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Young Attorney Panic Attacks -- What Is Normal?

Been practicing law for about a year and a half at a midlaw countdooku01/25/18
No it is not normal and you are probably the worst attorney cocolawyer01/25/18
This is a fantastic thread and one any new attorney should r nycatt02/05/18
This may sound harsh but it is honest and it comes from a yo trickydick01/25/18
Dealing with anxiety is part of being an attorney in private jorgedeclaro01/26/18
Like my reoccurring nightmare of being back in high school ( qdllc01/26/18
That's probably not healthy, but I can definitely relate. Lu thirdtierlaw01/26/18
I'm not anxious all the time. Trial is just one of those thi jorgedeclaro01/26/18
Talk to your doctor. I have anxiety issues, and he put me o qdllc01/26/18
How much do you take and for how long? I thought that OT isthisit01/26/18
120 mg once a day. Lithium orotate is a natural form...very qdllc01/26/18
One thing that helped me as a young lawyer is understanding blakesq01/26/18
I think, generally speaking, that the stress level associate anothernjlawyer01/26/18
This is true. I think the key to dealing with the anxiety is onehell01/26/18
Also: 1) Your firm has malpractice insurance. Even if yo anothernjlawyer01/26/18
Stress and anxiety are normal but regular panic attacks are flharfh01/26/18
I have been practicing for roughly 8ish years and I still ha lawdawg01/26/18
I'm curious to know if this is a private-practice only pheno wolfman01/26/18
While gov't lawyers certainly have stress from other sources onehell01/26/18
With rare exceptions, prosecutors rarely have anyone to ans thirdtierlaw01/26/18
My learned opinion is that the only two truly anxiety produc lolwutjobs01/26/18
this is the stupidest post I've read in a long time on JDU themapmaster01/26/18
Family law I can attest is truly mortifying. I always tell p cocolawyer01/26/18
I grant that family law is anxiety producing. But try advis themapmaster01/26/18
This is basically all I do, friend, and I am diametrically o lolwutjobs01/26/18
OP, as you have likely experienced, beginning your legal car hairypalms01/26/18
I am decades into this and the stress is always there. I am boomeresq01/28/18

countdooku (Jan 25, 2018 - 6:12 pm)

Been practicing law for about a year and a half at a midlaw firm. Had a good year. Got a Christmas bonus, got a very good annual review. Good firm, and by that I mean I like where I work.

However, my panic attacks have gotten more and more intense. Every time I feel like I make a mistake, I lock up. I just feel like I can't do anything right, like I'm a terrible attorney, and other attorneys I practice with think I'm a joke. On days like today I usually work till 730. I left a good bit earlier. I just couldn't be in the office anymore (not like being in the office and working past 6 would have helped with my work problem, just to be clear).

I'm not sure why I'm writing this other than just to get my thoughts out there. Is this normal? Will it get better? I just can't picture myself still going in 20 years with this anxiety.

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cocolawyer (Jan 25, 2018 - 6:57 pm)

No it is not normal and you are probably the worst attorney in the room....I AM JOKING!

Anxiety is normal from fledglings to experienced superstar attorneys. If you are not worried you are making a mistake....you are likely making a mistake. The detail orientated nature of the job makes you constantly worry. Typically the more worried, the more detailed you are. The more detailed you are, the more prepared you will be. There is no substitute for hard work or preparation. It typically makes you awesome...if you don't have a stroke. I often outworked smarter individuals.

I wish I could give you advice on it. I left private practice do to the level anxiety as I handled real heavy asset cases. A 0.2% error could be a six figure error. So I get it.

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nycatt (Feb 5, 2018 - 4:47 pm)

This is a fantastic thread and one any new attorney should read. So many great comments. I am ten years in and still feel anxiety, although it has gone down in intensity. I had a lot of panic attacks at the beginning of my career and worse, but I became really good at what I do and was able to get someplace where they appreciate me. You can do the same.

