacob”, and we did the same job ie Big Deal Files With Lots of Money Involved That The Other Side are Fighting and the Court is Involved Which Have Massive Consequences If You Mess Up. Two things happened in 2015 – poor Jacob had a breakdown and messed up a lot of his files and left just after Christmas last year, and also I was ill for a few months with terrible ladies’ problems that caused me to bleed non stop, all over the office, for 4 months. I didn’t take any time off work apart from the day I was actually operated on because I had so many Big Deal Files with deadlines, and if I hadn’t done them they would all have gone to poor Jacob who was already struggling with his own work. So I messed up 2 files by not filing documents in time, because I was distracted by bleeding and/or dazed from meds. Unfortunately, “bleeding all over the office” isn’t a legitimate reason not to file documents in the eyes of the court, I should have made sure someone else did it (although if I’d been well enough to think “this, this and this needs done” rather than “aaaaagh stop bleeding” I would just have done it myself) and the cases got thrown out of court, costing the firm money.

After Jacob had a breakdown and left, I inherited all his files. I am now the only lawyer here who does this type of work (we are a very small firm). For the last 5 months or so, my own mental health has been getting worse and worse. More mistakes are happening, the bosses are reminding me constantly that I am costing the firm money, which makes me more nervous, so more mistakes. I am having multiple panic attacks daily, my hair is falling out, I end up being sick from nerves and I have started cutting myself after over a decade of not doing that. I have been having suicidal ideation since the summer but don’t really want to do it, yet find myself planning how I would. I have seen my doctor and been referred to a psychologist (referral came through last week, one session so far) so I am getting attended to by professionals. My husband and friends think I need to quit and get a new job, or at least have some time off. I don’t know how to get that though – Jacob’s “stress” was met with incredulity (“What does he have to be stressed about? We’re a very lenient firm”) and I can’t even articulate why I am finding everything so difficult that I need time off. My doctor has been trying to sign me off for the last 2 months but I have been fighting him off because I have too much to do. If I wasn’t here nobody else knows how to do this kind of work. The bosses know that my mental health is on a downward slide as I told them in the summer after an embarrassing sobfest in the office, and last week I had a file review where I was found to have not worked on some files and I broke down again, sobbing that I wasn’t well. The bosses squirmed awkwardly at the hysterical woman and said that they were a very lenient firm, and that in other firms I would have been fired after the bleeding disasters. I am worried that they are right and that I am just too useless to be a solicitor. I am also worried that I could make a mistake that causes the firm to be shut down.

One of the bosses, “Adrian” has a tendency to nitpick, and once a mistake is made, goes on and on about it, and will call me in to tell me to do something right away even if I am in the middle of something else. The other two are less inclined to lecture, but I still feel guilty for messing up their business. I am not messing up all my cases, just a tiny proportion, but any mistake on cases like this has massive consequences, in the way that the cases that the bosses and the one other lawyer here deal with don’t.

TL, DR version: I am very depressed and anxious and making mistakes which get me into trouble, then I get more depressed and anxious. Am I unreasonable when the bosses are trying to run a business to want some time off? I already had a week off in September to go away with my husband but the day I came back I was already panicking by 10am. I don’t want to stop being a lawyer, I used to be able to do this job. I don’t hate working here either, it is a nice place to work compared to everywhere else I have been, I just hate that this has spiraled out of control to this point.

Thank you again for reading, sorry so rambling

A once-competent lawyer

Dear Once-And-Future-Competent Lawyer,

I’m not an expert on your industry or your office or their policies or anything to do with your legal rights here, so it’s time for you to do some investigating into your HR policies & programs and put that awesome lawyer training to work for yourself. You might also want to send this to Ask A Manager for her take on it. Some starter questions that come to mind for me:

  • Does your firm have a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?
  • What short-term or long-term disability insurance coverage do they offer (that you’ve probably been paying into all this time), if any?
  • What is involved in having your doctor document the need for a medical leave/short-term disability leave/unpaid FMLA-leave? Would your doctor still help you out with documenting & requesting this?

The results of this research will determine when you leave and how you leave and how long you leave for and on what terms you leave. I suggest that you take advantage of every leave policy and insurance program that might be in place to help you maintain employment status, insurance coverage, and/or income. Do not feel guilty or like you’re taking advantage of those programs – If they are in place at your firm, they exist for you, to take care of you, in case of illness, in situations exactly like this.

As to whether you leave, YOU GOTTA GET OUT OF THERE.

Here’s what’s happening:

Your firm is severely understaffed in your practice area, and when Jacob left, management piled all his work on you with no plan for how you’d get it all done, no long-term plan for your department, and (it sounds like) no additional paralegal or clerical support. This is bad management!

When you had serious medical issues, they expected you to carry on the workload of two people with no real time off, no additional support (or money, I’m guessing). Even when you started making mistakes that cost the firm money, it sounds like they they still made no plans to hire someone else in your area of law or get you additional clerical support that would let you delegate more and help you catch those errors before they happen. This is bad management!

If they won’t adequately staff your practice area and won’t give you adequate support [like time off to recover from illness] then whatever errors arise from having overworked stressed out person handle things sound like a normal, routine cost of doing business that they’ve decided to absorb for now. They have ample information that says that things are not working and are choosing to make it all about you instead of all about the team structure and workload. This is bad management!

Let’s unpack the whole “Other firms wouldn’t be so lenient, they would have fired you after xyz mistakes” from your boss. That may be true? My question is, who the fuck cares what goes on at other firms? Does this firm want this work done and done well or not? Do they want to help you do your job successfully (given that it sounds like a huge chunk of billable work as well as settlement fees) or not? If this area of law is important for them, they need to apply more resources to it. Right now you are thinking of yourself as the weak link in the chain when in reality you are the *only person there who lets them be competitive in this area of law.*

People have limits. Even brilliant lawyers. You’ve been thrown up against yours. Your industry & your firm would make this out to be a crime, some grave personal failing that proves you are unworthy. But, people have limits! It’s okay to have limits! You can still be a great person and a great employee and a great lawyer, even with limits!

I don’t know everything about your situation or how you time all of this – a lot depends on your finances and what you find out from your HR policy investigations – so I’m gonna operate with the assumption that you’d like the option of keeping your job at least for now and advise accordingly (even though every part of me is screaming “RUN AWAY!”):

  • Take some time off as soon as you can. At least two weeks. More if medical leave/short-term disability can be arranged. Get your doctors to support this with whatever documentation they can. Your mental health and possibly your survival depends on it.
  • Take that time with no access to work emails or availability by phone. I know this panics you (OMG, what will happen to all my clients/cases? IDK, your employer will have to figure it out!) but you need to be really away from there. If your bosses can’t think of anyone who could fill your shoes, a) that’s a telling detail and b) that’s not actually your problem if you are not in any kind of management role.
  • Listen to your doctors. Get allllllllll the mental health support you can. And, with your mental health support pro of choice, work on resisting the narrative that this is all somehow your fault.
  • Shore up your self-care routines around sleep, food, exercise, grooming, connecting (or re-connecting) with friends and family who love you. Be really nice to yourself.
  • Figure out how much money your cases bring into the firm annually. I bet it’s A LOT. Your bosses speak numbers, so make sure you learn that language and can use it confidently to describe your own value.
  • When you go back to work/before you take your break, slow down your pace of working. Double-check your work. If in the past you’ve prided yourself on being self-sufficient, stop that – lean hard on any available clerical or paralegal support. Make a realistic, sustainable workload for yourself and push back any deadlines you possibly can.
  • Work will pile up, yes? So talk to your bosses about the workload without necessarily referencing any of your medical issues. Talk about numbers. “My area of law brings in $$$ annually to the firm, and 2017 will be no different. The truth is that if you see this practice area growing in the future, it’s time to think seriously about adding more staff.” If they give you the “Well, if you can’t handle it…” talk or the “At another firm, someone would be glad to handle this all by themselves…” show again, smile and say, “Well, I’m glad I am at this firm and not those firms! I want to make sure our clients are getting the service we’re famous for, and part of that is knowing when to respect my own limits and when I need another set of hands on board to make this work. I took on Jacob’s workload as a short-term solution more than a year ago, and it’s just not sustainable, especially with Y billable hours and Z number of cases.” You negotiate for your clients all the time. Time to negotiate for yourself.
  • The above suggestion is more about you leaving on your own terms & your own schedule than it is about fixing this job to suit you long-term. Hence, I know this is probably the last thing you want to do, but it’s time to dust off your resume and work your contact list and see what else is out there.
  • Pour as much money as you can into savings and take a look at your budget. You need your eff off fund in case you decide you gotta leave, like, now.
  • Maybe you gotta leave, like, now. You are not allowed to hurt yourself over this job or your crap collection of sexist & ableist bosses, okay?

All the love and support and good wishes to you.





189 thoughts on “#924: “My job is killing me. How do I get out?”

  1. “They let me have a stapler of my very own!” is not the same as “This is a great place to work!”

    1. Word.
      I’m not trying to diagnose you, LW, but I’m seeing similarities here between the way you defend your firm and what someone suffering from Stockholm’s Syndrome might say.
      Why are you defending them? They have not got your back. They are not defending *you*. Please look out for yourself, because if you don’t, no one at the firm will.

      1. Agreed. This letter is reminding me a lot about that wonderful article on sick systems (http://issendai.livejournal.com/572510.html) and how they trap you into staying by keeping you in constant crisis mode so that you don’t have the energy to complain (having you do the Jacob’s work and your own, ’emergency measures’ adopted when he left that have never changed since), and also about abusers and their ‘nobody will love you like I do!’ ‘you deserve so much worse than what I give you!’ rhetoric (‘other firms aren’t as lenient as us.’)

        1. Oof. This…sounds a lot like my work, actually. I don’t think anyone is doing that deliberately, but there is always some new fire that needs to be put out. “Constant crisis mode” is a good descriptor. And I’m sure that’s why we have such a high turnover…I’ve been there 4 years and out of the 15 people in the office, only one of them was working with the company when I started.

    2. Even my worst, most dysfunctional job had enough office supplies for everyone! I feel so much sympathy for OP.

      1. uh-oh. suddenly seeing my main office’s chronic weirdness and obstructionism about office supplies and office equipment in a new light.

        1. Your employer not supplying you with the tools you need to do your job is a VERY similar dynamic to domestic abusers who control their victims’ access to basic necessities. It’s often part and parcel with gaslighting aimed at making the victim feel delusional for needing something that is, objectively, a necessity. If your office is denying you supplies while demanding you do work that requires those supplies, at the very least it’s time to reassess the situation, and I would say that sounds extreme enough to start looking for other opportunities.

          1. …haranging about needing basic supplies is part of the abuse pattern? Dang. I wish that did not make so much sense. Thanks for that piece of the puzzle.

  2. From one lawyer to another: LW, please contact your bar’s lawyers assistance program if you have one. They will help you. They helped me in a similar situation. Good luck.

    1. Yes, when small-time employers are being assholes, professional associations can be a total godsend.

      1. For some reason I read that as “professional assholes”, as in “someone to be an asshole for you so you don’t have to”.

        Which honestly works just as well.

    2. As a very happily retired lawyer, the more I saw of the employment dynamics in law firms, the less I wanted to work in those firms. Your firm is exploiting you big time. If you have a useful specialty, see if you can move to a firm where you will have some support. If that is too much to do right now, you might consider quitting and perhaps taking on a few outside cases on an “of counsel” basis (this will require some advance planning.) Really, I agree with the other posters who are telling you to take a complete break and regroup for a while. One change of careers you might consider is as in-house counsel to a corporation or a municipality. One of my friends told me that it’s easier for him because he has only one client to hate instead of lots of them!

      1. As a relatively happily ongoingly-employed lawyer, I do want to say: it’s possible to be happy, have a life, and work in private practice. It’s not always easy, but it is possible. I mean to say: OP, you do not necessarily have to retire from being a lawyer to have different working conditions, although retiring as a lawyer is ok too.

    3. She should also look around at other lawyers in this practice area. If it’s that “boutique,” she can likely get another job easily. Jumping ship is hard, but I think she needs to do so.

    4. Yes yes yes. From one lawyer to another also: you are not being treated appropriately. It does not have to be this way.

      Also – you do all of this work in the office? You have huge leverage. Any chance you can walk with any of the clients or files?

  3. Ay yi yi, LW, that all sucks so hard. I have totally been there, too, everything you describe — heinous bleeding everywhere, hair falling out, bosses being horrible, doing the work of multiple people for the same pay … and more. I also bought into the narrative of “I can handle this because I can handle anything, and so I’ll just work harder and they’ll see how valuable I am and reward me accordingly. NOPE. DIDN’T HAPPEN. You know what did happen, though? They saw they could take advantage of me, and so they did. The Captain is right — your firm is displaying POOR MANAGEMENT and MAKING IT YOUR PROBLEM. You need to GO. Go on your terms. Take all your medical leave, vacation days, etc. and NEVER GO BACK. See, you can have lots of jobs in your life … but only one life. And life is too short to put up with this level of jackassery with such negative consequences to your health. Learn from my bad example — I stayed too long, and it had a serious, life-altering effect on my health. Please take care of yours. You know how a lot of companies like to describe their corprate culture as “one big family”? I started off thinking, “Yeah, a DYSFUNCTIONAL family!” But that deteriorated until it was more like an abusive relationship. I KNOW you probably have a million reasons lined up why you need this job and can’t leave now — but please leave now anyway. Take some time to get your health and strength back, and get your mind in a better place. It’s just so hard to think clearly when you’re getting (metaphorically) kicked in the head all day, every day. But I promise, once you’ve had some time away, and remember how valuable you are as a person, not just employee — you’ll be so glad you left. Best of luck to you! You got this!

    1. “I stayed too long, and it had a serious, life-altering effect on my health.”

      I’ll second that. By the end, I wasn’t even working at a bad place – but I’d already been hurt so much that I was getting emotional abuse from my own brain 24/7. Between that and other mental illness and trying so fucking hard to be productive, I ended up with chronic pain issues where it’s considered a “success” to have 50% less pain than when it started. I’ll probably never work again (and I am really really glad I have people who love me and want to take care of me in a healthy, non-controlling way.)

      oh, and it might help to research boundaries. there’s lots of good stuff on this site especially. Boundaries are Magic. 😉 I think Ask a Manager had a thing on workplace PTSD too? I need to read up on that myself, apparently PTSD isn’t quite what I thought it was…

    2. Yes, I had a job that was a) inherently stressful as far as what we did and b) involved managers who were wonderful people but lousy managers. I gradually got so burned out (even though it was something I was deeply passionate about) that I left. 8 or so years later, having been at two other jobs, one of which was mostly NOT inherently stressful, and the other of which is (I’m drawn to that sort of work [think social work realm]) but with good supervisors, I was getting ready for an upcoming routine physical and trying to come up with any questions for my doctor. I thought back on various health conditions I’d had previously, and thought, “Well, THAT one’s not an issue anymore… and THAT one got better… and I haven’t seen THIS problem in YEARS….” I realized that a significant number of issues that had become chronic while I was at the first job had all gone away when I was no longer dealing with it (and with a few other related issues like being away from certain co-workers). Our bodies react to stress no matter how much we think we can lie to ourselves about it!

  4. Definitely agree, leaving is definitely the end goal here. But short term, at least, I know in Illinois there’s a statewide Lawyer’s Assistance Program that is set up to help a lot of problems like this. It’s free and confidential. There may be a similar program in your state, too.

    1. From the way this person is talking about “qualifying” as a lawyer and supervision afterward, I would guess this person is not from the US, but rather from Britain. Or maybe a British-affiliated system of law.

      LW, please take advantage of any sort of free healthcare your country gives you. The things you are experiencing are not normal work stress, not even for lawyers.

      I am a recent law school grad myself and what I have learned is this: You need to put your own oxygen mask on here. Right now you are running around helping everybody with their mask and you are suffocating.

      This is important if for no other reason than your current mental, emotional, and physical state means you are a less able counsellor than you could be. Help yourself to better help others too.

      Many hugs and wishes for recovery from me.

      1. Yes, or if not the UK then a similar place.

        I’m not sure of the timelines in terms of being a lawyer for 13 years but needing supervision until relatively recently – but solicitors on training contacts routinely get every single letter and phone call scrutinised and have less than minimum wage working conditions.

        It sucks but there’s a real “pay your dues” culture. And I can’t compare to elsewhere, but the UK has a real “everyone knows everyone” culture in law and that makes it doubly important to plan, very carefully, the escape route from this firm.

      2. On the other hand the UK has strong regulations against Unfair Dismissal from employment and even against Constructive Dismissal (basically treating you so badly you feel you have to leave). Even if you have made mistakes in your work your employer is expected to show how they have worked with you and provided appropriate support and training to deal with the issues before moving to dismissal. Everything the Captain has said about bad management would be relevant in a claim for unfair dismissal in the UK.

        Of course, LW, that may be little consolation if you are working in a ‘fire at will’ jurisdiction – except, perhaps, as further evidence that this is a problem with your employers, not a failing on your part.

        All best wishes and support.

  5. Dear LW, as a person who works in
    a law firm (but is not a lawyer), I feel like I have an understanding of the culture that you’re dealing with. Law firms tend to attract, reward, and reinforce superb over-functioners who will grind themselves into dust before they question whether or not the workload and expectations are realistic or appropriate.

    I was one of these, and quit just ahead of a spectacular nervous breakdown. I bounced around in the private sector and then came back to the same law firm I walked away from. They hired me back. They gave me more money. When I said “I’m a single mom now, and I’m going the hell home at 5:30 every day barring some catastrophic emergency,” they said “Fine.”

    Walking out the door at 5:30 knowing that my colleagues were going to be there for hours later made me feel guilty and stressed for a good six months. But my performance reviews were great, and I’m on my third year back,and all in all, I’d say it’s going well.

    My point is, lawyers and law firms, in my experience, will take every last bit of you they can get. Like mooching roommates and drama-prone relatives, your best defense is good, strong boundaries. (In fact, maybe read the Captain’s posts about dealing with difficult people?) But, in my experience, once they get acclimated to your boundaries and realize that you mean it, they figure out a way to deal with it, and life goes on, and the horrible things you worry about happening, don’t happen.

