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Lawyers defend many genuine criminals who, after being freed, would go on to continue to commit terrible criminal acts. I would imagine that it is a profession that is extremely taxing on one's mental health.

That being said, I assume that Larry the lawyer, after successfully defending someone, can't just go to his therapist Theodore and blab "I feel like I just let a murderer go", no matter how important it is for Larry's mental health.

Mental health is important for all people in any profession. But are lawyers, who deal with some of the darkest parts of society, discouraged/dis-allowed from interacting with therapists? Even if Larry the lawyer tries to obfuscate the details (e.g. "I have a friend who just defended a murderer"), it's pretty clearly something that's bound to break attorney-client privilege. So I'm not sure what the answer might be.

Edit: upon further reflection, this question may be generalized to "borderline breaking NDA by opening up to your therapist". The therapist is obliged to keep things confidential, and their therapy can be considered a medical necessity just like a neurosurgeon's (depending on whom you ask). So I suppose the crux of the problem is whether opening up to a therapist (which can be a medical need) constitutes a breach of secrecy.

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    Larry did not let a murderer go. Larry just did his job and gave a defense. If a murderer was found not guilty it would be from a lack of evidence proving otherwise. I dont think Larry would have anything to feel guilty about.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 14:02

5 Answers 5

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I would imagine that it is a profession that is extremely taxing on ones mental health.

True.

Lawyers defend many genuine criminals who, after being freed, would go on to continue to commit terrible criminal acts.

This is not a significant reason that the profession is taxing on mental health. Indeed, the pretty much complete consensus of the criminal defense bar is that providing a defense to people who are factually innocent of any crime is much more taxing on mental health than providing a defense to people who are factually guilty of some crime.

You deeply misunderstand the nature of criminal defense work (which isn't uncommon), and in particular, the things about being a lawyer that make it stressful and that can cause mental distress.

Day to day work as a criminal defense lawyer is psychologically, for the most part, more like being a car salesman who is constantly haggling over prices and making deals, day in and day out, than it is a major moral dilemma.

That being said, I assume that Larry the lawyer, after successfully defending someone, can't just go to his therapist Theodore and blab "I feel like I just let a murderer go", no matter how important it is for Larry's mental health.

Without addressing the issue of whether privileges material can be revealed to someone who is subject to another privilege (which is a tricky legal issue to analyze),it is entirely possible to engage in fruitful psychotherapy without revealing attorney-client privileged material. In part, this is because the things that you think that lawyers find to be the source of their mental health worries aren't what actually is the source of those worries.

One thing that is desirable, however, about practicing in a law firm rather than as a sole practitioner without associate attorneys or staff, is that it does provide someone with whom you can readily and on a daily basis discuss attorney-client privileged matters related to your work. This isn't mostly a mental health thing per se. It isn't that you provide psychotherapy to your colleagues. But, some people process the details of their work life better when they can talk through it with a fellow professional and the process of reaffirming and challenging your own professional judgments. This can bring you a general mental clarity about your work that helps to overcome a "lack of bandwidth" feeling that can lead to mental stress.

More generally, practicing law outside of a law firm without professional colleagues is simply lonely, which is a mental health stressor in its own way.

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  • "Day to day work as a criminal defense lawyer is psychologically, for the most part, more like being a car salesman who is constantly haggling over prices and making deals, day in and day out, than it is a major moral dilemma." I was just saying something very similar to this yesterday, and I view it as one of the major shortcomings of the current implementation of the profession. It is very easy to be a haggler; such practices might as well be left to salesmen. It is more demanding to exercise moral intelligence and common sense to prove actual guilt and labor in defense of the innocent.
    – pygosceles
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 18:13
  • @pygosceles Right, wrong, or indifferent, it is the current reality.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 20:17
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Larry probably cannot reveal specific details that he learned through confidential client communications. But he can surely reveal anything that was stated in court, or in court filings, or that he knows from other sources. None of those are subject to attorney-client privilege or confidentiality.

If Larry does reveal confidential information, relying on the rule of doctor-patient confidentiality, and the information gets out. Larry might be held liable for harm tom his client. But as long as the therapist keeps it confidential, the issue will not arise.

I know of no law or ethical principal or regulation which discourages lawyers in general from visiting therapists, and I know that some do visit therapists.

