As lawyers, we are mostly allergic to vulnerability, taking off the masks that we wear on a daily basis and being honest with ourselves and our colleagues. The truth is, I love being a lawyer, it is the privilege of my life to do what I love to do with partners whom I love to practice with. Unfortunately a commercial litigator, there are always winners and losers, and each side is always looking for a competitive or strategic advantage. It is a high-stress environment, and no side ever wants to “blink” first. This is just one of the reasons why mental health afflictions are pervasive in our legal community, yet are mostly suffered in secrecy. Why do we not discuss them more openly? Because to do so, we must make ourselves vulnerable, and that is scary and uncomfortable. Admitting our problems would require us to shed the “mask” we all wear on a daily basis. Yet, what I have learned through my experiences is that when you reveal your failures and your shortcomings, people will not love you less, they will love you more.
Sadly, many perceive mental health issues to be a sign of weakness, and seeking help to be embarrassing or shameful. I humbly suggest that seeking help is the complete opposite; it is a sign of bravery and valor. These are certainly difficult conversations, but the difficult ones are usually the most important. Depression and anxiety are silent; they crawl inside of us, and many of us are scared to remove our mask. We lawyers experience anxiety and depression at rates that exceed other high-stress professions. We rank fourth in terms of suicide and are six times more likely to commit suicide as compared to the general population. These are sobering statistics. What do we do? How do we start to change these statistics? We need to educate ourselves on mental health and talk more about this so that we can allow ourselves to be more vulnerable, more accessible, more understanding, and, most importantly, more loving.
How Javier Got Help
So, at the risk of being embarrassed or showing weakness, I will start. In 2012 my best friend and hero, my father, passed away after a horrific fight with cancer. I was lost after he passed—angry, depressed, confused. I was in a very, very dark place. My mentor, partner, and dear friend Harley Tropin came into my office one day and told me it was okay, he was there, he understood, and he gave me a phone number of a therapist he knew. That phone number changed many things for me. The therapy was not easy, it was not short, and I doubt someone ever truly heals from such a loss, but without the professional help I received, I do not know how that chapter would have ended. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. I am now back in therapy as trying to deal with the loss of my 44 day old nephew a couple of months ago to a rare genetic disease. As spouses, friends, family members, lawyers, and partners, we need to do a better job of listening. Listen to your colleagues; the most important truth may be said in jest. We are blessed to be able to practice law, it is a beautiful profession. With this blessing, I believe we have the responsibility to be there for each other, show up, be present. Just showing up can save a life.
What we do for a living should not mark who we are. I recall when I was a baby lawyer that a senior partner at the firm called me into his office. He said, “Lopez, I have a problem with you. I think that you are a B+, maybe an A- lawyer, but you will never be an A+ trial lawyer.” My dream was always to be the best trial lawyer around. He proceeded to tell me that the reason I would never be an A+ trial lawyer (only an A-) was that I put “my faith, my family, and my friends” above my practice. He then told me how many hours he worked and how much money he had made and actually boasted about the very lavish Bat Mitzvah he had thrown for his daughter but did not attend because he was preparing for a hearing. I took in what he said and asked him if I was fired. He said no but told me to “think about your priorities and put them in the right order.” I walked out of his office and thought, “Awesome!!” I could be an A- lawyer and still keep my faith, family, and friends as my priority! My friends, your practice should most certainly always be a priority, but it should never be the priority.
(email@example.com) is a partner at Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton and is the co-chair of complex and commercial litigation, handling the firm’s largest and most complex commercial litigation and class action matters. He handles trials and appeals on both the state and federal levels and was named a “Rising Legal Star” by Florida Super Lawyers and a “Top 40 Under 40” by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. He has been a director for the Cuban American Bar Association’s since 2009 and served as its president in 2017. Since 2005 he has been a member of the Harvard Alumni Association’s Interviewing Committee.