    I want to also second the Captain’s advice about a Fuck You Fund. I can hold to my boundaries because I’m fortunate enough to have a husband with an income that could float us for a few months if I quit. I recognize that not everyone has that luxury, but hopefully you do? Or could at least squirrel away some money to defray the costs of unemployment.

    Best of luck to you, LW, and Jedi hugs if you want them.

    1. Very much agreed about the law-firm culture — I *also* had bleeding-all-over-the-office issues, and some other health stuff that turned out to be related to a genetic disorder.

      I worked SO HARD and came back to work after 3 days of time off due to scheduled GYN surgery… and got called on the carpet for taking “too much” sick leave.

      (We were supposed to get 12 days a year, which rolled over. In 2.5 years, I used 21 days of my allotted 36, only a very few of which were unscheduled absences. I was told that staff was not actually supposed to *use* the sick days that we earned, or anything even close to that number, or we’d be fired.)

      I was an all-star at the firm, lawyers who I didn’t work with directly were always trying to get my help, because they knew that my work was going to be higher-quality, etc. My direct bosses loved me. And none of that mattered, when it came to HR and office management having a problem with my sick days.

      I eventually had to leave the legal field because the stress was ruining my health.

      Listen to the Captain and these lovely commenters, and GTFO while you can. There are other firms — and while they will likely still have some amount of the wear-you-down-to-a-nub office culture, there are places where you aren’t the only lawyer in your specialty, where you have adequate support staff, and where you’re not literally handling two attorneys’ workload.

      HR may or may not be super-helpful at a small firm like yours, but use your excellent legal mind to research your options and their obligations, and if you have short/long-term disability insurance, please use it — this is what it’s for!!

      Wishing you good luck, good health, and a better job ❤

      1. Wow, IANAL, but I’m pretty sure that if your employment contract states you’re entitled to 36 days sick leave, you’re damn well allowed to take the full 36 days if you need to, without penalty.

        Ironically for a law firm, that sounds pretty illegal to me. :/

        1. You’re right, but the culture of the almighty billable hour overrules an awful lot in the law firm world. I also wanted to say that OP’s firm is gas-lighting her about Jacob not having any reason for stress and about their being a “lenient firm” (lenient, my ass–they won’t fire you, they’ll just guilt you into grinding yourself down even more). There may be some small truth to the “other firms” firing people outright, but that’s only at the point at which the employee is no longer able to function (or they’ve hit X # of years on the partner track) and then they can replace the employee with the new/cheaper recent law school grad and start the cycle all over again.

          Will Meyerhofer is a former lawyer and current therapist in NYC (I know that’s probably not where you are) who has a specialty practice working with attorneys who are anxious, stressed, etc. I don’t know whether he does distance work, but at the very least, his blog (The People’s Therapist) has a bunch of stories (including his own, which has some very similar aspects to yours–and he stopped practicing law over 15 years ago) that will illustrate that you are NOT alone and that the corporate law culture is spectacularly inhumane.

          1. This, so much. I’m glad someone else picked up on the gaslighting.

            LW, I want to add my two cents that they are NOT “lenient”, but they like to project that image. That way, if employees have problems, well, it’s not /their/ fault (they can lie to themselves). They’re *lenient*!

            But saying something is so doesn’t change the reality when it’s not so. It’s not a magic spell that makes things the way they say, and they’re invalidating your experiences by attempting to overwrite those experiences with their version of reality. And, hey, being generous, maybe things are “lenient” up where they are! But where you are, they’re not, and they can’t erase that just by saying so. (I mean, they’re definitely trying! But it’s simply not true.)

        2. There’s what you’re entitled to and what you can practically use. In some firms the attitude is basically – you’re sick, okay, but the work still needs to be done.

          If you can’t do the work – even if due to illness of any kind – the attitude is often you can’t do the job.

          I think either a BigLaw firm where there’s a lot of backup could be a good environment, or possibly a very small firm in which there isn’t the same time pressure, could potentially be a better fit.

    2. I completely agree about law firm culture and about the importance of boundaries. My office would have worked me into the ground if it could. It was scary to assert some boundaries and cut back in some areas, but things got much better after I did. No job is worth sacrificing your health.

    3. That sounds like grad school. I’m having issues right now because they’ll take every ounce of you they can get, and my supervisor is an asshole with no soul. I’ve been hiding at home for about a week because I’m stressed about sending a word document that may not be properly formatted. My last draft was declared to be dog vomit, because I didn’t have images formatted correctly, and the text alignment wasn’t justified instead of justified left. No matter that I just made something which will probably save the local government a million in tax dollars.

    4. I also developed significant mental and physical chronic health issues during my time as a lawyer, also at a very (relatively) humane firm. I ended up retiring from law at the ripe old age of 29, a year after I’d started having panic attacks at work. (It took me that year to plan my escape, as we were in a tough financial spot with lots of law school debt still outstanding.)

      The culture of law is so broken and toxic that it is extremely hard to find a position where you can set and maintain appropriate boundaries without adverse consequences. It didn’t help that, in my jurisdiction at least, lawyers were explicitly exempted from many of the legislated worker protections.

      Wherever your path takes you next, OP, I wish you all the best.

  6. I am a former firm lawyer. I hated myself so much, and the stress was awful, and this place sounds way worse.
    If they have to tell you how much better than the other places they are . . . They may be be in the conventional “abusive partner” role — “aren’t you so lucky I only mistreat you when [X].”

    I left for state employment about five years ago, and salary is down but quality of life is waaaaaay up.

    1. They may be be in the conventional “abusive partner” role — “aren’t you so lucky I only mistreat you when [X].”

      With side orders of “If you really loved me then you’d do [X]” and “Nobody else will ever love you”.

      LW – I wish you all the best, and hope you can get the rest you so badly deserve.

      1. And when it comes to the discussion of toxic law-firm culture — I literally had to read through AndyEricson’s comment *three times* before I realized that ‘the conventional “abusive partner” role’ was talking about a *relationship* partner, not a law-firm partner.

        If that gives you some idea of how much it can leave a groove in your brain . . . I worked in the legal field for 11 years. I’ve been out of it since 2003, and my brain *still* went to “abusive lawyer-boss” rather than “abusive spouse/intimate partner,” even though I’ve experienced domestic abuse in the past. WTF.

      2. “If you do leave me, you’ll regret it later”

        Disturbing how many parallels there are between abusive employers and abusive partners.

      3. Also, don’t forget the special side of “You are the only person who can do the work/make us happy!” (echo from previous letter here…)

        1. …but yet her mistakes are so “awful” that they’re being “lenient” in keeping her on.

          If she’s the only one who can do the job, they’d be going out of their way to accommodate her. I’d love to see the partners’ reactions if she quit on the spot.

      4. I had a job like this (not in law, but in a different kind of professional services). They had an amazing ability to superficially build you up (“We only hire the best”) while undermining you (“You aren’t tough enough and nobody else will ever want you”). I was talking it through with my therapist one day and I suddenly realised I was describing exactly the cycle of an abusive relationship.

        I blurted out, “Oh God, I have to quit, don’t I?”

        She smiled.

        I quit. I work for lovely, sane people now, and I have good boundaries, which I maintain (because clients will always want as much as they can get). I can still remember how weird it felt, though, to be in internal meetings and have people tell me how great my insight was and how much they wanted to hear what I thought. :/

    2. Yeah, I have to say that ‘We’re a very lenient firm’ doesn’t sound like a fact. It sounds like a threat. Genuinely lenient places don’t keep reminding you they could fire you for being sick and it’s so incredibly soft of them that they haven’t yet. They just cut you a break when you need one and don’t act like it makes them special.

      I’m not a lawyer, but I have had the kind of employer who thinks they’re being unbelievably generous by giving you the absolute legal minimum amount of workers rights, or slightly less. The phrase for that isn’t ‘lenient’, it’s ‘bully in denial.’

      1. “The phrase for that isn’t ‘lenient’, it’s ‘bully in denial.’”

        Yes, this! This is so true.

      2. Exactly this. I once had a bullying teacher – the sort who deliberately humiliated children in front of all their peers as a punishment – and she very often used the phrase “I’ve been very lenient with you up to now” as a threat, with the implication that if you didn’t change your behaviour now the leniency would end. This whole thing made me shudder. Dressing up threats and manipulation as niceness and clemency is a classic tactic. LW, any time you find yourself feeling guilty please try to remember that is exactly what your bosses are aiming for

      3. I was just coming to say the same thing. “Other firms wouldn’t be so lenient” my ass. That’s not leniency – it’s gaslighting.

        Even if I take away the emotive impact of LW’s mental/physical health, and look at it pragmatically, the situation is still pretty clear-cut. They had a workload that two people – in good health – could manage. They had two people to manage it. And that worked until both of them got sick at the same time. What they should have done at that point, was supportively parachute in a temp or two to help with the paperwork and nonspecialist stuff to help their staff cope without tanking any cases, rather than sitting on their hands and observing from a distance that the two of you weren’t managing.

        And now that Jacob’s gone – they have a workload that two people in good health can manage, and they’ve got one person to manage it. That’s not a tenable position under any circumstances. It just isn’t. LW could be Superwoman and it still wouldn’t work in the long term.

        They need to understand that they have three choices: 1) they can continue to put pressure on LW until she crumbles and takes with her multiple cases which cost their firm money, or 2) they reduce the workload to what the firm can manage with current staffing, by passing clients to other firms and apologising to them for the inconenience, or 3) they recruit another lawyer with the same specialty to take Jacob’s place, so that LW can get back on an even keel.

        And they need to understand that if they don’t choose 2) or 3), then at some point, when LW eventually gets to her breaking point/escape point, they’re still going to have to buckle down and pick one of those options anyway.

        Also, LW: if you do live in the UK as other commenters have suggested: you need to look into the DIsability Discrimination Act and its successor clauses in the Human Rights Act. As someone with a chronic illness (either mental or the physical issues which you had earlier) you have a RIGHT to reasonable adjustments. I know that law firms along with many other businesses tend to make a virtue out of ablebodied-ness, and conflate being ill with being unreliable, but that is toxic bullshit. You have rights. Use them.

        And while we’re on the subject, please stop fighting your doctor and let him sign you off work. It might just convince your firm to assign you some help. Also, it helps to have the documentation – the more you keep fighting your doctor and trying to pretend everything is normal, the more your mini breakdowns are easier for your bosses to explain away and pretend to be incomprehending about (just like poor Jacob) because “hey, if there were a genuine problem and not just LW being hysterical and not coping, there’d be official doctor’s notes and stuff…right?”..

        Take a break, and get yourself enough mental space to have a long, hard look at your situation and work out what work conditions you need to be able to stay (or whether you just need to don your lifejacket, blow your whistle and get out ASAP) – and then go back into the office and take charge of demanding that proactively, with a nice bulletpoint list of what you want and why, and how the office is in violation of the HRA/DDA/ADA/whatever if it doesn’t give you that support. You’re a lawyer – treat yourself as a valued client and see where that takes you!

        1. Unfortunately the DDA was scrapped years ago (2010 I think), by the unelected ConDem overlords. It was replaced with the Equality Act, which is, shall we say, not fit for purpose. The DDA was for the people, the EA is for those with power over the people. Oh, and our current unelected “leader” has been gunning to kill the Human Rights Act since forever. It’s up for discussion (hahaha) in the New Year, and will almost certainly be gone by Easter, all the better to declare certain groups of marginalised people as undeserving of rights.

          1. If the Human Rights Act goes that won’t have a huge effect – every precedent set in every case since 1998 will still be live.

            As for whatever the current anti discrimination legislation is… The problem is, it won’t help if the employee is medically incapable of the job. It will be difficult to argue against a firm of solicitors who say “well, yes OP had health problems but those health problems prevented the work being done.”

            I’m not saying grin and bear it, but in a small incestuous field you need to be very, very careful how you play it.

          2. It wasn’t scrapped so much as superceded, but yeah I agree the EA (how did I get that confused with the HRA?! Ah well, put it down to brainfog…) is a far more toothless beast. But it is still possible to stand up for your legal rights, even if the Equalities Commission won’t do it for you with the same zeal the Disability Rights Commission would have.

        2. I don’t even understand not hiring a second person. It makes no sense, but I see businesses do it all the time.

          My sister’s former (health care field) employer did the same thing. She stuck it out for a year before quitting her job and starting therapy. They weren’t able to replace my sister for four months after she quit.

      4. I’m not a lawyer, but I do work for a law firm (one of the top-rated law firms in the state, with lots of Big Deal Filings for multi-million dollar deals, etc.).

        Last year, I broke my arm. I was out for three weeks, and on half-time for another four. You know what they said to me? “Hope you get better soon! Please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help! Here’s the paperwork you need to fill out for FMLA leave.”

        This year, I had to get my tonsils out, and was out for two weeks. You know what they said? “Hope you get better soon! Please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help! Here’s the paperwork you need to fill out for FMLA leave.”

        When I was getting divorced and not particularly at my best, the managing partner of the firm stopped by my office and said “hey, please let me know if there’s anything you need.”

        And yet, even with this incredibly “lenient” approach, the firm continues to make a profit! It’s almost like it’s possible to treat your employees like human people with human bodies and human lives, and still be able to do law!

        1. Just so you know, I’m giving your comment so many thumb ups with my mind that the internet broke a little.

    3. Adding another voice to the chorus here. Law school grad and undiagnosed Aspie at the time who realized about halfway through law school that while she had the brains for the job, she lacked pretty much everything else.

      Repeat after me: Regardless of pay, benefits, etc., *any job that costs you your life or your health is not worth it*.

      I know this. Seriously.

      GTFO of there *now*. I can’t emphasize that enough.

      Your wonderful *lenient* bosses are demanding you put your health and possibly your life at risk because of money. If that situation doesn’t scream *nope*, I don’t know what does. Your bosses don’t give a rodent’s hindquarters about anything other than the money you can make them. Trust me–others in the same area know what they’re like, and I can promise you there’s a good number who would be thrilled to get someone of your caliber.

      There really are lots of options for lawyers out there besides firm jobs. Government jobs may not have the best pay & benefits, but they’re a steady option for a break from firm life to get yourself together again.

      Please, please, start putting yourself first and take care of yourself. You can hardly be expected to perform your best when you are ridiculously overworked and suffering major health issues, and any potential future employer worth working for will know this.

      Please, please, *please* get out of there *now*. I’ve been there, and very nearly had a breakdown because of it. There is no job, no case, no firm prestigious enough to be worth the sacrifice of both your physical and mental health. Take it from me–even if you end up doing something like waiting tables to get by, you’ll still be infinitely better off.

  7. Okay, something I think you can probably do with hearing, LW.

    Depression and anxiety each reduce your cognitive capacity and working memory. If we use the analogy of overall cognitive capacity and working memory being like an office desk, depression and anxiety are like a big bundle of papers dropped into your mental in-tray, threatening to topple over onto everything else. They each take up mental “space”, and reduce your ability to handle things.

    Secondly, while anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, they do so at the expense of your cognitive capacity and working memory as well (as does any other medication which comes with warnings about avoiding things like driving, drinking alcohol, or operating heavy machinery while taking it).

    Thirdly, blood loss, for some very obvious reasons, also reduces your cognitive capacity and working memory space.

    So there are some very good physical and physiological reasons why you were and are having problems. Reasons which have nothing to do with your inherent capacity and capability to do the work overall, but which have everything to do with your employers treating you as though you’re a robot made of steel and plastic, rather than a human being made of flesh and blood. I don’t care how nice they think they’re being – when they’re asking one person to do an amount of work which has already driven one person to the point of breakdown and quitting, and is in the process of breaking their second person, they need to think hard about their management style.

    Take as much sick leave as you can get, leave the work phone behind you at work, divert all the work emails into a folder marked “do not touch, toxic!” and decide after at least two weeks of that whether or not your health and sanity is worth returning to this particular workplace. (If it isn’t, postdate your resignation two weeks, send it in, and make sure your notice date is set for the day after your sick leave is due to run out. Go in and clear out your desk with a friend or your husband to support you. If this workplace can’t cope without you doing the job, they shouldn’t have broken you in the first place).

    1. “Secondly, while anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, they do so at the expense of your cognitive capacity and working memory as well (as does any other medication which comes with warnings about avoiding things like driving, drinking alcohol, or operating heavy machinery while taking it).”

      I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but to me this phrasing skirts really close to “If you have to use psychiatric meds long-term, you’re not going to be really capable” and also “All psychiatric meds do is hide the symptoms; they don’t really solve the problem”, both of which are incomplete at best. If the problem is that someone can’t make neurotransmitter X, and using meds provides the function of neurotransmitter X, then for all practical purposes, the meds solve the problem. People vary dramatically in how their meds interact with things like driving and alcohol – always good to be cautious until one knows how they’ll be affected, but needing to use psych meds indefinitely doesn’t necessarily mean permanent brain-fog.

      1. Absolutely. I am on meds for my generalized anxiety and expect to be on them indefinitely. Without them, my anxiety built and fed on itself in a million horrible feedback loops that ultimately paralyzed me and made me do bad work. I lost jobs. My meds are a piece of my mental health care, but they are a big one and one without which I couldn’t function. I have not experienced any loss of mental “space” from them- quite the opposite; I wouldn’t be able to function in an office job without them.

        Meanwhile, LW, YOU NEED TO GET OUT OF THERE. I also work in a law environment, and have for decades. You feel like you owe your employers all of your energy, but they are not grateful or appreciative of your efforts and they never will be. Stop fighting your doctor. Take time off to get well. “But there’s nobody else to do the work!” You know what? That’s not your problem. They will figure it out, and if they don’t – well, that’s not your problem either.