Simply put, the more you practice, the more your anxiety will decrease because you are able to understand that you can only do your best and present the facts in a way that the judge and/or jury can digest. The decisions are made by the court and the parties; you can't control everything in the process.

With respect to the stress coming from inside your firm, after a few years, you can get a job at better firms. Bigger doesn't mean better- you must find the firms where the attorneys are (reasonably) kind, sane, and realistic, and also good at what they do. I have made four lateral moves (at year 1, year 7, and year 9), and I always have gone to better situations. And I did my home work - I found the place I wanted to work at based on talking to attorneys I knew and then worked my way in. I started at a pretty bad firm where they screamed at me everyday, so now I really appreciate my pretty good gig. For now, knuckle down and plan your moves. You can do it.

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trickydick (Jan 25, 2018 - 7:33 pm)

This may sound harsh but it is honest and it comes from a young attorney who was thrown into his work with no training.

It is not normal. Whether you’re a debt collector chasing defendants for pennies or a litigator for companies that make the Forbes 500, you either learn to handle the stress or you make yourself a liability.

If you’re in BigLaw, the slightest mistake can end your career if you don’t have people willing to go to bat for you. You need to accept that reality or leave the profession.

Anywhere below BigLaw, you will make mistakes but there are actually very few mistakes you can make that are impossible to rectify in some way. As you gain experience you’ll stop worrying as much and learn to care less about what in reality is minutiae. On the other hand, if you’re still sweating the small details after you have a few years of experience under your belt, there is something wrong with you and it is a liability. Someone who panics under pressure is someone who is unreliable.

I felt constant stress when I first began practicing because everything was new and different and the learning curve was steep. Now everything is old hat and it’s rare to have something in front of me that floors me. These days boredom and irritation are my biggest enemies.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been successful at my firm and gotten raises until I capped out on my salary and now I’m under a bonus structure. My bosses think I do a great job and opposing counsel prefers to work with me over a lot of other associates at my office.

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jorgedeclaro (Jan 26, 2018 - 1:31 am)

Dealing with anxiety is part of being an attorney in private practice. It's not going to manifest itself the same for everyone, but it's something you have to find a coping mechanism for. I'm five years in and I feel physically ill for the first three days of trial. For the three days leading up to trial I have to drink a beer every 3-4 hours so my heart rate doesn't go through the roof while prepping. I wake up in the middle of the night dreaming about cases that don't exist.

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qdllc (Jan 26, 2018 - 8:44 am)

Like my reoccurring nightmare of being back in high school (at my age) because I forgot to take a required math class.

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thirdtierlaw (Jan 26, 2018 - 8:50 am)

That's probably not healthy, but I can definitely relate. Luckily for me, my anxiety sort of ceases during the trial. The evenings can be brutal, but in the moment I sort of block out/transcend the anxiety. I used to think I just wasn't anxious during the trial, but I wore a Fitbit once, and my heart rate was super elevated for the whole day, I just didn't notice.


I'm glad I'm not the only person who will wake up in the middle of the night worried about a case that doesn't even exist. I've had times where I've even pulled up my phone and skimmed case titles to double check because the dream felt so real.

Working out seems to be the key for me. When I'm able to work out, the anxiety doesn't hit me as hard. But now that I have a new baby at home, I have't been able to workout for like 5 months, the anxiety has come back like a freight train.

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jorgedeclaro (Jan 26, 2018 - 1:03 pm)

I'm not anxious all the time. Trial is just one of those things that gets me. As a non-PI civil practioner I don't have trials all that often so when I do it is a big deal. I get anxiety if I get behind on a case but otherwise my normal day in the office is not as a ball of stress.

It's only the first couple of days of trial where the evenings are bad. Except for expert cross examination, I don't have to prep as much for the defense case. It's direct examination that I script out with when exhibits need to be addressed that is time-intensive and stressful.

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qdllc (Jan 26, 2018 - 8:46 am)

Talk to your doctor. I have anxiety issues, and he put me on lithium orotate (the supplement...not prescription strength). Worked wonders. I still have anxiety but now I just don’t give a damn.

