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No member of this board could read “Big Law Killed My Husband,” the op-ed written by Joanna Litt about her husband’s suicide, and not reflect on his or her personal experiences practicing law. Gabe MacConaill’s quest for perfection, struggle to fight feelings of inadequacy, and fear of career sabotage all hit close to home. We write in response to Litt’s op-ed and call on law firm leaders to honor the humanity of their lawyers, and to set a tone of respect for all lawyers, regardless of rank or book of business.

Like MacConaill, members of this board have dismissed requests from loved ones to leave the demands of private practice behind. We have lived without sleep, grappled with depression and sacrificed important moments with family and friends. Daily—and sometimes hourly—attorneys negotiate whether basic needs such as eating lunch, attending a doctor’s appointment or even taking a restroom break are worth the delay such “breaks” would cause in returning work product, emails or calls to a colleague or client. Attorneys routinely forfeit dinner with friends or communicating with family because of a deadline. Litt reminded us, however, that these trade-offs can result in too high of a price, especially if a lawyer already suffers from mental illness.

Some workplace phenomena specific to the practice of law make it difficult, if not impossible, for young lawyers to, as Litt wrote, “ask for help … be vulnerable … [and] not be perfect,” and, in our view, to be human. It is not necessary to buy into this culture as the only right way to work and be respected as a lawyer. Doing so would leave us all with an inadequate, and dangerous, sense of how to live and to work together. One of the most rewarding aspects of life as a lawyer is the relationships we have with our clients and colleagues. It is a privilege to confront legal issues from which we learn and use them to enrich our professional lives with our fellow lawyers. Lessening the humanity of any lawyer, whether through the intentional actions of bad actors or as a consequence of institutional traditions, results in the sacrifice of this privilege, and may also have life-threatening consequences.

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