      2. This is true, but as someone who has used and may in the future use anti-depressants and similar, the push to normalize their use (great!) has had the side effect of gaslighting people who face side effects, like cognitive impairment, mood effects, libido effects (bad). Medication is a tool, and side effects are real–being depressed, it is true, is worse than having a fuzzy brain or dry eyes, but those side effects are real and people cannot manage them until you stop making them feel crazy for experiencing them. I didn’t speak about my issues with medication because the only people I heard talking about side effects were militant anti-psychiatric care folks, and I was worried that I was making it up in my head and falling for their lies. I gaslit myself because folks online had convinced me that side effects were a lie.

        1. Head meds help! Side effects are real! Both are true and it’s different for everyone. This is a discussion for the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com or your website – let’s close this sub thread please and stay on topic.

      3. My cognitive capacity has increased since my medications were adjusted. It is amazing to be able to think clearly without my jerkbrain calling me a whore (or worse) dozens of times a day.

    2. “Reasons which have nothing to do with your inherent capacity and capability to do the work overall, but which have everything to do with your employers treating you as though you’re a robot made of steel and plastic, rather than a human being made of flesh and blood.”

      LW, even machines have limits to their capacity and capability that changes with time. Ever worked on a slow computer, and had a technician seemingly magically turn it into something that feels brand new? You make a machine do too much at once or over time, and don’t take care of it, that machine is going to perform badly and, eventually, break.

      LW, that’s the case with machines, silicone and metal and plastic, specifically built and designed for this purpose. If a thing specifically built to do a task has limits, why should anyone expect that you, a human being, should not?

      You have coped with extraordinary things recently. Now, like anything and anyone, you need to recuperate. It is no fault. The work you leave while your rest is not your responsibility – it is the responsibility of your managers, whose very job it is to manage this kind of thing! The failing is theirs – rest, guilt free.

      (A thing without limits is either a god or a universe. As magnificent as humans are, we fit into neither category. Employers who expect employees to be limitless need to sit down and think, hard.)

  8. LW, I feel your feels. I am in the middle of a 2 month leave of absence from my job. Strangely enough I actually had a minor bleeding episode before the break, though that’s just a coincidence. I wonder if you might be thinking thoughts like “I’ll never feel better” or “I’ll never be able to do this job, and this is a specially good place, so I’ll never be able to do any job”? Because, those were my thoughts. They were incorrect (the way only depressed thoughts can be). One of my physical problems is diabetes, and exactly one week into the break my blood sugars improved dramatically and have remained much better, and my mental state is much better as well. So, I suspect that for you, taking a break would also improve your health and your feelings. The sad thing about stress is that when you’re in it, you feel like it’s normal and you can’t imagine a world without it.

    If it ends up that you can’t work there any more, then there are lots of other places in the world. If it ends up you can’t be a lawyer even, you’re clearly a smart and hard-working person, and there will be a place in this world for you. And you deserve to take care of yourself so you can do your best work, whatever the outcome of the current crisis. It’s necessary, in fact.

    Just to point out, Jacob had problems too in your role, so it surely sounds like there might be something wrong with the role/workplace, rather than with you.

    1. Just to point out, Jacob had problems too in your role, so it surely sounds like there might be something wrong with the role/workplace, rather than with you.

      That is an INCREDIBLY good point. You’re doing both your own job, *plus* the job of someone who had a mental-health breakdown while doing that very same work, very possibly in large part because of job stress.

      I’m not going to internet-diagnose Jacob (especially by proxy, since you didn’t say much about his breakdown), but since you were closer to the situation, you can make your own judgment about it . . . but this is a point that would very wise to take under advisement.

      1. It is probably safe to assume that the work and work culture did not help Jacob’s situation, no matter what caused it. I was getting panicky and stressed just reading about it.

  9. To build on the Captain’s excellent advice: You might also want to ask for a medical leave. Say you’re having health issues and need a leave of absence of several months (or whatever you and your doctor decide on). You don’t need to specify that it’s mental health if these people don’t react to that well — you can simply say health. If your company has 50 or more employees, you’ll qualify for FMLA leave (and they can’t retaliate against you for taking it), but since you said it’s a small company, that may not apply. But if you have at least 15 employees, they’re covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and you might look into whether your condition qualifies you for that, in which case you could possibly argue for medical leave as an ADA accommodation.

    I mean, they should just be willing to give you a leave of absence because of decency, but they don’t sound super rational, so it’s worth looking into these options. If none of these fit, you can still just try to negotiate a medical leave of absence without citing any particular laws. Law firms can be a bitch as far as flexibility and understanding that you have a life (and medical needs), but it’s worth a shot.

  10. LW, first off, VALIDATION. I am so so sorry that this is happening to you. You are not crazy. Please don’t let anyone make you think that you are. That’s what people and organizations who can’t handle there own shit do to make good people feel bad. They especially do this to women because they know how to push our buttons with the whole shame monster deal. Unless your firm had a toxic mold issue, it seems like stress is playing a role here. Jacob also had similar issues in your role, so methinks there is a pattern. Also, you are worthy and deserving of so much more. Right now, it feels so hopeless, but remember that there’s hope. When I work with my teen clients, we use alot of metaphors. We talk about what a monarch caterpillar must be thinking (ok – so they don’t think much) while they are turning into a giant pupa – holy crap, I’m gorging myself on leaves and becoming a slug, and I have absolutely no control! What am I doing? Then, there’s that day that turn into a butterfly. How chagrinned they must feel? Yep, the whole time it was going to be ok and I am going to star in my own 2-hour documentary. (In this metaphor, butterflies always make it out of the chrysalis and live 80+ years.)

    Ok, so after validation – then there are some thoughts. When you are in this place, you must go Maslow. That is, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So, that’s food, shelter, and immediate needs only. Is there anywhere that you can find support? Any friends or family to help? No psychos though. What makes you happy and indulgent? Unless it’s illegal, it’s probably ok right now. Please also go find Tara Brach’s site and try the New to Mediation section. A lot of enormously famous people find this amazing. I liked the other posters idea of calling the bar association and see what resources are available for help. Are you receiving good medical care? Get a good evaluation – can you get medical leave? FMLA? Anything? If you need money, can you do contract somewhere online? Do you work anywhere near an Axiom or other contract law site? My gut is saying – SAFETY, SAFETY, SAFETY. Whatever you need to do right now to feel safe is what needs to happen. But if money is an issue, that can be so stressful. Can you do contract somewhere online? Do you work anywhere near an Axiom or other contract law site? Any options to make money that won’t be this stressful

    I was a BIGLAW firm lawyer for 5 years. I chucked it, went rogue, and am now a psychologist in private practice and a psychology professor helping PhD students provide treatment for court-involved children and teens. Leaving law was the hardest thing that I have ever had to do. I’m not mentioning because I think you should leave law. That’s not the point. However, the point is that there is life on the other side of this job. Before I left, I tried different firms, practice areas, etc. After all of this, I use my law degree a lot. And, I actually don’t regret anything about getting my law degree or even practicing. But I do regret working at one particularly toxic law firm. I’ve worked in a toxic place in this profession too. It was better because I love what I do now, but toxic is toxic. Our brain is evolutionarily trained to maintain status quo and be risk adverse. All the caveman who strayed from the cave too much got eaten – our anxious ancestors survived. From what you’re saying it sounds like this firm is not well-managed, and their employees are paying the price.

    After you are safe, then maybe next steps. Right now, you are in the land of 3 meals a day, lots of water, sleep, comfy blankets, exercise, and indulgence in what makes you feel all right in the world. If you have any thoughts about hurting yourself, please get help. Call someone you trust or the National Suicide Prevention Line http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

    You are special and deserve so much more!

    I don’t know if any of that helped, but I hope it works out.

    1. Seconding that there is life outside of law. I worked in Biglaw for only(!) 5 years, and I honestly think it took me a full year after leaving before I felt like myself again. As much as I tried to stay humble and respectful of others despite the environment, the environment changed me anyway. Billing by the minute had made me impatient with friends and relatives on the phone. The high deal values and relentless targets had made me justify dropping people and plans at the last minute. I could never promise my husband that I would be home at a certain time. I was stretched so thin that I would break promises – something that I pride myself on never doing. For all of my sacrifices, the firm was not there when I needed flexibility. Even my maternity leave was unpaid, because the paid leave came with a year-long lock-in and I was not prepared to sacrifice my first year of parenting to the billable hour. I left with nothing.

      I have friends who are still there, who make jokes about the extreme toll this field takes on their bodies, and they feel trapped by the lifestyle. Some are burning out and making mistakes and thinking it’s their own shortcomings when it’s the system that’s flawed. EVERYONE has imposter’s syndrome; EVERYONE thinks that they would never be able to get out; that they could never start over; that everyone else is smarter and better than they are; that they could never manage on a lower salary. And you know what? None of these things are true.

      Start planning your escape. It can be done. I work 2-3 days a week in legal outsourcing and spend the rest of the week home with my small children. When they start school I will maybe study further and scale back up a bit. Nothing has burned down. For now, I am not working on huge deals. And I don’t care. I am respected in my office, and I have no problem paying my bills (I did always plan to leave, so I kept my standard of living down in preparation. But houses can be sold much more easily than health can be regained once lost. You are not tied to the lawyer’s lifestyle).

  11. Seconding the Captain’s and everyone else’s advice.

    I’m not in law, but I did work at a Silicon Valley tech start-up for over a year. Towards the end, I was the only non-tech person working there beside the designer, and the only person not directly working on the product. So many people I admired had left, with no replacements, and so much more work landed on my plate. I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding, and during the day, I felt so rushed from one task to the next, with no time allotted if problems came up. I had no energy for my own pursuits in the evenings and weekends.

    After talking it over with my therapist, I sat down my bosses/the co-founders. I had my script, I had something to fiddle with in my hands to calm myself, and I told them that because of the stress I was experiencing, either things would have to change (like get another person or prioritize and lighten my task load), or I would quit. I was a little disappointed they didn’t negotiate or fight for me to stay, but honestly, it was a relief to go.

    Three months later, the company folded. I wasn’t surprised at all.

    I didn’t get better right away. I was burnt out for weeks, I barely left my apartment, and I hated interacting with people. It’s been a hard climb for me, but I don’t regret fighting for myself.

  12. Hello, another lawyer checking in to say hi and big hugs.

    What you’re describing sounds like an absolute nightmare. In all honestly, it sounds like your firm has so consistently and un-apologetically violated your boundaries that you’re no longer able to clearly see how badly you are being treated. From what you describe, you are working for a firm whose senior staff bully you and expect you to come in when you’re medically unfit.. All the while, they gaslight you – telling you that if you make mistakes, it is because you aren’t good enough. If you become anxious or depressed, they say it’s not the caseload and the lack of support, it’s because .

    The truth is, they’re the messed up ones. I don’t know how to say this any way other than directly, and with semicolons (because I am a lawyer, after all). Please believe me when I tell you that this firm is toxic, and you need to get out.

    Here are some examples of things that you describe that are major red flags:

    a. feeling pressured to go in to work when your doctor is telling you that you are medically unfit, because you feel that you have ‘too much to do’;
    b. having to go to work when you are both physically and mentally incapable of doing your job because of a filing deadline;
    c. being transferred the caseload of a lawyer who has had to leave due to job-related mental illness with no support or oversight to ensure that a similar thing does not happen to you;
    d. responding to your extreme emotional distress (and Jacob’s) by telling you it’s your fault, rather than by genuinely trying to understand the problem and finding ways to support you; and
    e. providing you with performance feedback in the form of ad hoc beratings, not structured and constructive discussions aimed at how things can be done to minimise risk.

    None of those things should be happening. Your employer should a) not make you work when you are medically unfit to do so, and b) not make you work under conditions that make you physically and mentally unwell. In my office, a senior lawyer would have stepped in to stop this from happening – someone else would have filed those documents, your cases would have been reallocated so you could take sick leave.

    Additionally, your job should not be triggering suicidal ideation, panic attacks, or self-harm episodes. Even if none of the factors I outlined above were present, the fact that you are self-harming to cope with your job and having suicidal thoughts is enough to demonstrate that yes, you do need to GTFO of that office. Possibly with a career break so that you can and begin to heal from the damage these people have inflicted on you.

    I hope it’s ok to be so direct. I have been in a similar position myself before, and I blamed myself. I wouldn’t take sick leave when I needed to, blamed myself for every mistake I made, became progressively more distressed to the point where I believed there was no point in my life and nothing good could ever happen to me. Turns out it was because I was working for a bunch of toxic a-holes. Leaving that job for a more supportive employer is one of the best things I’ve ever done.

    Finally, I just want to say, there is an idea out there amongst lawyers that law is suffering and all lawyers are ground into the dust by their employer and that if you’re not being flogged you’re doing it wrong. In my experience, this is horseshit. You have to look for them, but there are other for lawyers who don’t want to play that game: government, community practices, and in-house teams might be options worth exploring. Don’t believe the abusers who tell you that they’re the best you’re gonna get, that it’s all the same out there. That’s a lie they tell you so that they keep flogging you for profit.

    I am still a lawyer. I don’t get paid the big bucks, admittedly, though I am financially comfortable. I work somewhere supportive, fun, interesting and flexible. It really does exist. And If I couldn’t get that kind of work as a lawyer, I would look for it in another industry. You are good, you are smart, you are competent, you have a lot to offer. You deserve an employer that recognises that and treats you with respect.

    1. Dear LW, another lawyer here co-signing everything Elektra just said.

      Other people have given you the personal take, so let me give you a cold lawyer take on this: Your bosses are putting your clients at terrible risk and are, bluntly, committing malpractice. (Not YOU. Your BOSSES.) They are understaffing their cases, they are overloading you, they are failing to appropriately manage tasks, they are not seeing and adjusting workflow, and they are putting the firm at risk of losing the one person doing work by neglecting her health and ability to get things done.

      The great news for you is, you don’t have to work at this terrible firm to practice law. There are plenty of other firms out there, even ones that are in high-pressure areas of law. And I will bet you a loaf of banana bread that the ones who have heard of your firm? Will think “wow, you survived that sweatshop”.

      TL;DR – no lawyer thinks your situation is OK or necessary, LW, and we all want you to get out. Quit ASAP.

      1. Long time reader, also a fellow lawyer, delurking for the first time to say, YES, THIS! Like neverjaunty, I read your story thinking, OMG, the law firm bosses are committing malpractice (THE BOSSES, not you) by failing to support you and your practice and get you the resources you need, and generally by allowing this unsustainable situation to continue. This is on THEM, not on you. You’re the hero here, doing absolutely everything you can to the detriment of your own health; you’ve gone way above and beyond the call of duty, with no help from them. It’s time to stop doing everything you can for your crappy bosses, and take care of yourself. You’re terrifyingly awesome, and you deserve to have your health and a life outside of work.

        I started my career in a Big Law Firm, and like most other law firm lawyers I know, fell into the mindset of “I must work harder. I must be perfect. If I’m not perfect it’s because I’m s**t” that pervades many law firms, including yours, it sounds like. It can be really hard to step out of that mindset and see how distorted and untrue it is. But it IS distorted and untrue. All of us are human (even us lawyers!), and we have limits. Honestly, I would have hit my limits WAY before you did; you’re amazing.

        I’m adding my voice to the chorus of people telling you to get out of there as soon as you can manage it. There is a career for you as a lawyer outside of this terrible law firm. I left the Big Law Firm to go in-house years ago and never looked back, and I’m happier now – and a better lawyer too – than I ever would have been if I’d stayed. Leaving your current terrible law firm doesn’t mean you have to give up being a lawyer.

      2. Yet another lawyer posting to agree with everything Eleckra said. Your BOSSES are committing MALPRACTICE. NOT you. THEM. If they’re smart, they’re praying that you won’t realize it and report them. I am another former big-firm lawyer that went in-house. I actually did work for a nice firm. When I had personal problems, you know what I did? I went to a partner and talked to her about it, and she went to bat for me and had changes made.

        When I had interest for an amazing in-house position, I went out to lunch with my (formally assigned) mentor and talked to him about it. He gave me honest advice about whether to take the job, and how to present it to the firm. I did decide to leave, and they supported me all through transitioning my clients to new people for four months until I moved.

        That is what a “nice” firm does. Berating you for missing deadlines while not giving you support is what a sweatshop does. GTFO.

      3. just adding to the lawyer-pile to concur to all of this.

        my first job out of law school was for a terrible bully boss. I worked in a small department of a much larger firm, in an area of law that I thought I really wanted to practice in. I too had my sense of perspective so incredibly warped by the experience that it took years to recover and realize what was actually “normal” (even in the crazy high-pressure law firm environments that I continued to work in). that first boss would regularly show up at noon, but would make sure to call us all at 9am to ensure that we were all at our desks. Of course, when he rolled in at noon and then proceeded to work until 10pm, did any of us get the benefit of having already been there all morning? of course not.

        I once spent two full hours getting screamed at in his office because of a typo in a DRAFT document. Said lecture included things like “why do we bother paying your salary”.

        I would regularly work nights and weekends – this was pretty normal for a junior associate – but on things that turned out to be completely inconsequential. He just liked keeping us there/making us cancel plans. If you actually had a weekend off, god forbid you don’t answer your phone to “drop everything” and race to the office when called.

        I once mentioned that I had to go to a wedding out of town for my mother’s best friend’s son. My mother had died three months earlier (they all knew this – she died one month before the bar exam, so it was a *thing*), which was why I was going in her place. His response – “well, we’ll see if you’ll be able to take saturday off”. I just looked at him kind of dumbfounded.

        I also once watched him lecture another partner and force her to write an apology letter to A JUDGE because there was an inconsequential mistake in a brief – it had no effect on the argument, and by writing the apology letter it only served to highlight the mistake, but he was so petty about pointing out other peoples’ mistakes that he just NEEDED to humiliate her to the judge. even though they were on the same team.