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isthisit (Jan 26, 2018 - 10:57 am)

How much do you take and for how long?

I thought that OTC Lithium nukes your kidneys long term.

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qdllc (Jan 26, 2018 - 2:52 pm)

120 mg once a day. Lithium orotate is a natural form...very weak. I’ve been on it for a few years. I doubt my doctor would recommend it if there were long term adverse effects.

My doc will try natural and holistic remedies before escalating to full strength pharmaceuticals. Talk to your doctor. Blood work should be done in case you have other health issues contributing to your issues.

I was on the stuff for a month and thought it wasn’t helping, so I stopped for a month. Hence my joke about still having anxiety but now I just don’t care about it. In my case, it didn’t block anxiety, but it “toned down” my reaction to it.

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blakesq (Jan 26, 2018 - 10:35 am)

One thing that helped me as a young lawyer is understanding that "all you can do is your best". You are aren't perfect, no one is perfect, your bosses aren't perfect. If you do your best, then fine, go to the next project. If you make a mistake fix it, but it is not the end of the world. All you can do is your best. It is impossible to do more.

Talking to a psychologist may help get you to think more positively, and lessen the panic attacks and stop you from "locking up" and if necessary she may recommend you see a psychiatrist for anti-anxiety meds.

Good luck!

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anothernjlawyer (Jan 26, 2018 - 11:32 am)

I think, generally speaking, that the stress level associated with practice goes down exponentially the longer you've been admitted. You may have stress from other sources as you get older, but you aren't going to have a heart attack if you're running late to Court or if a client tells you there unhappy (or whatever else makes you panic when you're new). Things I panicked over as a 1st year I wouldn't bat an eye at now. Experience brings perspective and you come to realize that law's a business and your life goes on. A couple things:

1) Law, in many ways, is pretty forgiving. As long as you don't miss a statute of limitations or an appeal deadline, just about everything else can be straightened out. Most of the things that make you feel like a "bad attorney" probably make no difference in the long run and its part of the learning experience. The "bad lawyers" are the guys who miss an SOL, and then lie to their client about it for the next five years.

2) Read the Rules (court rules, discovery rules, applicable statutes, regulations, etc..) as soon as you get an assignment, so you know exactly what you're dealing with. Besides being practically helpful, this should help address any anxiety you have, since you will know what is required, and what is not. You can control mistakes that arise from being unprepared. If you make an informed tactical decision, and it doesn't work out, screw it. You can't beat yourself up over those.

3) You said you work in a good place. If you are really concerned that you screwed something up, talk to your supervisor upfront. Chances are, you didn't, and, if you did, it's always better to catch it early.

4) Finally, realize that sh!t happens. Like in sports, you will draw penalties. You will be times when you forget to disclose an email or something in discovery and then can't use it at trial. There will be times when you accidentally go to the wrong courthouse and have to make a beeline across the state. Imagine if NFL lineman freaked out every time they got a holding penalty....they wouldn't be in the NFL very long. Keep it in perspective, fix it the best you can, and move on.

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onehell (Jan 26, 2018 - 2:06 pm)

This is true. I think the key to dealing with the anxiety is that we're all faking it to some extent. Google "impostor syndrome" and you can see how widespread it is. Probably the best defense to it is recognizing that the other guy is probably experiencing it too. A big part of being experienced is that you get better at hiding it. Competence is often confused with confidence, so fake it till you make it.

Even on the transactional side, I always get a little snicker when someone brags about managing to get away with some provision favorable to their client that "isn't market" or when they get into silly little pissing matches about who can produce more precedent deals or whatever. That's because even if they got their client some theoretical advantage, there's like a 90+% chance the situation that would trigger it will never arise. Such is the nature of devoting your life to fine print that no one reads unless there's a disaster, which can be disheartening but viewed in the right frame of mind, also freeing.

