I knew I wanted to be a prosecutor from the moment I entered law school. I had worked in several law firms prior to law school, and knew that being a prosecutor was the best job in the courtroom. When I passed the bar in 2010, and became an attorney, I was privileged to start my job as a prosecutor, and never once stopped to think about how the stress of the job was affecting my health. I worked six (6) days a week, 8-10 hours a day. The first year I was employed, I came in every Sunday to work 8 hours to complete discovery on my cases, which I couldn’t manage during the week. I took no vacation that year except for Jewish holidays. While I eventually learned how to balance taking time off and working, I still maintained a ten (10) hour or more schedule for the first six (6) years of my career. I have always suffered from anxiety, but I used it to fuel my path to success, as my constant worrying about my cases allowed me to be overprepared for legal issues relating to those cases. I thought I was balancing the stress through exercise, as I was an avid weightlifter. During this time period, I also began prosecuting human trafficking cases, teaching law enforcement, and speaking at community outreach events. In 2015, I started suffering panic attacks, but I wasn’t sure why, despite burning the candle from both ends. In 2016, I noticed the stress was starting to affect my personal relationships, but I pushed forward. I started at a new government agency, and thought things would improve, and I started seeing a therapist. While things improved in my work life, my body still physically shut down, as a consequence of the 6 years of stress that I had ignored. I was in pain constantly, I wasn’t sleeping, and I could get no relief. I went to doctors and specialists and no one could conclusively tell me what was wrong. Meeting with a holistic specialist, we discovered my digestive system stopped producing certain elements which caused a litany of issues. It took 2 years and a lot of probiotics, supplements, and vitamins to get healthy again. I had to stop drinking coffee and wine for a whole year!
I am incredibly driven as a person, and while I loved being a prosecutor, in 2018 I realized I wanted to transition into a private sector job for growth opportunities. I love to learn and be challenged and I did not feel like I would be able to learn other areas of law if I stayed in my particular government position. I decided to contact some legal recruiters to see what my options were. At this point, I was an 8 year attorney, with more than 50 jury verdicts under my belt, multiple high profile cases, excellent legal writing skills, and a very high comfort level with the evidence code and courtroom litigation. Imagine my surprise when multiple legal recruiters told me that I wasn’t as desirable of a candidate as I believed myself to be. “You only know criminal law.” “You don’t have the billing experience, and you would have to be trained to be a civil practitioner.” “Firms expect you to work long hours and weekends; its not like government work.” “You’re more like a first year associate than an eight year associate, and you have to lower your expectations.”
It was like being punched in the gut over and over. It only got worse on interviews with firms, because they made assumptions about my work ethic or my skills. They were impressed with my writing and courtroom experience, but not so much that they were willing to offer me anything reflecting that value. This compounded the emotional turmoil I was in, because I now felt trapped, or that it was my own fault that I wasn’t an appealing candidate. Silly me, I shouldn’t have dedicated 8 years to government work because now I am a one trick pony. I began to think I needed to leave the practice of law entirely. This experience began to affect my health, and I started to see the signs of my body shutting down again. In early 2019, I decided I had to take control of my health and I couldn’t allow this stigma or perception of a government employee to dictate what steps I took in my life. I made the decision to leave my government job and open my own law firm, to try and create a life that made me happy and kept me healthy.
How Danielle Got Help
It took a lot of courage, but I chose not to let someone else’s assumption of who I was dictate my life. I used the Florida Bar YLD’s resources on starting your own firm to guide my next steps. I relied heavily on my most trusted friends and my fiancé to be my sounding board and provide guidance. I chose to continue to prioritize my health and in doing so found that I was allowing myself to be a better lawyer for my clients. There are still stresses involved being a business owner, and being responsible for my own paycheck and benefits. But, I am able to manage these concerns because I have the freedom to be the kind of lawyer I want to be and work on the cases I want to work on. I regularly exercise by training in kickboxing and grappling, which is meditative to me, and allows me to turn my brain off a few hours a day. I also am very diligent in maintaining a course of supplements that keeps my body and brain healthy. I learned a lot during my experience about the brain and gut connection—there is a connection between gut health and dementia. How can I be a great lawyer without a healthy brain?
Just know that if you feel like you are alone, you aren’t. Don’t ignore the impact this stress has on your body and your life, and don’t be afraid to charge forward and create a future that serves you. I also highly recommend supplementing with a probiotic and annual bloodwork to make sure your body isn’t being ignored. https://www.gardenoflife.com/content/probiotics/
Danielle is the president and owner of Dudai Legal, P.A. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She is a former prosecutor and now represents small businesses and individuals in varying business matters including cryptocurrency and cannabis law, and has a small litigation consulting practice.