        The last straw – the one that caused me to finally realize that things were not normal six months in, after living in my apartment sans furniture for that long, I was finally getting the stuff I had ordered months earlier delivered. I had made special arrangements with the shop and my building to have everything delivered on a Saturday (which, if you know NYC, you know this is almost impossible) specifically so that I wouldn’t have to take time off of work. Late on Friday afternoon, he tracks me down and says “looks like we’re going to have to work on this [thing he’d been procrastinating on all week] all weekend!” I just look at him and say that I have a furniture delivery the next morning, that I can try to reschedule but it may be too late, but if I can’t, I can still work from home during those hours, and that I can come to the office as soon as it’s done. He starts screaming at me that OF COURSE I’ll reschedule, how dare I suggest anything else. THEN, (after I DO manage to reschedule to the following weekend, mind you) another partner comes in, and gives me a ridiculous lecture about how not only should I have immediately rescheduled, I was wrong to even mention that I had the delivery in the first place, because that was my “personal problem” to deal with, and my “personal issues” should never interfere with work.


        The next monday I went to the associate manager for the firm and told her that if I couldn’t change departments, I was quitting. She got me transferred to another department. The transfer was its own special hell, because department 1 dragged things out and made my life hell for several months until they hired my replacement, including forcing me to cancel a vacation so that I could go on a work trip at a different time for the new department, and then had me do nothing during that week except secretarial work (so petty!).

        For a while, the new department lawyers looked at me like I had three heads every time I would triple check things with them, and I finally realized it was because they trusted me to do my job. I worked for 10 years for that group (including moving firms with a group of them), until the financial crisis resulted in my later firm collapsing in on itself (that’s a whole other story!), and I worked on some crazy deals and some crazy long hours, but I never felt disrespected or devalued in the way I did in that first six months – the partner that I mainly worked for over the years (who I still have drinks/dinner with regularly) was the kind of person who would cancel her own vacation before she asked me to cancel mine.

        1. I realized I wrote all of this without the concluding thought – that is to say, working in law is often a time consuming slog. We are often overworked, so your sense of perspective can definitely get warped – everyone you talk to is working “crazy hours” so you think what you’re experiencing must be normal.

          But even when there’s “too much work to do”, there’s a difference between working for people who still respect you and how hard you work, and who go out of their way to support you and show appreciation, and working for people who take advantage and abuse you.

      4. Neverjaunty, I think those are really good points re: clients and reputation. The bosses are taking real risks with their clients’ money and lives and then blaming the LW for it. And at least where I live, word travels fast around the legal community, so a firm like LW’s would build up a reputation fast for being a toxic workplace.

        I’m so glad other lawyers have written in to tell LW that this is not how practising law should work 🙂

      5. As a law-adjacent person, I was going to say this exact thing. I hope your firm has indemnity insurance against negligence/malpractice claims because they are riding for a fall. This looks terrible from a negligence point of view. Two lawyers in the department, one has breakdown and leaves, and the one lawyer left has to do the work of two people? With no real clerical support? While they are ill? And the firm notices errors in their work and does nothing to give them more support? And this isn’t some kid, the lawyer is an experienced practitioner who didn’t make these errors before their firm starting acting like this?

        I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t know what the law is in your area, but it sure looks like these guys lose a lawsuit from an angry client any day of the week.

        I wonder how great a reputation your firm actually has amongst other lawyers in the area. In my experience lawyers tend to know when a firm is operating this badly. I don’t say this to worry you. Anyone who knows about law firms will blame the partners for bad management, not you. I do think that this alone is a really strong reason to get out asap, though. You do not need this on top of everything else you’re dealing with.

        You’re worried about a client losing out if you take time off or quit, but as things are clients aren’t getting the best service (not because you are not good enough, because you are only one person with one brain being asked to do the work of two or more people). There might be short-term fall out for clients, but in the long run this situation is not good for them or you and it needs to change.

        1. “I wonder how great a reputation your firm actually has amongst other lawyers in the area.”

          This. ^^

          You won’t hear it while you work there, but once you leave…prepare for Anecdotes. I am just saying.

          Lawyers know, amongst themselves, who the ambulance chasers are in their area. (PROTIP: If they advertise on television, especially if they have a catchy jingle and a 1-800-LAWYERS! phone number…um, well, that is not a good sign.) They also know which firms are toxic and/or have high turn-over (which is extremely stressful for everyone who works there, regardless of the reasons why, and it can mean bad hiring/training issues, but can also mean that the lawyers there blame their staff when they lose cases or have unhappy clients, and fire said staff to cover their own bad leadership, communication, prioritization and/or organizational skills.)

    2. Oops, I just realised there are a bunch of typos in my post. Hopefully the message still gets across 🙂

    3. *raises hand*

      Government lawyer here who does challenging, fulfilling work _and_ walks out the door every day at five.

      You deserve better, LW, and it’s out there, different countries notwithstanding.

      1. Hey, that’s me too! Well, I occasionally finish up at 6-6.30, but I don’t make a habit of it. Government law FTW.

        (Also, no billables. Yay!)

      2. Big Company Corporate Lawyer here who leaves as late as SIX THIRTY, but only because of traffic. 🙂

        1. Yep, me too! When I first left the Big Law Firm to go in-house at a company, I worried that the much-ballyhooed humane working hours would turn out to be a myth. But on my first day of work at the company, the General Counsel, the Assistant General Counsel, and I all walked out the door together at 6:01 p.m. on the dot (the company had 9:00 – 6:00 business hours). That’s when I finally relaxed.

        2. I should also mention that I’m a government lawyer, and have worked in corporate Big Law (London) previously. My quality of life is vastly better now, and my colleagues aren’t sociopaths. There is great respect for family life etc. However, be aware that wherever you go, law generally is a very stressful job. I have a very high caseload, a great deal of responsibility, manage lots of staff and we are very under resourced. And I don’t get paid nearly as much. The fact that I can do flexible working and have lovely supportive colleagues is amazing, but the work itself is still deeply stressful. The law I practice is so intellectually challenging I can’t keep up and spend the whole time on the back foot. It’s very fast moving with new caselaw every day. We’re so stretched that we live in constant fear of a negligent fuck up, and going to court is terrifying due to the omnipresent risk inherent in practising law on a shoestring. And that’s Good Law! Really, really Good Law! You need to factor this in if making big decisions.

      3. At my office you can work as late as 5:30. On days when I was there at 5:31 getting all my stuff together to leave, the supervisors came by my desk and politely reminded me that we close at 5:30. The closing supervisor walks out the door at something like 5:45 (because of having to shut things down, etc). I love firm boundaries and set hours!

      4. I’m currently working as a government contractor doing basically what amounts to proofreading & fact checking. Pay isn’t fantastic, but I get by. But I also set my own hours, work at my own pace, and have the option of working from home. I’ll take a pay cut for that.

        (They’re also so laid back that I can not only wear jeans every day (big $$$$ savings on clothing), but don’t even care I dyed my hair bright purple, which silly as it sounds, makes me immensely happy.)

        There are options out there.

        1. One of my bucket list items was purple hair! I’m back to my natural shade now, but I got nothing but compliments at work when I was wearing it purple. (Ok that’s a lie, one guy asked me if I did it on purpose and if so why, but he is a special snowflake)

          Yay to fun hair and autonomy over one’s life/body 🙂

    4. “Finally, I just want to say, there is an idea out there amongst lawyers that law is suffering and all lawyers are ground into the dust by their employer and that if you’re not being flogged you’re doing it wrong. In my experience, this is horseshit. ”

      This needs to printed on every law degree.

    5. Lawyer-adjacent-but-not-lawyer person here, too. I’ve worked in two of my town’s biggest full-service firms, and it’s not law itself that is the problem (though litigation tends to be more stressful than, say, estate law, as the dead aren’t getting any deader, as Big Boss says), it is the management style of your firm.

      I’ve worked in so many toxic workplaces that I ought to write a memoir titled “Don’t Work Here” and list all my jobs that sucked, for which I blamed myself for being stressed, and which I didn’t regret anything but the lack of paycheck once I bailed. It would be a thick book, and I’m not that old.

      I am still not the best role model for handling work stress, as I still blame myself 99% for all that goes wrong when I’m probably only liable (see what I did there?) for a good 35%. But one thing that has never, ever worked for me, and which caused physical problems and work-related PTSD, was trying to blame myself 100%, work harder, and stick it out in hope of a positive (and almost total) culture shift in my toxic workplaces. Obviously that was unlikely to happen, at least not quickly enough to keep me from suffering longer.

      Make your escape plan. Law isn’t the issue, YOU aren’t the issue: that particular workplace–and the incompetent, gaslighting, employee-blaming, toxic management in that workplace–that is the issue.

  13. Dear letter writer,

    You are brave for writing in, and we are not indulging you. I haven’t read the comments so apologies if I’m just repeating what others have said. But.

    You are important. Your health is important.

    It’s OK to take the leave if you need it, please let your doctor help you with that (from your letter it sounds like they’re trying to help you with that already).

    As I was reading your letter I kept thinking this is terrible, horrible, no good, very bad *management*. You are not the problem here. It is terrible management and bad planning on your employers’ part. There was enough work to keep two people very busy by the sounds of it, and they think suddenly it’s sustainable to have just one person do all of it? That’s laughable. (Can you tell I’m a teensy bit angry on your behalf?)

    You are clearly one of the terrifyingly amazing, since you have been doing the vast majority of this work well and only make mistakes in a tiny fraction of cases, but that doesn’t mean it is sustainable. It’s just that at the moment, you are the one bearing the brunt of this cost, so they are pretending that it is. You are shoring up their practice in this area of the law, and instead of praising you and ensuring you have good working conditions, they are focusing on the money you “cost” them? That’s heartless and exploitative (and sexist, and ableist). I bet the captain is right, the money you bring in is probably a lot more than whatever is lost when you make that tiny fraction of mistakes, and even if it were a lot of money, that is nothing against your health.

    You are important. Your health is important.

    The Captain’s suggestions and scripts are solid as usual. But your letter resonated with me in a way that suggests to me it would be very difficult for you to give yourself to act on those suggestions. Sorry if I’m way off base here, but if it helps, this internet stranger is giving you permission: it’s OK to put limits on your workload so that you are working one person’s job, not two. It’s OK to use the resources and policies that are there for you, for situations like this. But it’s also OK if you’re not managing to give yourself permission to put yourself first yet. I’m really glad you have a therapist now, and I want to suggest that this is a good topic for your therapy sessions. It’s OK to start small.

    We’re rooting for you here, and I hope you can soon continue to take steps to protect and take care of yourself – you’ve already started, since you wrote in to the Captain!

  14. I can’t say anything about the lawyer/solicitor aspect of things, as I’ve never worked in a professional sector of that nature. But I *have* worked in a toxic, abusive environment that did lasting harm I’m still sorting out. Please, believe me when I say, it won’t get better. It honestly isn’t you. If having a crying breakdown in front of your bosses elicited only vague half-threats about how lenient they were that they didn’t fire you for having major bleeding disasters (because they think this was a thing you chose to do? I dunno.), and not any sort of discussions about how they could better help you do your job, then they’re not interested in giving you the support you need to function in this environment.

    The office I was in was understaffed for the workload we had, and my boss had unreasonable expectations on the sort of turnaround time that could be expected for the files we handled, even though he knew that completing a client’s file involved negotiating with up to five different entities who were not at all interested in cooperating with our firm (and in not a few cases, actually had incentive to work against us). I was often bullied into taking on more files than I knew I could handle… and then was often reprimanded harshly because I couldn’t keep up with it. Whenever I tried to tell my boss that my workload was too heavy and that I needed to hand some of it off so that I could give my remaining files the attention they needed, I was often told that he wasn’t going to coddle me and if I didn’t like it, he had countless more resumes in his inbox to pick from. He thought it was cheaper to bully and terrify me into stretching myself too thin and grinding myself down into nothingness than to hire the staff he needed to effectively handle our workload. I wasn’t the only one he did it to, either.

    The stress got so bad that I’d have crying fits every night after I got home (I’d had at least two in the office, but I felt so humiliated by his response that I did everything in my power to hold it in until I was at least in the car.) I didn’t sleep well, I dreaded getting up in the morning, I stayed sick. I never got as far as suicidal ideation, quite, but I wouldn’t give good odds on how long it would have been. Eventually, I quit. It was not graceful. It was a desperate, hail-mary thing that involved me packing my apartment, giving up my lease, and moving to an entirely different damn state with nothing lined up but a couch to crash on. (And even then, my boss managed to spin it that I was somehow betraying him when I gave him my two weeks notice.) I do not recommend this.

    The Captain’s advice is solid. Please, be smarter than me. It sounds like you’re getting to the breaking point, if you haven’t hit it already. Take all of your aggregated time off. Use the first bit of it to focus on self-care and putting yourself back together. Update your resume, your LinkedIn profile, or whatever. You need a new job, pronto. You said that you’re worried about making mistakes that will cost the firm money, or even drive them out of business. If you can’t quit for your own sake, look at it as doing the expedient thing for your company. (I do believe that you’ll be better off getting out of there period, but I do understand the mental state that says you can’t do it for whatever reason, that it makes you selfish or a failure. That’s just brain weasels talking, but they are persuasive bastards.)

    Quitting doesn’t mean that you’re useless to be a solicitor. Or that you’re not cut out for your chosen field. It just means that this place is a bad fit for you. That happens sometimes, even in non-dysfunctional workplaces. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And just because this is the best you’ve had so far, doesn’t mean it’s the best you can do. The awful job I had was the best job I’d had to date, and certainly the best paying. But there comes a point when you might think “This is the best I’ve ever had… and that fact depresses me more every day.” I know I didn’t think I could do better than that for a long time… I stayed in that job a year and a half longer than I should have. But in the end, I did get a job that suits me better, that doesn’t reduce me to an anxious, neurotic, nervous wreck. I’m sure you will too.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

    1. The part about the bleeding problems infuriated me. I know that, just like with Jacob and the “well, he had no real reason to be stressed,” they would shame any employee for any health problem (“$%^#ing BOB, just bleeds all over the place and takes PTO to go to the hospital EVERY TIME he gets a limb chopped off, I mean, GAWD”), but I get hints that the shaming used in this circumstance reinforced tons of, “ewwww, lady parts” socialization. Argh.

      Also, OP, I was never in law, but was in a job that had me hospitalized three times in a year. Chiming in to add that you should be smarter than me, too. It is so hard to walk away when people gaslight you and abuse you and tell you that you should be able to do it, but the Captain’s advice that this is incredibly poor management is spot on!

  15. I read this article the other day: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/lawyers-mental-health-addiction-problems-1.3865545

    It’s about how widespread mental illness is among lawyers and how difficult it is accessing healthcare because of the professional stigma. (The article is from a Canadian news source based in part on American research, and I suspect the findings are applicable in many countries.) I hope if nothing else you realize that you are not alone, this is not your fault, and that you probably have more understanding allies out there than you think, although sadly it does seem like the legal profession is quite challenged in this way. I hope that help and change comes.

  16. This might just be how my brain is wired, but reading “We’re a very lenient firm. At other firms…” the first thing I think of is “The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.” True or not, it is still said by Darth Vader, a guy who routinely kills people who work for him when they fail. Other commenters already mentioned how manipulative that is. Knowing nothing about law firms, I would still question if ‘lenient’ is actually true here. Especially considering you are apparently the only person there who can do what you do.

  17. LW, I’d be inclined to take your doctor’s advice and use as much sick leave as you can to just recover from some of this horrible stress you describe. Protect yourself and prioritize your wellbeing.

    You are a valuable asset to your law firm, in that they rely on your specialist expertise, but I am certain they are still doing well enough to afford you some time off every now and then. If they are willing to let you burn out, then they deserve to lose money. Leverage your unique skillset in negotiating more reasonable working conditions for yourself.

    Your employer sounds awful in the way that they are not supporting you. Don’t just keep getting sicker wait for somebody to notice and intervene – If they haven’t done anything to help you already, they’re not going to until it comes to wheeling you out on a stretcher. They have demonstrated that they are not worth sacrificing your health for.

    You need to gather your own support network and focus on what is good for you, not the firm. Make use of any HR resources you can access, and do everything you can to reduce your workload – whether that’s delegating elements of your work to other colleagues, or refusing cases, or literally whatever you can do, I don’t know how your workload is generated.

    If I were management, I’d be looking to find someone to cover your workload while you take time off to recuperate, with a view to keeping them on when you return, to help share the caseload. Is this something you could get them to do?

    I agree with The Captain – In the long term, unless there is a serious change in the way your firm is managed, you had best plan to escape.

  18. As time goes by I’m realising that anyone who uses the “you’re lucky you’re with me because everyone else is worse” line is most likely an abusive arsehole, and that dynamic is there whether it’s a boss, partner, friend – whoever. It’s just not something that gets said in a healthy relationship. It’s a line my mother was big on when I was a kid: she loved to tell us how lucky we were because “most families” we’re so horrendous by comparison. At 36 I’m still learning how untrue that was.

  19. Run, LW! The call is coming from inside the house! And by call I mean “awful, life-destroying fuckery” and house=firm. Run run run run run run run. Your managers are horrible, you are a good lawyer, and they don’t deserve you. Get out of there.

  20. LW, it’s definitely not you.

    If Jacob, an older and so presumably more experienced lawyer, found the work too stressful to the point that he had a nervous breakdown and left, even when there were two of you sharing the load, how in the heck are you supposed to do ALL of that work yourself? You are literally being asked to do all the work that has already proven to be too much for two lawyers. Even if you hadn’t been ill it wouldn’t have been possible.

    And what the fuck with your boss trying to use an illness that required you to have surgery, as leverage to get you to work harder because he didn’t fire you for it? Urgh.

    Take the way that they treated Jacob as a warning. Hell, take the way they’ve already treated you as a warning, and get the hell out of there.

  21. That “At other law firms…” stuff is ridiculous. If you have to emphasise how lenient you are all the time, you’re not very lenient at all.

    LW, take the sick leave, and when they complain say “At other law firms they have procedures in place to deal with this stuff. Other law firms don’t run their staff into the ground and make them sick. I’m a very lenient employee!”

    (I mean don’t, obviously, but wouldn’t it be satisfying?)

