This guest blog is written by attorney Joe Milowic, Director of Well-Being and Of Counsel at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP in New York City. Most of Joe’s advice applies not only to young associates but any lawyer who cares about living a mentally and physically well- balanced life. Joe is also a Founder of the Lawyers Depression Project (LDP), a grassroots project aimed at addressing depression and other mental health issues in the legal profession. Joe is a graduate of the Rutgers College of Engineering, with high honors, and its law school where he was Co-Valedictorian of his 2001 class. In 2018, Joe wrote an article for the New York Law Journal, “Quinn Emanuel Partner Suffers from Depression and He Wants Everyone to Know.” which encouraged a national discussion on depression in the legal profession (Read “Joe Milowic’s Story of Depression Should Spur Renewed Focus on Lawyer Well-Being” from the NYLJ). In this article, Joe shares his tips for self-care to manage your mental health and well-being.
For a long time, I did not feel comfortable admitting that I had experienced depression to my colleagues for fear of being perceived as incapable or unproductive. This was especially so as a young associate because I was worried people would be less likely to entrust me with important matters if they knew that I sometimes go through periods where I lose motivation and focus. Over the years, I battled it off and on, in what I would describe as cycles of high productivity and occasional ruts that I just need to work through. During the ruts, I would lose motivation and need to remind myself that it is only temporary.
I decided that speaking out from my then-position as a partner at Quinn Emanuel would enable me to be more impactful in speaking out about mental health. And the fact is we should be talking about this, because you can succeed in BigLaw, and at a top law firm, even if you have experienced depression. I’m committed to these matters so that we can heal together.
1. Prioritize yourself. There is no case, no assignment, nothing in fact, that is more important than you. Take care of yourself. Prioritize your peace of mind, your happiness and be the change you want to see in the world. No matter what you choose, each decision you make changes the world in some way. Make the changes you want to see.
2. Align your actions with your values. You have a strong internal compass. Consider your values. What do you love? What is important to you? What actions do you want to take, but maybe you are afraid? Challenge your fears and your limiting beliefs. Take actions aligned with your values. Find your calling or your North Star. What excites you, or gets you into a state of “flow”?
3. The Golden Rule. Treat others how you want to be treated. Consider whether you need to send that email in the evening or on Friday night. Let people know if it is not urgent. Think about the people who are your “adversaries” — they are your partners in a larger dispute resolution system. Think about the judges who have full dockets. Have you really tried to resolve the discovery spat before adding more to their full plate?
4. Quality over quantity. Ask most partners, we’d rather you do quality work, take good care of yourself, develop relationships and friendships inside and outside of work, and thrive, rather than work non-stop. You are not a cog in a machine. Communicate. Let the people you work with know you have a personal event, time with family and friends and that you’ll turn to the assignment when you can be fully present. Take time for things that are important to you. Learn how to say no, politely.
5. Relationships, connection & service. It’s not all about billable hours.Take time to get out of the office. Spend time with colleagues. Develop organic mentorship experiences with people you value and trust. Add value and serve your colleagues and clients in a way that brings you joy.
6. Choose love over fear. It is easy to get wrapped up in fear and believe the negative self-talk in our minds. We’re not good enough. We don’t belong here. We’re going to make errors. We’re going to lose our jobs. We’re going to commit malpractice. Observe those thoughts and let them go on their own accord. You are not your thoughts. You can observe your thoughts, write them down, and then challenge them. You can choose the ones to give your power to. Choose those thoughts that you value and let the rest go.
7. Be here now. Try to enjoy the present moment. Find joy in the little things. Your first legal research assignment. Your first deposition. Your first oral argument. Sure you will be nervous. But try to enjoy the moment. After a little while, you will see there was nothing to fear. Hone your skills so you can serve your clients and resolve their disputes or build lasting peace.
8. Competence & ethics. If you are starting up and do not know what you are doing, you are not alone. None of us knew what we were doing on day 1. And none of us know everything after years of practice. Ask questions. Be resourceful. Be thoughtful. We want to hear what you think.
9. The work flow roller coaster. Sometimes it can seem like there is so much to do, it can be like “drinking from a fire hose.” Other times, it can feel like the Sahara Desert. At certain stages in your career, this roller coaster can be extra stressful because it is being driven by things that appear outside of your control. When things inevitably dry up, try to enjoy the downtime. Take some time off, spend time with friends and family. The work will come back. It almost always does. Or if it doesn’t, you’ll figure it out then. The stress and worrying can be too much and may not be helpful; what is helpful is taking care of yourself in the meantime so you are healthy and ready to take on what lies ahead.
10. Be authentic. Ultimately, your true power is being you. You may feel like you are not good enough, you need to be always on, you need a facade so people will like you and rely upon you. We reject the premise. We want to see the true you. Be you with all of your idiosyncrasies and quirks. You are what you are for a reason. You may not know it but you are perfect just the way you are. Love yourself. And try to resist temptations to compare what you know of yourself to what you think you know about someone else. The person who looks like they have it all together might not.
More about the Lawyer Depression Project
LDP is a group of legal professionals (attorneys, paralegals, law students, and admin) who have suffered from depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, eating disorders, trauma, sexual abuse, addiction and other mental health conditions, or who just don’t feel quite right. It launched this grassroots project to help break the stigma around discussing mental health and to provide peer support to each other. LDP hosts a confidential forum and bi-monthly online peer-to-peer support group meetings and offer members the option of anonymity. Click here to join now. Benefits of joining include:
- Bimonthly online peer-to-peer support group meetings
- Confidential forum
- 24/7 chat access
- Option of anonymity*
- Membership is free