Fact is, the really important stuff was hashed out in the term sheet. Making sure nothing runs contrary to that is important but the rest is mostly minutiae. The docs will go into a file somewhere and never come out again unless something goes wrong. And if something does go wrong, chances are there will always be something that was missed or which could've been done better, but 9 times out of 10, even if you had noticed it, the business types wouldn't have tolerated you holding things up over it anyway and the chances of it being such a colossal mistake that your head has to roll for it are actually pretty small.

The lesson is the same in both lit and transactions: Most mistakes are fixable, immaterial, or just won't come into play. But we lawyers have somehow created a culture of terror for ourselves where, especially when young, you feel like every mistake no matter how small could cause the bar to yank your license. It simply isn't so.

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anothernjlawyer (Jan 26, 2018 - 11:35 am)

Also:

1) Your firm has malpractice insurance. Even if you really screw the pooch, you aren't going to end up living in a van down by the river or getting thrown in jail for incompetence or something.

2) Talk to your doctor, or course, but I would have reservations about starting medication over young-associate stress. It's an inherently stressful time in your life, and, if you didn't have anxiety problems before, the problem might "not be you."

Good luck.

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flharfh (Jan 26, 2018 - 1:54 pm)

Stress and anxiety are normal but regular panic attacks are not. OP, I suggest you try regular strenuous exercise. It really helps me with stress. If that doesn't work I think you should see a MH professional.

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lawdawg (Jan 26, 2018 - 2:01 pm)

I have been practicing for roughly 8ish years and I still have major anxiety. I actually think it is worse now then when I first started because the responsibility is that much more intense and so are the expectations from the client, partner, and yourself.

I have been told by everyone to start exercising because it helps you maintain your sanity - and I intend to start to see if that helps. But I also think practicing law is just one of those professions that can take anxiety/OCD tendencies and magnify them.

Some attorneys I have worked with view the law as "just a job," and they are able to put it out of their mind once they leave the office. I am not one of those people - and I can totally relate to waking up in the middle of the night in a sweat about something, as well as blowing scenarios out of proportion in my mind and almost inventing issues.

If it wasn't for the salary, I probably wouldn't be practicing. Sometimes I enjoy it, but a lot of the time I find myself stressed out and anxious. I don't want to live my life like this and I either need to figure out a way to cope, or get out of the profession before I give myself a stroke.

I just want to know if it gets better, or if it's going to be a constant stream of waiting for the sh*t to hit the fan for the rest of my career.

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wolfman (Jan 26, 2018 - 2:57 pm)

I'm curious to know if this is a private-practice only phenomenon, of some govt. attorneys also feel this way?

IANAL, but I work with a bunch of attys in (state) government, very heavy litigation and constant state and federal court time, but most seem very chill. With the very few who seem stressed out, it's pretty clear that's their personality, and they'd be stressed out driving a milk truck. I can't imagine being anxious as an atty here (like what's going to happen? you have to screw up really really bad for them to can you, I'm pretty sure)... but maybe that's just because it's not me practicing?

Interested to hear what actual govt. litigation attorneys think...

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onehell (Jan 26, 2018 - 6:50 pm)

While gov't lawyers certainly have stress from other sources (such as the stress inherent when your ultimate boss is an elected official or political appointee) I don't think impostor syndrome type anxiety is one of those feelings.

Look at all the prosecutors who brag about never having lost a case. Of course they haven't. They have near-absolute prosecutorial discretion and they aren't going to bring a case if they think there's any chance of losing. Plus they have investigators and police whose job it is to package the whole case up for them, practically in a bow, and as if that weren't enough, giving good testimony is part of their training. The judge, btw, is more likely than not a former prosecutor to boot.

Another good example would be administrative agency lawyers. Deference to their interpretation of regulations is literally baked into the law for the courts, and if you have to do administrative hearings, the ALJs decision is just a recommendation which can and will be ignored if the agency director doesn't like it.

Point is, as a government lawyer (excluding PDs) the system is largely stacked in your favor. I'm sure there's still other kinds of stress, but losing sleep over being found "wrong" is probably not something you'd experience frequently. More likely, your biggest risk is that some political change will occur that will suddenly put you on a tight leash or put your job in jeopardy. Imagine being a lawyer at the CFPB right now, for example.