  22. LW: this reminds me of an article someone linked at AMM about “sick systems”:

    “So you want to keep your lover or your employee close. Bound to you, even. You have a few options. You could be the best lover they’ve ever had, kind, charming, thoughtful, competent, witty, and a tiger in bed. You could be the best workplace they’ve ever had, with challenging work, rewards for talent, initiative, and professional development, an excellent work/life balance, and good pay. But both of those options demand a lot from you. Besides, your lover (or employee) will stay only as long as she wants to under those systems, and you want to keep her even when she doesn’t want to stay. How do you pin her to your side, irrevocably, permanently, and perfectly legally?

    You create a sick system.”

    If you have the energy to read it, I recommend it. It’s VERY VERY good.

    Please please please quit or leave or just get out as soon as possible. Your LIFE isn’t worth this.

    1. Yes! I love that article. And if you read the version originally posted on livejournal (http://issendai.livejournal.com/572510.html) then I think the first comment is very telling:

      Tired, overworked people inevitably make mistakes, especially if your sick system pushes them all the way into depression. You call attention to their mistakes, point out their inconsistent performance, and call their basic competencies into questions. If you do this long enough- you can make them believe that you are only keeping them on out of loyalty, out of the goodness of your heart, because they are inherently unemployable.

      1. Yeah that point is really true. Grad school has made me think like that. I was shocked when i started working part time in the industry i wanted to transition to and my old work ethic and dilligent mindset was totally still with me. I’m just completely done with research and grad school. Too many years of my bad supervisors just ruined the field for me.

  23. “Right now you are thinking of yourself as the weak link in the chain when in reality you are the *only person there who lets them be competitive in this area of law.*”


    I am not a lawyer so I don’t have any lawyer specific resources to help with. But I spent 7 years in an industry with the same “grind ’em till ya kill ’em” ethos. With all the same abusive narratives and gaslighting and minimizing that comes at toxic workplaces like this firm. That all may sound really dramatic, accusing a workplace of being abusive, but that is what this workplace is LW. [political segue: this is why capitalism is toxic AF at it’s core. We can’t work in this system believing it’s established FOR us, it’s not. It’s established for the elites to USE us and and it’s up to us to prevent that from happening. End rant].

    Please LW, trust the captain that what she says is true, even if it doesn’t feel true right now. Put yourself and your health as your number one priority, as uncomfortable as that is going to feel. Your life is worth so much more than the thousands of dollars you are making for this company.

  24. The Cap’s advice is pretty spot on. After I had my first child I had some minor health issues and a husband who, while willing to help with feedings and changing, didn’t do much else and he’d complain when stuff like laundry or dishes weren’t done when he needed a clean shirt or plate. I needed help. He told me that I was better at things than him, that he didn’t know if he could assist in the way I wanted, that he wished we had money to hire someone to help me. I was fed up and asked him “what would you have done if something had happened to me in childbirth?” He told me he’d have figured out how to get things done. I handed him our daughter and told him she needed a bath and that he needed to help me or he was going to have to figure it out because at the rate we were going my anxiety was going to put me back in the hospital. He caught on fast and stepped up and did what a decent partner does in life and helped carry the load. The same rules apply to your question.

    LW, if you were to not show up tomorrow for whatever reason (no notice quitting, winning the lottery, hospitalization, death, etc) your job would figure out a solution to fill their needs. It’s unreasonable for them to expect you to handle it all alone never mind while dealing with a health crisis. Can you go in to your boss and lay it all on the line: I am having health issues. I am not going to twist myself into knots trying to make the firm happy when my health is in jeopardy. I need the following to make sure that this department will not suffer. If you cannot provide these then this department will suffer because I will not be here to pick up the slack due to my health issues. I am taking care of my health issues because I am important too.

  25. I feel for you, LW. I too had a situation where I was forced to take time off due to ill health. My manager demanded of me “how am I supposed to get your work done when you’re ill?” and my union rep told him: “that’s not her problem. You’re the manager. How you cover staff is YOUR problem, not hers!” I kinda needed to hear that to be reminded that it isn’t my fault if I’m ill. It is down to management to have strategies to handle staff absence- not me! All I should be worrying about is *getting myself well*.

    Actually that’s not quite all I needed to do. This was also the evidence that I needed to polish my CV…

    And please do not worry about how they’d cope if you resigned, either. Again, not your problem. And given how they drove your colleague to break down and the stress is now impacting on you, it isn’t fair for you to feel beholden to them in any way. As and when you leave, they will cope. Maybe they’ll have to fork out for temporary cover. Or outsource that part of their work. Or not provide your types of service for a while. Whatever – it’s not your problem!

    Like the good Captain says, put yourself first. Now, and permanently.

  26. LW I’m in software but I can totally relate to this letter and the commenters here are talking to me as well. I took a new position within my company 6 months ago, great opportunity to break into a part of my field I wanted to get into. Or so I thought. My supervisor is negative and rude. I don’t have the resources I need to get my job done. I don’t get answers to my questions. The deadlines are unreasonable and I never get praised for delivering, only berated for being “late.” I went from mostly liking my job to dreading it and the idea of heading to work made my heart sink. I’ve watched two brilliant colleagues leave in the few months I’ve been here. I made my first serious mistake here, resulting in disciplinary action (unprecedented for me). I’m ashamed of myself, I’m not doing good work and I resent my supervisor for doing what seems to me like the absolute bare scratch minimum. I don’t love my hobby anymore, I am sluggish at home and bitter. I have endless menses, headaches, and colds. I thought for a while I could make it work, that it would get better, that I just needed to adjust my attitude. I thought it meant I was a failure and a bad programmer. I prayed and meditated. And like words appearing on a mirror in a haunted house, all that came to me was “GET OUT.” I found a company that wants to hire me…nay, is EAGER to hire me. I start on Monday. I’m excited, happy, optimistic, gleeful, and feeling so much better it’s like a dimmer screen has been removed from the sun. I’m nervous… what if it’s worse where I’m going? What if I have to quit there too? What if I am just a terrible programmer? What if I’m the problem because I’m lazy and stupid? But I feel confident I can handle all that. What I can’t handle is an endless stretch of days before me working for someone who treats me like an annoyance.

    LW, it’s not going to get better because it’s not your fault and no matter how much you contort yourself you won’t fit into the box they want to put you in… because the box is an Iron Maiden… and your monkey brain knows not to go in there.

    Also, please don’t hurt yourself. I need to know there are smart people out there in the world or I will just lose all hope under President Trump. That might sound selfish. But the world needs you. More you, not less you.

  27. My husband had a job like this, years ago before I met him. They hired him to do one thing and then piled more and more other jobs on him after he started that weren’t even mentioned in the job ad or interview. He did actually end up getting fired, but instead of feeling devastated as he expected, he felt 50 pounds lighter walking toward the elevator as he left.
    He found out a few months later that the project he was hired for was was nearly a year late and umpteen million dollars over budget. Hence all the additional chores – they couldn’t afford to hire the correct number of people to really do all those jobs properly. The firm folded not long after that.
    Point being, the company you work for doesn’t sound well managed if they depend on one overworked person to do all the work that used to be done by two overworked people. Take a leave of absence, start searching for another job. There has to be a company out there that isn’t organized as badly as this one seems to be.

  28. You cannot simultaneously be the only person responsible for handling an important part of your employer’s business and be a screw-up who would have been fired if not for your employer’s benevolence.

    1. This. Also, LW- you’ve had twice the workload for a whole year, that dropped the MAN* you worked with, who’d also had you to confer with, while you’ve had no departmental allies.

      *I like men. But they are used as a base normal, as we know.

  29. What everyone else said, many times over.

    But i had one specific thing to cover. It definitely sounds like the company is (through malice or apathy) particularly abusive even by the standards of legal firms.

    Think of it like this. If you hired an assistant to do four people’s jobs, and they couldn’t do it, would you say “IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT, YOU FUCKUP” or would you say, “I know this is an impossible situation, I’m so grateful, please keep doing the best you can and let me know what you realistically can’t handle”? It SHOULD be the second. And people SHOULD extend that courtesy TO YOU too.

    Even if you hired an assistant to do a fairly easy job, and they couldn’t handle it, would you scream at them, verbally abuse them, contravene various legal restrictions on bullying, working hours, and allowing people who break down with stress to use medical leave? Or would you give them work they could handle and politely but regretfully lay them off if they only ever got worse? Again, it SHOULD be the second, and people SHOULD extend that courtesy to you.

    Now, maybe these people genuinely THINK they’re lenient. Or maybe they’re deliberately lying about it. Or somewhere between. But setting an employee a standard of “handle three people’s work 365 days of the year even when you’re ill with no help but being 100% perfect in every way” and screaming at them if they’re not perfect is NOT OK.

    But I’d also say, it’s possible they’re entitled assholes who don’t know how big a hole they’re in. If so, if you refuse to work on, they’ll just blame you and fire you. OTOH, maybe if you have a realistic idea of what they’d have to pay SOMEONE ELSE to handle your job (probably one senior solicitor plus several assistants?) maybe they’ll fold instantly if you imply you might quit because they’re terrified they’ll never find anyone else to take the work on.

    Now, in fact, they’re SO BAD, I think probably the right answer is to quit, and look for a job which (1) doesn’t make you ill and (2) if possible, is a more sensible firm of solicitors who will LOVE YOU when you say “I handled two senior solicitors jobs for NN months and then quit when the owners refused to improve matters”. But if, for whatever reason, you want to try to stay, remember (a) have an idea what YOU’RE worth to THEM, not the reverse and (b) they probably have NO IDEA what you’re worth to them because they’re not competent, they just try to sqeeze as much blood out of people as possible (ugh, literally 😦 ) so if you know and they don’t, you’re in a stronger position when you selectively cue them in, and ask them to imagine how these cases are going to be handled if you’re not there (hint not “perfectly” but “NOT AT ALL”).

    1. In retrospect, I may have under-emphasised the “nope” factor. Like, law firms are often higher pressure than many working places, whether that’s ok or not, but “working yourself until you’re literally collapsing/bleeding/having a breakdown” is NOT OK and the fact that they don’t care is a massive 100ft tall darth vader made of bees. Maybe you can make a future with them (though hopefully SOMEWHERE ELSE) would be better. But the current situation is unsustainable. NO-ONE can cope with three people’s work with no support and every mistake is their fault. Most people (successful, professional people) just buckle. A few play politics and “manage” their boss and do the really important stuff while letting everything else lapse and manage to get the credit, and everyone needs that skill a bit, but shouldn’t need to fight their boss tooth and nail to not be abused. You may end up working somewhere high-pressure but not abusive. But right now, going on where you are isn’t a long-term solution — treating everything that happens as your fault because you’re not magic is making you really really sick, and sticking it out for longer before it crushes you won’t help you (or them). And doing *something* (medical leave for preference, or quitting, or deciding to talk back to the owners and say “no-one can do that, if you think I can, it’s your problem” and not caring if they blow up) now is probably good, and increases your chance of continuing your career afterwards.

      Seek support if there’s anywhere you can get it. Do not expect sympathy from your bosses, they may be nice people personally but probably not, and they are NOT treating you at all acceptably (or legally?) at work.

  30. Here’s a thought experiment for you:
    What is the difference between working at this firm, or doing the same work as a self employed lawyer in your own firm?

    How much infrastructure support do they actually provide for you?

    How much would your work load change?

    How much money would you be bringing in? Could you be financially stable even if you reduced the number of cases you handle?

    I know there may be institutional or legal barriers to that sort of thing, licenses you need, or even just the reputable firm name. But it is still worth considering from this angle. if you could make a decent living, without the non help they are providing right now, what exactly are they doing FOR you?

    I am not a lawyer, but I do manage a team of knowledge workers. We have a huge support system at my office, people who prepare and review files for us, who interface with clients, who sell, who market. So all we have to do is focus on using the knowledge that we have for our clients. Now you might look at this and say we are lazy, we don’t have to do a lot of things that are pretty normal for our role. BUT what it does make us is incredibly efficient. We can handle a much higher work load of complex work, because we aren’t bogged down with mundane things. We’re not wasting mental energy on simple tasks so we can focus on the complex parts.

    And this is what a good employer does for it’s employees. You have a specialty, and they should be trying to make doing your specialty easier, not harder.

    One of my other goals with my team is to prevent overwork and burn out. Our work is both creative and analytical, and as such is very intellectually draining. So I try to avoid situations where my team is highly overworked, so that we don’t make mistakes and we can do our best work for every client. That’s not because we’re lazy, it’s because we’re human, not machines, and we need time to rest and recharge our brains so we can do a good job.

    The problem with Law, and Tech to a certain extent is that the people who end up being in charge aren’t good at management, they are often good at the Law, or at Tech. So they don’t understand certain fundamental things about human nature and how work gets done. They don’t understand how to optimize a work place, or think long term about their employees and their company. And depending on how a company is structured, they don’t have a lot of time to consider those things. If they have their own cases and projects, taking the time to consider how best to structure another department, or manage the workload of a team is a burden and not something they do.

    I say this because I want you to know that it is not your fault, and it’s also not entirely an act of your bosses being willfully horrible to you. They didn’t sit down and think “oh let’s torture this Once Competent Laywer” by being horrible to her. They just don’t know what management strategies are effective, and they are too busy/lazy/distracted/focused on how things have always been done to really think about it. They are bad managers, not on purpose, but they are. And sometimes the only thing you can do with bad management is get away.

    Ultimately, every company you work for, whether it is a law firm, or a fortune 500 company or a little Mom and Pop will fire you if it becomes cost effective to do so. As employees this is important for us to remember. We are always expendable. So when the costs of working somewhere is too high, when it means passing up a great opportunity, or harming our health, or harming our ethical choices, we should walk. Company’s don’t have loyalty, they have profits. And we should treat every place we work the same way.

    1. I have to chime in on your excellent point that the promoted expert may not have management skills. I was managing a team under ridiculous pressures from our international office. One of my team said to me, “You don’t ask us to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself,” which I thought was a great compliment but he wasn’t done talking, as he then said darkly, “and that’s why you suck.” Guess what I’ve learned.

  31. One of the things I do to keep my desk at work in check is to imagine what would happen if I were Hit by a Bus. Are my files (electronic and paper) easy to understand/find things in? Is my record keeping up to snuff? I have no colleagues who do what I do, but if I were Hit by a Bus, somebody else would have to pick that up, wouldn’t they? No way around it if I were Hit by a Bus. No way for me to get that report done from under the wheels, you know? The company would have to figure it the fuck out.

    Guess what, LW: you’ve been Hit by a Bus. (Thank goodness it’s metaphorical –Jacob’s departure and your illness — and not a real one.) Your company has to figure it the fuck out. It’s not up to you to figure it out for them: you’re the one under the wheels. If they don’t, they will fail, and it will all be on them, not on you.

    Saddle up the nopetopus.

    1. We use the “hit by a bus” metaphor all the time at my office. It’s kind of morbid, but useful. It’s really the – are we covered if something happens out of nowhere that makes me completely unavailable situation.

      Someone once suggested that we use “won the lottery and quit” instead, and I said that wouldn’t work, because I’d like to think that even if I quit under such circumstances, I’d be considerate enough to tell someone where all my files where before I completely disappeared 🙂

    2. Kidnapped by aliens to help defend the galaxy? 🙂

      In a coma — a bit less fatal than “hit by a bus”, but still morbid.

      I don’t like how morbid “hit by a bus” is, but I also struggle to come up with a good alternative. Ideally it’s something where you CAN’T say “oh, but if it’s REALLY important, they’ll help”.

      1. Being hit by a bus doesn’t HAVE to mean that you die, though. Maybe you just go to the hospital for a week or two and then are on home rest for awhile after that. That’s what I usually tell myself with that analogy.

        1. My late husband was once called into a business that used his company’s product to try and figure out what was wrong with their build, after the guy who’d been running it for ten years was, I shit you not, hit by a bus and died. It actually does happen.

    3. My mentor at my old firm (let’s call him “Andy”) actually did get hit by a truck one day as he was biking in to work. He wasn’t hurt that badly and made a full recovery, but after that we switched from “hit by a bus” to “hit by a truck, like Andy.”

      1. I had a colleague whose wife (also in the company, but I didn’t know her) was hit by a truck and killed, leaving him to raise their two year old daughter himself.

        Despite the weaknesses of the analogy, everyone I work with uses “win the lottery and retire to someplace warm”. It does get the point across well enough.

  32. Yet another lawyer chiming in to say “Get out.” Clean out your desk, and to somewhere sunny for a couple of weeks. Even though you don’t owe the firm anything, maybe give them a minimum of notice before you take off. Indulge the schadenfreude as you hear about them floundering to secure your replacement.

    Life is too short for this bullshit.

  33. The firm having more work than people they’ve hired to do it is on them. NOT on you.
    None of this is on you. They are completely unreasonable on all levels, and probably delusional about it (nitpicky boss sounds like he has zero clue what your area of practice requires?).
    Plus, they are gaslighting you with that “we’re a very lenient firm” nonsense.
    Medical issues are not something where leniency comes into play.

    LW, get out. Listen to your doctor. Put employment law to work for you.

    You will come out the other side better able to do the career you chose – better for yourself and better for your clients, who will get the benefit of your full expertise minus the bleeding.

    This firm of asshats isn’t worth your literal blood and tears.

  34. If court filing dates are being missed due to non-supervisory attorney mistakes, this means the firm is grossly mismanaged. Any properly managed firm has standard operating procedures with double-checks and failsafes to ensure that filing dates can never be missed, even if a lower-level attorney messes up. The owners of this firm are committing malpractice by not implementing such procedures.

  35. Let’s say this is the nicest, most lenient, least Vader-y firm ever. You are right to want to do everything you can for them, to decrease your mistakes, to do your part for their success. The answer is the same: take care of yourself.

    You taking care of your health is the best way to help this company*. Having a Jacob-style meltdown and bringing your department from 1 to 0 will mean exactly 0% of these important cases get resolved successfully, rather than 75% or 90% or whatever non-zero number it is now. You sliding your way from self harm to suicide ideation to suicide planning to suicide attempt is much, much worse for them than for you to go part time, or take a month off, or to declare that you will only be able to do X cases at a time. I don’t usually do sports metaphors, but this is like the star quarterback refusing to ice his knee and sit out the 4th quarter just so he can limp around on the field for a few more plays before he completely blows out his knee and misses the rest of the season…and maybe even never walks the same way again.

    *Of course, the personal reasons to take a break are absolutely solid and the company’s “needs” shouldn’t even enter into it. I don’t care if you’re working on a project that will convert greenhouse gases into food for starving puppies–it’s killing you, and you are more important than your work.

  36. Aw, LW, it sounds like you are in a really tough, shitty job. People have given you a lot of practical advice, I just wanted to add to the chorus of how okay it is for you to leave.

    My husband just left a terrible job recently. It was hard work for low pay, with practically no benefits (they decided to pay the fine rather than comply with the ACA) and no support in dealing with a pretty difficult customer base. He was getting really sick once a month or so, and used up the really stingy amount of paid time off they gave. Took two days off for our wedding but only had 1 day and 6 hours of PTO available, so he was written up for taking unpaid time off, which apparently wasn’t allowed. (Why? It’s unpaid, dummies.) Months later, he was still getting sick all the time from that job and being harassed by his boss for a workers comp claim that resulted in literally one doctor’s appointment. I guess he offended Boss’s UberMale sensibilities by seeing a doctor, so Boss needed to call him gendered slurs all day. Fun!

    He was either angry or asleep basically all the time. It came to a head about a month ago and he quit with practically no notice and with nothing lined up. He’s never done that before. He’s been working continuously since high school. And it wasn’t awesome – we had to dip into our savings to stretch my salary. But it was so, so worth it! Just a week away from that place and he was his old self again. He actually has the energy to pursue his goals and address his other health issues. And he has a new job, at a good company for more pay and no late work.

    Use your workers rights! Even if you have to force yourself to turn in that work sign off from your doctor and take the time, I think you’ll find your head clearing within days and it will be so much easier to make long term decisions.

  37. These clowns are a bunch of Darth Vader boyfriends in work form.

    The plain fact is, you could do everything absolutely perfectly and they would still find fault. So why give a damn about their stupid opinions of you?

    I get it: you want to do good work, because that’s you. You know what? You do good work. You do really awesome, tremendous work. You are not the problem. They are, because they suck.

    These are two guys in the universe of law practice. They are not the be-all end-all of work. They are a couple of guys among literally hundreds of thousands, a great deal of whom could likely treat you much better.

    “We;re very lenient” = Dude who keeps saying “I’m a nice guy.” Who is it you need to convince, bruh?

    You have faced so much more than any of these fuckers. You came to work and did your job when you were bleeding all day. Can they do that? Have they ever faced anything even like that? You are SO STRONG. You are SO MUCH STRONGER than they are. They have no clue.

    Take the Captain’s advice, get the help you need, decide to stay or go; but know in your heart that these guys are total clowns. You fucking rock.

  38. LW, this sounds like my ex-FIL’s company, in a way. That job literally killed him (he had a heart attack in the office on a Saturday), after paying him late or not at all for months and expecting increased amounts of workload to be handled. And he didn’t quit because then they wouldn’t pay him (??? I don’t pretend to know).

    Please don’t let it get to that point.

  39. Captain, you are 110% correct here, especially about the toxic expectations of the legal industry. The goalposts move all the time, too — there’s no way to get everything done well, because your firm, like many firms, will keep your workload at well over capacity and things just don’t slow down. And then abusive or otherwise toxic firms like this blame the victims for not being good enough to handle it, as if there ever could be a “good enough.”

    Not all firms do this. You already know that small firms are often better, but not YOUR small firm. Your small firm is denying how shitty it is by pointing to worse shops and saying “aren’t you glad you don’t work there?” It’s the same thing my abusive mother did: “You think I’m a bad mother? My own mom nearly killed me with medical neglect!” The standard for being an acceptable mom is not “kid not super likely to die.” The standard for being an acceptable workplace is not “hasn’t fired you yet because it still needs to wring more work out of you.”

    I’m a solo practitioner (criminal defense and some probate, mostly pro bono guardianship) in MN and I find the stress level way more manageable than the hell I was going through in law school, also working on high-level immigration appeals where every brief needed to be perfect and also filed yesterday. Same toxic culture, although my boss knew I was stressed and reduced my workload, and we didn’t need to worry about money. Law school made me question my value as a lawyer and as a human being. But the experience of building my own firm and teaching myself has been way more doable than I ever imagined, and way less stressful. I don’t know if going solo is an option for you (plan for a high advertising overhead your first few years), but working in firms started by former solos might be nice too. You might also consider switching to government work or to a practice area that’s less horrific, culturally speaking, than high-stakes civil litigation. I chose criminal defense in large part because the bar is so collegial. Probate tends to be that way as well, and bankruptcy lawyers have a very rewarding job.

    I know, you probably have loans, you don’t have money, and as a lawyer you are risk-averse. Remember, though, that your health (including mental) is worth…a lot. Everything. I mean financially. It has an actual economic value.

    You owe your employer nothing beyond your contract. You owe your clients nothing beyond your jurisdiction’s rules of professional conduct. You only owe your life and health to one person: you.

    There is no shame in having limits. There is no shame in experiencing what you’re going through. If willpower and intelligence could have solved this problem, it’d have been solved long ago. Your bosses have set you up to fail, and that is not your fault.

    One reminder: document everything relevant to a potential case of disability discrimination. You want to have this info as a bargaining chip even if you have no intention of pursuing a case. But I’m sure you knew that.

    Good luck, and email me if you’d like 🙂

  40. So a past workplace was not stellar in many ways, but when I needed to go on medical leave, my boss said, “It’s just a cost of doing business.” There’s a risk when you hire *anyone* that they might suddenly get very sick and need leave. Badly managed companies fail to take things like that into account; it is definitely on *their* shoulders as management to anticipate and fix these problems. They are the ones *choosing* to exploit you.

    I’m also struck by this line, “I still feel guilty for messing up their business.” Isn’t the job of a manager to oversee work and make sure that it is done correctly? These are some high stakes cases, and I’m a little incredulous of how your bosses just expect you to do all of it with no oversight from them.

    I think you’re trying to take on all of the agency in this company upon yourself. You’re telling yourself that you’re the only one who messed up. That other people shouldn’t have to shoulder your burdens. You’re the one who says that it won’t get done if you don’t do it. None of these things are true. Your thought patterns help make it easier on your bosses; why should they take responsibility for their lack of leadership when they have employees who will blame themselves? Their Mercedez-Benz cars in the parking lot are literally paid for by your blood, sweat, and tears.

    Questions for you to unpack with your therapist maybe?: Why do you internalize anger rather than expressing it when it needs to be expressed? Why are you expected to take the heat for other people’s

    [I say all of these things as a way to point out some busted thought patterns that have sprung up in your head that are making this situation even worse for you. I am very much not laying the blame on you and thoroughly and completely laying the responsibility on your bosses for creating this situation. You’ve internalized the mess to be a referendum about yourself rather than saying, “this place is fucked up.”]

    I think that reading the archives of askamanager.com will go a long way towards helping you gain some perspective on re-normalizing yourself (relearning what is acceptable behavior in the workplace and what is the result of managers being exploitative/bad at their jobs.)

    1. as I mentioned above, I am stealing some comfort from these comments also, and this is an excellent one. Thank you.

  41. Also I want to add that I can’t imagine a decent person allowing you to work *the day after having surgery.* What kind of selfish people care so little about you as a person that they would let you do that?

    1. Right? I had surgery last year and came back after a week off. Everyone was like “why are you here, go home.” (Even though it was out patient and I was fine.)

    2. I had two wisdom teeth taken out and had to baby-sit about a week afterwards, and my boss was like “you’re sure it’s okay?” and I didn’t even go under or anything.

      (Also my recovery was super easy. My answer was basically, “As long as you’re okay with me being on some painkillers while watching your kids.”)

  42. LW, this is a hideous situation and it is not your fault. I have worked for bad law firms, and good law firms. This is a bad law firm.

    It sounds to me that you’re in the UK. If so, I’d suggest you try calling Lawcare – this situation is exactly why they’ve been set up. Please get in touch with them.

    And let your doctor sign you off. The firm can get someone in to cover. They can get a consultant. They can hire someone else who can help. But they have shown that they will never do any of this without being prompted, and they will never make it easy for you to take care of yourself. You know you need a break, and you have permission from everyone here to put yourself first and take the time.

    Take care

    1. Came here to mention Lawcare too. Also contact the SRA/Law Society. I just want to say it’s possible to find really good law firms that treat you like a valuable human being and help you through troubles rather than causing them. I know this because I work in one. Your value as a lawyer and as a person is not defined by these people or this work. I have also been the sole practitioner in a specific area in a small firm, so I can understand the fear that if you just stop, things will be missed and you will be blamed by the client or even the court, clients will lose out and your own reputation affected. However, in my experience local lawyers, judges and so in have a pretty good idea of which firms are solid and which are a nightmare. I suspect that once you are out of this nightmare, nobody outside your horrible firm will blame you or be anything other than understanding. Conscientiousness is an attribute of a good lawyer. I value it in myself and others. But it can also keep someone in a toxic situation too long. It’s ok to let these people fend for themselves. You are not the problem. It’s ok to put your own health first and ignore their abusive nonsense. There are many places where you won’t be treated like this and can do good and meaningful work. I wish you all the best

    2. I am also in the UK. I don’t have specific experience of law, but I do have experience of friends getting signed off work with stress, and LW, I cannot say loudly enough: please, please, please let your doctor sign you off. LET YOUR DOCTOR SIGN YOU OFF.

      Pretty much everyone who needs to be signed off with stress thinks they can’t *possibly*. (Not absolutely everyone, but IME a majority.) It’s one of the things about needing to be signed off with stress. Your thinking is so impaired by the stress that when someone says, “You need to be signed off”, your immediate response is, “I can’t possibly be, because what about all the WORK. The WORK, the huge appalling piles of it, which HAS TO BE DONE, and which is INFINITELY MORE IMPORTANT than my mere human wellbeing. What about my clients? What about my colleagues? It will just be there, piling up, getting worse, and more desperate, and worse and worse and worse and worse…” Thinking like this is poisonous and destructive and you need to be signed off to start recovery.

      My best friend got signed off with stress about five years ago. She got signed off for two weeks. She was absolutely certain that this was the worst possible thing that could happen, but she was finding it physically difficult to go to work because she was so ill, and reluctantly accepted it. She dreaded how much worse it would be after two weeks, and couldn’t possibly see how being signed off would be a solution. After two weeks, she had to go back to the doctor, and she was still physically tense with fear at the thought of work. The doctor signed her off for another four weeks. Her shoulders started to drop from around her ears. Her employer accepted that There Was A Problem and started to work out how to fix it. (They should have done so earlier, but at least they finally realised.)

      At three and four weeks off, she started to relax and be able to see through the stress and realise what some of the problems were. She started thinking clearly for the first time in months. At six weeks, she spoke to her manager’s manager (her actual manager being 9/10s of the problem, which her employer had finally realised), and manager’s manager said, “Are you ready to come back?” She had stopped having physical symptoms, and no longer had a blinding sense of dread about work, and her employer had started to implement solutions which would provide her with support. She said, “Well, yeah, I suppose so. I mean, I can’t really justify taking much more time off. ”

      Her manager’s manager – and I kind of love him forever for this – said, “Not good enough. Take another six weeks. You’re ready to come back when you’re *actually looking forward to it*.” Her mind was blown. She took another six weeks. Four weeks into that six weeks, she said to me, “You know – I’m actually starting to get a little bored and miss my clients. There are actually some good things about that job, and I’m trying to work out how to preserve them without giving in to the stress. XYZ is what makes it stressful. Manager’s manager says they can do something about X and Y, and that they can support me to get better at Z, so hopefully that will do it – I’m not totally convinced it’ll be OK, but I definitely want to try, and if it doesn’t work out I’ve got other options.”

      After twelve weeks off, she was actually *ready* to go back. So she went back and found that the solutions that had been implemented made things *much* better. She stayed in that job another few months before moving on. But it was because of the time off that she had the confidence and cognitive skills to actually look for another job and get it.

      LW, until you get signed off, you won’t be able to think about or see solutions. Your (horrible) employers also have no reason to seek solutions. If you’re a UK employee, you hopefully have reasonable sick pay – if you don’t, and money is a significant concern, check every insurance scheme you have and work out what is possible.

      Right now, everything you’re saying about why getting signed off is *impossible* is a symptom of stress and cognitive impairment, so please please please get signed off. You will be able to start thinking clearly again, and it will *amaze* you.

      Masses of luck!

  43. Professional situation of “we’re very lenient, you’re lucky you’re still here = relationship situation of “you’re lucky I only say nasty things for your own good instead of leaving bruises because nobody else would want you, period.”

  44. Delurking to say I really just want to give the OP a hug (jedi hug or actual hug as you prefer) because you matter so much. I am not a lawyer but I work with a lot of lawyers and I am thankful and appreciative for the amazing work they do. Even when they’re telling me I can’t do something or I’ve made a mistake I cherish the guidance I get and the fact that they make my work life better. You are competent and brilliant and amazing. Don’t ever doubt it.

    I’m not an expert on legal careers but there have to be better jobs than this. The firm you’re working for puts you under excessive stress, gives you a ridiculous workload and seems to me to be emotionally abusive. I agree with others who say take some leave, consider your position and put in for other jobs.

    I don’t know if this is any help at all but the UK Government is recruiting huge numbers of lawyers to work on Brexit, Government Legal is crying out for good people. The pay isn’t great compared with private practice but it’s a supportive, diversity respecting, employer (in the main) and the support structures are really good. I mention this to say that you have options but it will be easier to see them when you’ve had a chance to rest and recover. You can’t see things properly when you’re stressed to the level you have been. Get out, look after yourself, regroup and move forward.

    Take care

  45. LW: I’m also an attorney. I had the same feelings you did, right up until I had a health crisis in February.

    I was here on Wednesday, called out on Thursday with what I thought was strep, and was on a ventilator in the ICU on Friday. (I’m fine now, BTW.) I was out of work for 5 weeks, very unexpectedly. And you know what? The sky didn’t fall. Some things didn’t get done, but everything critical was covered.

    A few points: you need a break for your health. Period. Your firm should also have case management/docketing software that keeps track of deadlines. We have CompuLaw here, which adds important dates, as well as reminders, to our Outlook calendars. If you don’t have it, ask for it. Or something like it. Ask your assistant to load dates onto your calendar, and make a spreadsheet of your open matters. You don’t need to shoulder this entire burden alone.

  46. I worked at a small law firm once where everyone was “family”. AKA they’ll exploit the fuck out of you and keep a smile on your face. If it’s as small as ours, FMLA may not be an option.

    They fucked up in not giving you both proper support. They fucked up in not hiring someone else for coverage. If you need to take time, take it. Train someone else if you have to, tell them to get a temp, but you are entitled to leave. If feasible, I’d say run, don’t walk away.

    (I’m support, not an attorney. I also work for the state, which is much more chill, though it has its own drama.)

    1. When a potential employer pulls out the “we’re a family” line on me, I always think, “OK, fine, but have you SEEN my family? This is not a positive recommendation, you guys.”

      I mean, I love my family and all, but there’s some toxic shit there, too. Staying far away is better for my health.

  47. Here’s a question to ask, next time you talk to any of the partners: “How are interviews going?”

    When they say, “What interviews?” you say, “for Jacob’s replacement, of course, and the new department assistant.”

    If nothing else, I hope their response will persuade you to stop taking their firm’s problems more seriously than they do.

  48. I’m a lawyer too, and have worked in horrible city firms (London). I know exactly the culture you’re up against. If I were you I’d get out asap to somewhere with interesting work but a better culture. Try GLD (government legal department). Lovely people, great work life balance, flexible working etc. Offices in Holborn so you can meet your corporate law mates for drinks. I’ve never been happier.

  49. LW, so much great advice here from your fellow attorneys. I can speak from the long-term illness side of your story. Be careful to get out of there on documentation that firmly puts you on your Long-Term insurance, if thst’s applicable to you.
    I was ground down in slow motion at my job, but some physical problems masked to me how injured my mental state was. Instead of writing me the OK to go back to work thst I’d asked for, my psych doc wrote my boss a letter saying she wasn’t releasing me to go back to work for the foreseeable future, and that I didn’t know how sick I was. I was not told she’d done this till it was a done deal and I was hoppin mad, especially after my appeal was rejected. But. It qualified me for the company Long-Term Insurance plan, which has enabled me to afford my stripped-down living expenses and keep my apartment.

    I’ve long been used to overextending myself in work; it was my drug of choice. What I’ve had to learn since then is that it’s taken me as long to ramp back up to wellness as it did to slide into the illness, and I was not prepared for that. Only now, with my memory coming back, can I see how sick I was. I have zero support from family and former friends, who jeer that I’m faking, while I worry my long-prized job skills atrophy. I’m still amazed that each month, I look back at time previous and can see an improvement in my condition.

    My doctor has warned me I may not go back to the work I was doing, which I’m just now starting to think about. But I hope this is helpful to you, and wishing you all the best.

  50. P.s. I’m guessing you work in London by your description of your vile work environment and the fact you describe yourself as a solicitor!

  51. LW, there is a ton of good advice from the Captain and the comments here already, so I will just say a couple of things.

    First, good for you for recognizing that you are in a bad situation and reaching out for help. Seriously. Towards the end of my last full-time job, where I worked for a large and beloved institution but with an untenable workload and almost no support, I was burnt out and anxious and miserable and completely not functioning, while thinking “but things are so much better now! Clearly I should be fine!” I was not fine. After I was let go, it took me a good six months of therapy and doing very little to get somewhere in the neighbourhood of fine. (Thank goodness for a generous severance package.) So please, continue to take care of yourself in every way you can. Know that leaving (or being fired from) a job that’s destroying you is not the end of the world, even if it feels like it at first. Jedi hugs if desired.

  52. Oh.

    Oh, dear.