On average, a government lawyer has to screw something up pretty royally to outright "lose" anything. But the whims of the political winds can buffet you pretty good, or you might have a caseload that's too high or whatever. There's still stress, just not this kind.

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thirdtierlaw (Jan 26, 2018 - 7:20 pm)

With rare exceptions, prosecutors rarely have anyone to answer to if they lose. Sure high profile cases might get some media attention but for 99% of their caseload, the worst case that happens is that someone goes free. Then they back to pleading their caseload out.

Whereas on the defense side you have post conviction relief, appellate court reviews, the defendant, and the defendant's family all blaming you.

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lolwutjobs (Jan 26, 2018 - 3:50 pm)

My learned opinion is that the only two truly anxiety producing areas are family law and criminal law

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themapmaster (Jan 26, 2018 - 8:59 pm)

this is the stupidest post I've read in a long time on JDU

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cocolawyer (Jan 26, 2018 - 9:02 pm)

Family law I can attest is truly mortifying. I always tell people for the most part if you tell a client the law does not support their position they generally accept your statement....unless its family law. Even in DCSS you can't get away from it. "Why do I have to pay X amount." This is a mandated guideline sir the Court has very little to no discretion in the matter. "Well you can't use my overtime. That's illegal." Sir overtime on a consistent basis is utilized for guideline support...case law is pretty specific to that. "F*** you. You are a liar to me. The Judge will agree with me...blah blah." Sir I am pretty certain the Judge will adopt the guideline I present to him. "What!! Why? Are you golfing buddies? This systems rigged! I am going to report you to the bar...blah blah blah."

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themapmaster (Jan 26, 2018 - 9:19 pm)

I grant that family law is anxiety producing. But try advising a corporate entity on a matter where you have two weeks to act if you're lucky, maybe an hour.. you could do 19 out of 20 steps right, make a misstep on the 20th step, expose the entity to millions in damages, and eventually be fired by the tit off which you feed

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lolwutjobs (Jan 26, 2018 - 10:31 pm)

This is basically all I do, friend, and I am diametrically opposed to your view. I give healthcare and regulatory advice to large covered entities on a daily basis and, due to the size of these entities, all of my work, opinions, and recommendations have huge monetary implications and can expose these entities to substantial liability if I am wrong...This does not compare to family and criminal law.

The sanctimonious nature of your post aside, I guess I just place greater value on the effect these areas have on human life.

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hairypalms (Jan 26, 2018 - 9:39 pm)

OP, as you have likely experienced, beginning your legal career can be very stressful. It doesn't help that you probably have a lot of debt and absolutely need your current job. I remember what it was like starting out in a law firm and how everything you did was potentially put under the microscope. Just do the best job you an do. You will make mistakes, but just try to minimize them in terms of frequency and degree. Get some exercise. I would suggest also getting a therapeutic massage from time to time to relax your body and muscles. Get a good support system, i.e., a loyal wife and quality friendships. Part of being a good lawyer is acting like you know what you are doing. If people (including your boss or colleagues) sense that you are unsure of yourself or your decision making ability, you are as good as gone. Maintain your confidence at all times. As they say, fake it until you make it. Good luck and take care of your body.

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boomeresq (Jan 28, 2018 - 4:48 am)

I am decades into this and the stress is always there. I am basically a solo as partner has multiple medical issues. The clients cause the most of it. They are seldom happy during the course of their cases, try to manipulate, think they know more than you. With e mail and cell phones they can harass you 24/7. The technology has not improved things. They Google and think they know more than you.

Because of the poor view the public has of lawyers and the pressure on clients and their drug and alcohol abuse, the violence against attorneys has increased. The stress of that can not be ignored. Attorneys I know have been physically attacked, one with an axe by the enraged pro se spouse of a client. The attorney was followed from his office to a parking garage and attacked. That has changed where and how i park my car both at the office and at court. It adds to the stress.

The rewards do not surpass risk of practice today.

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