    This sounds way too familiar. (NB: I’m in a non-profit, which is not Biglaw, but which as a general field has its own toxic culture of overwork.) But, LW, I want to share something with you: I’m a manager in this situation. I lost 2 staff in one subspecialty in the space of a week, months ago, and have gotten nearly zero help from HR and seniormost management in replacing them. (It took me two years to get admin assistance for my department, so I’m not optimistic.) The way we’re coping with this situation is super-unhealthy – for me, at least: as a person with two FTE-equivalent positions already, I’ve taken on the caseload of the two overworked employees I’ve lost, and it sucks, and I literally want to die. But what I *didn’t* do is dump it on someone below me, because every other non-managerial employee is already direly overworked, too.

    I’m not suggesting that your managers should have added all of Jacob’s caseload to their own jobs – but the reason managers are managers is to facilitate their employees’ ability to get the job done, and they’re not doing that. My general rule of thumb is that if you’re suffering from their inaction on restaffing *and they’re not shouldering at least as much of that suffering,* then what’s the point of them anyway? (Hmmm…. maybe I should tell HR and the ED that if they’re not going to take action on replacing departed staff, then they should cover the caseload.)

  53. Oh my heavens.
    You are LITERALLY doing the work of two people, and HALF the job you’re doing now already broke one lawyer. This firm should hire two more people to take on the workload with you. And in the meantime they should kiss your feet in gratitude.
    But they won’t. Please read all the kind and excellent advice of your fellow lawyers on this page, and do what’s best for you.

  54. Hi, LW, another legal field person (paralegal) adding to the collective chorus that you’re doing great and your firm’s management is terrible.

    Your letter really hit home with me because I’m sort of in the same situation, but sort of backwards. I worked almost 20 years at a firm that was great: the underlying philosophy of the firm was that all egos had to be invested in the quality of the product: it was a team effort and we all won or lost together. From the first name on the door to the guy who kept the copy machine filled with paper, everyone was treated as a critical part of the team. It wasn’t all roses, as it was a high energy group of highly strung, creative, competitive people, but regular check-ins on work load, case status, vacations, etc, kept the load distributed and all of us pulling in the same direction.
    That firm merged into a Big Name Firm, at which I lasted a year before I was fed up with the way they ran things.
    I found an in-house job at a Big Name Company in my specialty field, where I like what I do and enjoy the people I work with, although I HATE my employer because it is all about the 1% and firmly committed to Friedman economics that the only “social responsibility of business is to increase its profits,” but there are important concrete advantages to working here. I had my ups and downs, and got mad and decided to quit, then calmed down and reassessed the pluses and minuses of working here, and so far, the pluses have won out.
    I started telling my boss two years ago that I was overloaded and if I didn’t get help balls were going to hit the ground, and at least a year that I was not operating at capacity and was making mistakes and felt like I was being set up for failure: it was not just the volume of work, but the I’m the only person in the entire company doing my area of law – which happens to be our underlying asset (I’m being vague on purpose), and keep getting more and more responsibilities because there is no one else who can do what I do, so I’m going in so many different directions that I literally can’t think straight.

    Then last week, the pluses no longer out-weighed the minuses and I walked into boss’s office and said: “You are going to hire a senior ______ paralegal: either my co-worker or my replacement, because I am done.” I worked through a nervous breakdown, and suicidal depression, and if you try to fire me now, you’re so fucked because you need me more than I need you and you damn well better help me or I’m going out on medical leave because this is fucking nuts – and read between the lines that I’ll sue the company’s ass off if they try to fire me, which you won’t because you and everyone in the damn department knows this end of the company will collapse without me – and no, I won’t produce any more “metrics” to show we need another person because the only numbers that matter are 2400 ____ and 1 ____ paralegal. So you better do something because if I find another job before you find another me, you’re SOL.

    And lo and behold. she’s now actively trying to take some work load off of me, and actually digging in and trying to figure out what I do (when I say I’m the only one here who knows my area of law, I’m not kidding) and helping me sort out the edicts of the erratic president of our division, and actually seriously talking to the CLO about hiring someone – without “metrics”.
    I won’t take another job just for the sake of getting out of here, so I’m still here for a while, but as I’m gearing up and looking, things might actually be improving, so the remainder of my time here is livable. And who knows, they might actually surprise me and hire someone.

    So the moral of the story is, pitch a fit on your boss’s desk?
    If you’re really the only one who does what you do, they need you more than you need them. They can’t fire you or they’re left with a bunch of cases and clients they can’t service. So use your uniqueness as leverage to improve your situation, if only to buy yourself time to arrange a more strategic exit than screaming “I quit!” and walking out.

    Good luck and hang in there. You’re awesome, and they’re jerks and you don’t need them.

    jedi hugs, if acceptable.

    1. to clarify: ” not operating at capacity” above means not doing my usual quality of work, not firing on all cylinders, as opposd to not doing the usual volume. Although my volume capacity probably decreased because of burn out.

  55. I’m a US attorney. You sound like you might be outside my jurisdiction with a different benefits situation. However: I use to work at a Top Five firm in my country and also found my hair falling out and my smartest-and-best persona being lost. I took short term disability and it was well worth it. You may feel that you can’t afford to do so because no one else is around to do the work, but: you are already starting to miss things and the stress is building. Taking that break was crucial for me. When I finally felt ready to go back, I felt calm and healthier – and then, approaching the building on my first day back, a rush of panicked stress all over again. It told me what I needed to know.

    Just because your previous workplaces were shittier, doesn’t make this place sustainable. If you have the benefits to take a break, it might really help. I’m glad that I did.

  56. True story: the accounts manager at my parents’ business had a bleeding problem, became anemic, and had so little energy that she didn’t invoice anyone for over six months. If they paid at the time they visited the business it was fine, but if they were supposed to receive a bill later, nothing. My parents almost went out of business before the problem came to light. And the accounts manager is an extremely smart, conscientious woman who is still good friends with my parents. Anemia will mess you up. It insane to me that your bosses considered bleeding a “mistake” instead of a “serious medical problem that means you’ll need extra support and leeway”.

  57. Thanks to everyone for responding, especially the good Captain as I noticed after I posted that I went way over the word limit. Oops. Am feeling heartened to see other lawyers saying “no, this is not industry standard”. I am actually finishing in 8 days to go home for Christmas (in no way do I have a countdown app running on my computer!) but am just struggling to get through the days because it seems that case after case is going wrong because of something I have failed to do while operating through not so much brain fog, but brain mud. Should add that we have one secretary who I think is also depressed and has been the whole time I’ve been here – she disappears so much during the day that the other non-boss lawyer here and I have to answer lots of calls, and every day, cries at her desk. I don’t know why. Management pretend it isn’t happening. Both Jacob and I have raised it, “er, our secretary cries all day?” but nothing has been done, despite our suggestions that maybe a paralegal would help. The other lawyer and I don’t like to ask her to do any clerical stuff for us as she cries, messes it up, or both. Jacob used to constantly be in trouble with the bosses as he would dictate letters for her to type which were full of mistakes, which became his fault for not being able to type. Went to see psychologist this morning. He thinks that work is not a healthy environment, but that I am very self-critical. Bah. Roll on Christmas.

    1. Wow. Management ignores that secretary is crying at her desk everyday?
      GET OUT.
      Putting aside that they are inhumane jerkoffs, you want out because they are bad business people and incompetent managers. Ignoring endemic employee meltdowns is Malpractice Waiting to Happen. Get out before it really hits the fan.
      What happens to the files if you quit should not be your problem, as clients’ retainer agreements are undoubtedly with the firm, not with you, so it’s up to the firm to represent them if you’re no longer part of the firm. If they are *your* clients, take them with you, with the promise of better service at your new firm.

      Best of luck, have great and restful holidays, and greener pastures in 2017!

    2. Ooh, yeah, with the added info about the secretary, the warning bells have graduated to full on ‘THE NUKE IS COMING!’ klaxons. I have no way of knowing if this is due to treatment she’s receiving at the office from the management (though I’m sure they don’t do anything to *help*) or if it’s unrelated, but the fact that they’re not *doing* anything is… very bad. Honestly, what it sounds like to me is that they either can’t afford to hire or think they’re saving money by not hiring anyone else. No paralegal for the secretary, no second solicitor to help you in your department… I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other departments that have experienced shrinkage but not a reduction in workload. This is not sustainable.

      Also, it could be that she’s the loveliest person in the world and her problems have the most valid of causes… but it sounds like you’re doing the secretary’s job *in addition* to your own… or at least part of it. This is not helpful to you.

      As far as the self-critical thing goes… I’ve been there. Trust me, working in a Firm of Evil Bees just makes being self-critical exponentially *worse*, especially if they’re gaslighting you the way it sounds like they are.

    3. Wow, your work place is beyond horrible, and management should not be ignoring the fact that all their employees are having severe mental/ physical health problems. When you’re inclined to be self-critical, remember that it is not you – ALL your colleagues are being broken down by this “lenient” firm, it is 100% a management problem.
      There is no prize at the end for sticking it out through all this inhumane treatment. Why suffer? And don’t say “for the clients” – it’s management’s job to make sure they have enough staff to handle the caseload, you should not be required to martyr yourself.
      If management doesn’t take responsibility for this, then someone is literally going to die. It’s an industrial catastrophe waiting to happen – The Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Fire of the legal profession.

      Don’t come back after Christmas – have your doctor sign you off sick for as long as it takes to drain the brain-mud and get you feeling really well again. It can’t come soon enough – you won’t be able to work effectively until you deal with your health issues and invest in your self-esteem, and you won’t be able to heal effectively if you’re still trying to work at the place that is making you ill.
      If you’ve been holding off because you were waiting for a natural pause or something, there isn’t going to be one after Christmas. You needed the sick leave weeks (months?) ago, when your doctor prescribed it.
      You wouldn’t stay at your desk and defer medical treatment if your leg had just been cut off, so don’t stay at your desk and defer medical treatment for this health crisis, either. You wouldn’t take treatment for asbestosis while still working in a room full of asbestos, so get out of there. Mental health is just as important as physical health.

      Here’s an exercise for you to try during your time off – Try looking at your firm through a stranger’s eyes. Imagine you are a consultant who has been hired to find out what’s wrong at the firm. Imagine you are like Gordon Ramsay on his Kitchen Nightmares programme or something, seeing for the first time how the business operates. Imagine you meet crying secretaries and seriously ill lawyers, and overworked departments. Now imagine your horror and all the myriad things you would scream at the management (because at the end of the day, they are responsible for everything).

      I think to some extent you’ve normalized your firm’s practices as “par for the course” in your field. Maybe you even believed them when they said they were lenient. But this firm is made of evil bees. Try and imagine what “best practise” would look like, and then compare it to the Heironymus Bosch landscape that is your current workplace.

      LW, you are incredible to have lasted as long as you have doing the work of at leat 3 people, and you are intelligent, and you are competent, and your managers won’t give you the credit for being any of these things. You deserve so much better.

      Please take as much time off as you need to get well soon.

  58. I’m going to be a dissenting voice and say think very carefully before taking time off.

    Depending on the jurisdiction, being the person who took two weeks off and their clients suffered as a result could be very damaging for your career. It’s not right, it’s not fair, it’s bad management but my experience of law firms is that leaving files unattended is pretty much the worst thing you can do. Even if the reason is perfectly understandable.

    I agree that you need to get out, but when you do you want the reason to be the tactful version of “my current firm is chaos” and not “overwork and ill health led me to be negligent on several files and my stress levels forced me to take two weeks off, when I was the only person looking after some specific litigation.”

    This is not fair. But if you take time off and there’s no cover, EVEN THOUGH THAT’S NOT YOUR FAULT, I fear it could haunt you for a long time.

    1. Given that the situation is utterly unsustainable, what could someone in the law firm where you work do in such circumstances? What would be your suggestion for concrete actions to the LW? Even when we all agree it’s not LW’s fault, what specific action steps could they take? What is the best way for LW to implement your suggestion of “tactful version of “my current firm is chaos””? The LW is seeking proactive help and actionable suggestions.

      1. 1 – keep files ticking over until
        2 – find new job.

        The coded things to say in interviews are :

        “I worked for partner X, his working style was a literal different from mine which was sometimes challenging, but always interesting” = “partner X is an unstable man child”

        More specific interview code depends on how well the partners are known elsewhere and what sort of field you’re applying to.

        In order to keep things together before leaving, the key is don’t miss any deadlines. Make a giant pile of every pile on the floor on a Sunday morning if you have to, but work through them and identify every key deadline that can’t be missed.

        Don’t work on the files, just note the dates. Use the list to make sure you don’t miss anything else and also as handover notes when you escape.

        Aside from any issues of negligence, solicitors owe sworn duties to clients and are bound by a strict code of ethics. Poor health does not release you from the code.

        If it is impossible to meet ethical obligations to clients long enough to get a new job, the OP needs to call the Law Society confidential ethics helpline to discuss.

        1. On behalf of LW, thank you for sharing your insight, which is obviously based on a lot of experience.

        2. Yeah, so I think this would be good advice in an unpleasant-but-bearable situation, which unfortunately the LW isn’t in. LW is cutting themselves and having thoughts of suicide. They’re seriously mentally unwell and have health professionals telling them it’s not safe for them to be at work. I don’t think ‘grin and bear it until you find something better’ works in this case. In this case, LW would be putting themselves at further risk by doing this, and they may not actually be well enough to a) handle the files in the way they need to be handled and b) transition straight in a new role in law.

          I’m a solicitor too. In my jurisdiction, there is nothing that would suggest that I was failing to discharge my duty to my client (or client, in my case, since I am in-house) by resigning from my position. Successful negligence suits by former clients against solicitors are also extremely rare in my jurisdiction and are confined to extreme cases. There hasn’t been a single case where taking medical leave or resigning has been held to negligence or misconduct – in fact, I would be very surprised if anyone has even brought a suit along those lines.

          Finally, paid sick leave is a statutory entitlement in my jurisdiction. Of course, it depends on where one works, but assuming the LW is in a similar situation it is difficult to see how the exercise of a statutory right would be a negligent act. I think a negligence claim would be more likely to be made out against LW’s firm in circumstances where a) LW took the sick leave to which they were entitled and b) LW’s firm did nothing to ensure work continued on their files while LW was away.

  59. Dear LW:

    Your work is paying you $NotEnough to do something that is making you plan how to kill yourself.

    They are not a very lenient firm. I am sorry if they are nicer than any other place you have worked so far; I think it might just be that they provide a few more resources than other places you have worked so far (like a stapler) while making demands that are unreasonably exceeding your non-tangible resources.

    The job is making you plan how to kill yourself.

    Please, please, please find a way to get away from this situation so you can recuperate. You are not unreasonable to want time off. Anyone who tries to run a business without understanding that you cannot give someone more to do than they are capable of doing is unreasonable as fuck, and they are trying to make it your problem by saying “we are a very lenient firm”! They are lying. They might not know it, but they are lying.

    Please take care of yourself. You deserve better.

  60. LW, you can’t continue as you are. I used to work as a lawyer, and I left practice under circumstances that were a little similar to yours, although not nearly as bad. Of course, I don’t know what jurisdiction you’re in, and there are lots of details I don’t know. But I suspect that you can move to withdraw on individual if you are unable to do a competent job on your cases, and the court will almost certainly take your word on a one-sentence affidavit saying that continued representation will result in a violation of the ethical rules. You cannot do a bad job on your cases and then defend yourself in disciplinary proceedings on the basis you were stressed or in poor health. You are not helping your clients by staying on the case and doing a bad job.
    With that said, there are lots of paths open to you. You can go to the firm, tell them that you’re quitting if they don’t hire someone else to assist you, and tell them that you need a couple of weeks off. Telling them that you are afraid of ethics violations for overwork may create a duty for your supervisor(s) to address the problem, which may be good or may be bad. You can move to withdraw on some of your cases. You can quit the firm altogether. You need to decide what’s best for you, now and in the future, and for your clients. Handling 1.5x as much work as you can do well, doing a bad job on all of it, and getting disbarred or fired is not a good outcome for anyone. If you quit a case and the client has to find a new lawyer, that’s bad for the client and may annoy your firm. But if you stay on the case and mess it up, that is worse for the client, and also worse for you, and for the firm. So, part of what you should do in dealing with this problem is figure out how many cases you can actually handle, which is maybe 1.25x the number of cases that you want to handle, and keep your limits in mind as you decide what you offer to, and expect from, your firm going forward.
    I suspect that you need to talk to ethics counsel or some such, preferably who understands your practice area, your market, &c. As wonderful as the Awkwardeers are, you need specialized advice that you can’t get here. Hire an expert to advise you.
    I wish you the best of luck.

  61. Not much to add to the Captain’s great advice, especially since I know nothing about the dynamics of working in law, but I will say this. If you are feeling guilty about taking time off, asking for help, etc, or feel you are incompetent because you can’t handle an unrealistic workload, ask yourself this: if it had been you who had a breakdown and left Jacob with your work while he was dealing with a serious illness, would your bosses have expected him to handle it the way they’re expecting you to handle it? I seriously doubt it.

  62. LW, you can’t continue as you are. I used to work as a lawyer, and I left practice under circumstances that were a little similar to yours, although not nearly as bad. Of course, I don’t know what jurisdiction you’re in, and there are lots of details I don’t know. But I suspect that you can move to withdraw on individual if you are unable to do a competent job on your cases, and the court will almost certainly take your word on a one-sentence affidavit saying that continued representation will result in a violation of the ethical rules. You cannot do a bad job on your cases and then defend yourself in disciplinary proceedings on the basis you were stressed or in poor health. You are not helping your clients by staying on the case and doing a bad job.
    With that said, there are lots of paths open to you. You can go to the firm, tell them that you’re quitting if they don’t hire someone else to assist you, and tell them that you need a couple of weeks off. Telling them that you are afraid of ethics violations for overwork may create a duty for your supervisor(s) to address the problem, which may be good or may be bad. You can move to withdraw on some of your cases. You can quit the firm altogether. You need to decide what’s best for you, now and in the future, and for your clients. Handling 1.5x as much work as you can do well, doing a bad job on all of it, and getting disbarred or fired is not a good outcome for anyone. If you quit a case and the client has to find a new lawyer, that’s bad for the client and may annoy your firm. But if you stay on the case and mess it up, that is worse for the client, and also worse for you, and for the firm. So, part of what you should do in dealing with this problem is figure out how many cases you can actually handle, which is maybe 1.25x the number of cases that you want to handle, and keep your limits in mind as you decide what you offer to, and expect from, your firm going forward.
    I suspect that you need to talk to ethics counsel or some such, preferably who understands your practice area, your market, &c. As wonderful as the Awkwardeers are, you need specialized advice that you can’t get here. Hire an expert to advise you.
    I wish you the best of luck.

  63. I am a lawyer and tbh I didn’t even read what CA wrote. But I had to run down and tell you CALL YOUR STATE BAR. My state has a “lawyers helping lawyers” helpline for addiction, depression, etc. and if you want to preserve your law license, and I think you do, jump on the advice they give you.

    Also: take a leave of absence or flat out quit. The world will not burn down without you, and I think you know you’re risking a lot with even tiny mistakes because you’re overworked and out of spoons. Do your ethical due diligence here, but get out get out get out.

    I wish you the best and know that you are not alone in our profession. It’s a rough one even when you enjoy it. Hugs if you want ’em.

  64. One other thing as a future suggestion for you, assuming that at some point in time (in the near or distant future) you are working somewhere else. At some point in time, when you’ve had time to work through all of this a bit and have recovered some, take some time to think about what you found the most difficult about this job. You mentioned several things in your letter, and it’s up to you to figure out which is the most important to you (not trying to tell you what should or shouldn’t matter!), but when your brain is ready, try to figure out what things were the hardest. And when you’re able to move on to something else, then figure out some boundaries that you can set up front; whatever it might be, from making absolutely sure that you have a half hour lunch break every day, to leaving no later than [Time X] every day, or saying that once your vacation is approved you will not call it off even if a crisis comes up (my experience being that if everyone is overworked, a crisis *always* comes up), or whatever it might be for you. The point isn’t necessarily what it is, the point is that you find what is most important to *you* so you can keep working in a healthy way. (To give my own personal example, I can be okay staying late to cover an emergency on occasion, but I can’t skip lunch or Bad Things Happen.) Then when you look for another position down the road, you can a) be prepared to find a place that meets those requirements, and b) know how to set boundaries right up front. It’s much easier to set a boundary up front when they’re getting used to you than to, say, decide you’re going home at 6 every day when they’ve counted on you working unpaid overtime until 8 for the last several months.

    This may not be helpful for you right now, and if so you can ignore. However, I found it helpful having this in the back of my mind even at the old job so I could have some hope for the future, and then when I found a better job it was so much easier to set good boundaries right up front. Also, remind yourself that boundaries help everyone; you, your clients, and your employer. A good employer will recognize that.

    (One other thing that I offer up that may or may not be an option in your field: If possible, assuming that you stop working for this company [your choice, but it sounds like it may be heading that way], maybe take a job for awhile in an unrelated area, something as different as possible from what you’ve been doing here. I understand that this might not be an option in your domain, but if it can happen then I wholeheartedly recommend it. If not, then at least try something that’s in a different sort of area, different kind of company, etc. It’s much harder to move on from a bad experience like this if you keep doing the same sorts of things because it tends to trigger the same buttons, even if you’re with someone who makes better employment decisions. I got a seasonal temp job where all of the other employees were either college students or retired; it gave me income for a little while so I could focus on something more long-term, and was a fun experience that was different from any other job I’ve had. YMMV.)

  65. LW,
    when I’m getting stressed by something that other people benefit from, I like to step back for a moment, take a break from how “key” I am to whatever-it-is, and look at how those other people are acting about that thing of mutual importance (often primarily important to them, not me). Do they treat it as important, or are they simply expecting *me* to treat it as important? How did my part become so overwhelmingly essential?

    From what you’ve wrote, your bosses aren’t treating your work as important, at least not enough to do anything to help (like hiring a paralegal, or replacing Jacob, or even having an assistant to help you stay on top of filing deadlines). They’re choosing to put it all on you, and they can’t even manage to stay out of your way and let you do it! And yet it is their firm, they largely benefit from whatever money these cases bring in that nobody but you can do, and they could hire help but don’t. The onus is instead all on you to treat it as important, at the expense of your health and even potentially your life.

    Reject that artificial onus. It can be very hard to step away from a responsibility, even one that’s become so one-sided. But if the owners of the firm don’t treat these cases as important, enough to let it affect how they do things — why should you?

  66. This job is literally the job of TWO people and has driven both employees over the edge. If they’re so upset about your work, they can help you (with training/support) or fire you (and then your THREE BOSSES can maybe do some of the work their damn selves).

    Bluntly? You’re not going to get better. It is not going to change. TELL them nothing is going to change, your performance will not change under these circumstances, and they need to fix it. Your job is to show up on time, file the shit for 8 hours, and go home. Anything beyond that is their problem.

    And if they fire you? You’re a lawyer. Go to unemployment and say you’ve been doing the job of two and begging for help and the company refused. See what unemployment has to say about that. Then take your sweet sweet severance, go to the beach, and laugh as you watch the company fold while sipping something cold with the waves at your feet.

    A job almost killed me once. I’d rather live in a dumpster than under that stress.

  67. “I have started cutting myself after over a decade of not doing that.”

    Hey, OP, looks like the Good Captain and everyone else has addressed exactly how badly you are being treated very!) and exactly how much you deserve to take care of yourself (also very!) and had all the practical/legal advice of things covered, but I wanted to address this.

    First off, I’m in a similar boat with regards to returning to this problem after years of thinking it was past. I used to be pretty heavily addicted to self-injury, quit for four years, had three incidents, stopped for about a decade, then Election Night 2016 happened, and, well. Back to a problem I thought I was done with (although, thankfully, it was only the one night. It’s been much harder to stay stopped than it was before I started again, naturally, but I’m managing. In part because my trigger was a one-night ordeal, I’m not sure how I’d be doing if it were an ongoing sort of trigger like yours). It’s really, really hard to find myself having gone back there again, and I’m sending you all sorts of positive and hopeful thoughts because I know it can feel awful.

    I don’t want you to hurt yourself at all. I want you to use your therapist and your support network and whatever you need to find alternatives, to find other things that you can do FIRST, to get yourself to a mindset where it’s not a coping tool that you need. You got through a decade without it, and so I’m very hopeful for you that with help and changes, you will have another long list of years without it. If one way to help you get to those years is reminding yourself, “CA said I’m not allowed to hurt myself, so what else can I do? I will talk to a friend/take a cool bath/squeeze ice/listen to music/draw on myself/whatever.” then great! Use it! And feel free to stop reading right here!

    If that doesn’t work for you, though, and it’s not so easy to stop, please be gentle and kind and forgiving to yourself about it. And then use your therapist or whoever else may help to try to figure out a plan for next time. It IS a coping tool (if a maladaptive one), and I’m going to disagree with the Captain’s last bit of wisdom. You ARE allowed to use whatever coping skills you have to survive this.

    The reason I mention that is that I know that, for me, feeling like I CAN’T do it (or am “not allowed” to do it) has often had an opposite sort of panic-inducing effect which doesn’t stop me and then makes me feel extra-super guilty for doing it, which is not particularly productive. Obviously, YMMV with this, and it’s not that way for everyone, but if it is that way for Letter Writer, I wanted to put this out there. A lot of times, it’s easier to put some barriers in front of it (hiding tools, wrapping tools in a list of people who care about me, etc.) and then tell myself, “Okay, it’s there for me if I need it. But am I sure that I need it?” And then try some other things first.

    Anyhow, just putting that perspective out there. Jedi-hugs and love and hope that things change for the better.

  68. As a fellow lawyer, you may want to consider making a complaint to your state’s ethics board. It’s a violation of most states’ rules of professional ethics for a lawyer to take on more work than they can possibly handle. It may conceivably be a violation for the firm to dump too much work on you. You’re being expected to do all the work of the senior attorney in your practice area, plus what you were doing before, and the senior attorney left because he was overworked (when you were both there)! That’s not fair to the firm’s clients. At least call the anonymous Hotline and explain the situation to see if you think you could make the case for a formal complaint.

    The time to appeal to the sense of the firm’s leaders has passed. It’s time to go over their heads and make them deal with the understaffing, whether they appreciate the gravity of the situation or not.

  69. Lovely LW, you are going through hell because you are being abused and gaslighted. You don’t have to be grateful that these people abuse you in a different way than the last people.
    I’ve worked in a lot of law firms as admin/support, and it’s not the unusually fantastic bosses who sent people home for *massive uncontrollable bleeding* or hired more staff (even temps) for a workload shift.
    That’s what minimally decent humans do, who are not idiots and actually want to run a successful long-term business.
    From here, it looks like they are shoving all their irrationality and bizarre magical thinking onto you, and you are trying to absorb it and turn it into something normal that makes sense.
    Trying to spin straw into gold will tank anyone’s mental health. Anyone. Because it doesn’t work.
    Wishing you much safety and support as quickly as possible.

  70. Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or part of your firm, but FWIW I am a professional.
    It sounds like your firm is actually in desperate need of you LW, being the only one who does something that sounds like it makes them a lot of money, so I think you actually have a lot of bargaining power. Maybe the bosses want to act like they are so great for not being even more horrible but well, no. They can look out for themselves, you look out for you and don’t worry about them and their profits at this point; not until they extend you the same consideration.

    LW I advise you to sit down and figure out what you need then tell your bosses. It sounds like there is a lot of emotion and guilt flying around, (understandable because of the system you are in though I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong) try to put that aside and figure out what you want (maybe therapist can help!). Things like
    — need X amount of vacation per year including Y amount in the immediate future
    — need them to hire at least one other person who does your job, another “Jacob” if you will
    — also hire or appoint someone who can cover if you are sick – it’s a normal employer thing to have some medical leave available
    — if they do not start working on this do this you will quit. Possibly now, or within 2 weeks, or whatever the shortest viable time period is in your profession
    — if they have not made serious progress on the above by Z date, same scenario

    Meanwhile look around for other jobs just in case. But I bet if you presented them with a reasonable list of “this is what I need to make employment here tolerable” they will go for it. If they try to make you feel like a slacker or overly emotional or whatever, remind yourself that actually it’s perfectly reasonable to want these things and respond as professionally or as “then I guess you won’t be needing my services!” as you think is appropriately.

  71. Oh my god. All I can say is, I am so grateful to live in Europe where we at least still have some vestiges of labour rights. This is a serious case of work exploitation… taken to the limit. Get out, put yourself and your health first from now on always, start believing that the bosses are to blame COMPLETELY here. Also, in a couple of months, when you start feeling better, consider joining a union. I did, after a similar experience (but not so extreme), and you don’t know how much it helped me. Unions have people who will morally support you and understand you, and will give you legal advice. Again, it sounds like you’re in the US or Canada so I expect the situation about unionizing is scary/forbidden/taboo/unthinkable, but it’s the BEST thing you can do for yourself in the long run, after seeking medical help and taking LOADS of care of yoursef for YEARS. Unions empower people, and that means better mental health at least. Best of luck! And remember: it’s not your fault, it’s capitalism! You are worth SO MUCH MORE than your productivity and your work xx

    1. Unions aren’t always viable for people who are professionals like lawyers. Collective bargaining works best when you have a large workforce; it’s tough to really get that dynamic for a single specialist in a small workplace. That’s why many of us recommended lawyers’ assistance programs. They can help serve that counseling function.

  72. Marginally late to the party, but:
    I have severe chronic migraines, which are heavily stress-triggered.
    Left unchecked, I am also a chronic workaholic.
    I am apparently easily sucked into the You Are the One True One Who Can Do This Job (and also because I work in nonprofits, You Would Do This If You Didn’t Hate The Children. You Don’t Hate The Children Do You?)

    It turns out none of that is a good combination.

    Even becoming more aware of it, even working progressively less hours each new start, I have worked myself into the ground and into total health meltdown at every single job I’ve had.

    The first didn’t care. Locked in a contract. I had a car accident driving while too sick and overly medicated, and they were like, “But you’re still coming in, right?” I finally snapped, worked exactly 43.5 hours (my rostered hours, although it was expected you were doing 15-20 more a week) a week, and pretty much dared them to fire me. They didn’t, because they obviously relied on my quite heavily. I finished out my contract, and still am amazed and horrified I made it out alive.
    The second said they cared but didn’t back it up with action. I worked until I got to the point that I was crying uncontrollably in my car every time I left the office and had constant migraines. I quit while on a scheduled holiday, giving two weeks notice but most of which I was not in the office. It took me 6 weeks to recover healthwise.
    The third said they cared and asked for feedback and then used that feedback to actively undercut me. I put in my notice one-month-and-one-day before my last project went live. It took me 10 weeks to recover.
    The fourth said they cared. The first time I had a health meltdown (not actually related to stress, but problems with meds), they said, “What do you need from us?” and I worked a reduced scheduled for about 6 months until my medication was fixed. During that time, they paid me my full salary for about an 80% work load, and waaaay more got done than if they’d tried to make me muscle through. They gave me extra paid time off both times I’ve had surgery. When I got put on a stressful high profile project and started pulling long hours, they checked in frequently: “Are you okay? We think you’re over doing it. Keep us in the loop if you think you are.” Spoiler, I was, and I finally drove myself off the cliff health-wise. I said, “I am unwell and think I need to take medical leave.” They said, “You don’t need to file paperwork, just take the leave. We’ll figure out the deadlines.” And I did and they did. And it was the worst health meltdown I’d had since I left Job 3. And you know how long it took me to recover, with the fast-given medical leave and the full support? 1 week. You know how much shit I will put up with at this job forever because of how endlessly supportive they are of my medical stuff? All of it.

    The point of this story is that your firm can tell lies all day about how “lenient” they are, and you will should see straight through that bullshit for what it is if it’s not backed up by supportive action. The other point is that truly supportive workplaces do exist, and they look nothing like the situation you are in. I hope you find a better one, and I hope you can take a good long time off to recover from this shitshow.

    As my boss’s boss said at my current job when I requested the medical leave: “No one wants ‘Here’s lies Brit: She worked herself miserable’ on their tombstone. That’s not what life’s about.”

  73. whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Stop the train, you need to get off.

    OP, you are in a toxic workplace. It’s the Stockholm syndrome. Things around you at work are so awful, and have been so awful for so long, that you think this is the normal and right type of workplace. Its’ not.

    Take the Captain’s advice. Find out what your legal options are. Let your capable friends and husband help you in web searches about your options.

    It’s not your fault And, keep in mind, if you quit tomorrow, the law firm would not simply melt into the ground into a *poof* of nothingness. They would continue to go on. You are not the one person keeping this firm afloat You are not the one person keeping each case afloat.

    If you were, you should have been paid a buttload more money than they were giving you 🙂

    I was there too — I didn’t want to let anyone down, I didn’t want to seem weak, I didn’t want someone to get hurt because I couldn’t hack the regulations and work. But the firm will live without you. They will reassign people. They will hire people. The firm is an organism that wants to live, and will continue to live, even if you leave (for a short term, a long term, or permanently).

    You need to take care of you. After all, if you continue to work at this breakneck speed, you will end up in the hospital. And there will be no one doing your job — but the firm will survive. But you may not survive with your health and mental faculties in one happy piece.

  74. I had to leave a toxic job that was mentally destroying me this year. The company was firing and bleeding staff all over to cut costs and leaving those left behind to take on far more work than was healthy. I was a newbie manager who suddenly had the weight of the world dropped on my shoulders and left to deal with an ailing infrastructure the company refused to prop up with funds, which basically meant every fix lasted five minutes and I had no start and finish time or genuine holiday. I was burnt out, wired with anxiety, had panic attacks when my phone rang, lost interest in everything outside of work, became such an emotional wreck that my family and friends were extremely concerned about me, and spent every waking moment NOT at work DREADING the next moment I would be at work.

    Even so, I could not fathom how the place would cope without me. But after a manager had a shouted tirade at me for asking a few concerned and very reasonable questions about some business plans, and caused me to burst into tears on the phone to one of my EMPLOYEES who dared ask the dread question “Are you okay?”, I knew I had to leave.

    And I am 110% better already just for being out of there, a mere 3 months later. But even then, my new company are bringing in some tech that I supported at my old place, and though I’m not even involved, when I hear the test team behind me talking about it I get horrible anxiety flashes. This stuff is so not good for you and it can take a long time to truly recover.

    Trust me, there will ALWAYS be other jobs and opportunities but you only have one mind and one life – don’t let them be ruined by a company that clearly isn’t valuing your time, effort or wellbeing (important!) enough to recognise that driving one employee to a breakdown already is probably a sign there’s something wrong! Loyalty and dedication is admirable but I’ve seen my own get taken advantage of more than once now, and you have to know when to draw the line – typically when you can see how one-sided and damaging to you it truly is.

    Best of luck and please get well soon ❤

  75. Oh man. I also work in the legal field and while LW’s situation is extreme it is not uncommon for lawyers and clerks to feel this way. Law firms are notoriously badly managed (mostly because training as an advocate is totally counter to managerial skills) lawyers often don’t do the work of clerks or younger lawyers and have difficulty understanding the inner workings of their own firm. Almost every lawyer I’ve ever met except maybe one has been a blind, selfish ass. I’ve written and deleted so many letters to the captain about similar issues with my firm – refusal to hire a temp even when the workload is overwhelming, refusing to teach, continually taking on new work even though we’re all swamped.

    It’s doubtful that LW’s firm has an HR if it’s that small – mine certainly doesn’t. Complaints I’ve logged have been met with disinterest.

    Of course LW has to gtfo and maybe find work at a big law firm. Big law firms have way more staff, they have HR, they have benefits, insurance, etc. Incidences of micromanaging are lower. I’ve worked for a big firm and a little one and the big firms are superior in every way in terms of work/life balance. Hang in there LW! They can always hire someone else. it is not impossible.

Comments are closed.