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  • Thank you. But when a lawyer visits a therapist, it's not to talk about objective facts of the court case. It would mainly be about the lawyer's subjective feelings. Just like how a lawyer can't publicly say "I feel like a just defended a man who did in fact commit the murder", wouldn't confiding the same sentiment to a therapist be equally as damning for the lawyer? Or is it just swept under the rug, and one hopes that their therapist never airs out these things?
    – chausies
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 19:20
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    @chausies People often do discuss objective facts with therapists, (or what they perceive to be facts) as well as how those facts make the patients feel. In any case, a statement of how the lawyer feels about winning a case may well not violate a lawyer's duties, even if made in public. (that would be an interesting question of its own). I have not read of a case in which a lawyer was advised or ordered not to visit a therapist. Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 19:30
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How would an attorney know if someone is truly guilty or not? Even if he could why would it matter? The attorneys job is to give a defense to the best of his/her ability. Not to make any moral judgments on how other people live there lives.

I think the problem is that the popular conscience considers justice to be fundamentally different to what the justice system does.

Justice is concerned with much more than convictions. If police, for instance, enter a house without the needed warrant then evidence gathered this way should be excluded from any trial.

There is a good chance then if the evidence gathered is crucial to the prosecution's case that the accused may walk. It is also perfectly possible that the accused did do what he is on trial for.

This would in fact be justice. Police cannot be allowed to break the laws they are supposed to enforce (although they often do).

My counter-question to the premise of this question would be. What is truth? What can any person say with absolute certainty is true?

If you can say that you know very little concepts that are true with any real amount of certainty. How can a judicial system then make truth decisions that often have far reaching implications in peoples lives?

They cannot. At best they can assert guilt standards that hinge on whether all procedurally legally gathered evidence has proven a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

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  • This does not appear to provide an answer to the question.
    – feetwet
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 16:51
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I assume that Larry the lawyer, after successfully defending someone, can't just go to his therapist Theodore and blab "I feel like I just let a murderer go", no matter how important it is for Larry's mental health.

You assume incorrectly. You also assume that this would matter to an attorney's mental health (it might, but it might not). My experience here is that the murder itself is the traumatic thing to be part of, not the act of defending the client.

But there is nothing keeping an attorney from saying exactly those words, certainly in private. There is no attorney-client privilege that has been violated. Certainly, those words are protected within the therapy arena, and it's not quite clear to me how they would harm the client anyway. Admitting to a therapist that you committed a crime in getting an acquittal might be problematic, but an acquittal is an acquittal. I could imagine things that a therapist must report by law ("I got my client off and he will soon be committing another offense"). But this is a feeling, not a statement of fact.

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One of the best therapies I can recommend in principle is to make the work of a serious public servant be a part-time job only, and recruit more public servants to help share the load. This offers not only comradery but also much-needed respite. This approach has benefits primarily for those who do wear themselves out in pursuit of justice, who bear public dislike on account of prosecution or defense in unpopular positions or cases, and secondly to mitigate the damage done by those who are not wholehearted in their profession, since they can only accrue emoluments for part of the time. Wholesome recreation, family time, and work of other kinds is one of the best forms of therapy for any pointedly stressful vocation.

And here we have, unsurprisingly, yet another excellent argument in favor of the Constitutional requirement for jury trials in all criminal cases and in civil cases above a nominal threshold of value: The most difficult and morally taxing work in any case, that of forming a verdict, will be done by a temporary panel of judges of fact (and if they choose, of law). The prosecutor, the public defender, and the judge do indeed have very easy jobs by contrast. A prosecutor can let go of the matter with a clear conscience if he knows he presents the best, honest and most accurate case he can for why the accused should be convicted, the defender likewise if he presents the best, clearest and most accurate case for acquittal, and the judge only has to follow the rules and procedures of the court and spin the wheel of public approval to sentence according to what statute allows.

Of course with a reduced workload and lower stress in one's role, much of the pressure to have a therapist on whom to unload things is reduced significantly. If done according to Constitutional requirements, no government employee would ever be in the position of having sealed someone's fate in the sense of having wrongfully convicted someone or let someone guilty go free. I think it is also relatively less common for a juror to be under NDA regarding the facts of a case, and are usually at liberty to discuss the case after it has concluded, so the stress of the most difficult decisions is actually ideally distributed across the populace by design.

More juries, fewer hours for public servants = less stress, better verdicts, more justice and equity.

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  • No feedback, as usual. Is nobody in the audience a serious public servant, or do you disagree constructively with the modes of relief?
    – pygosceles
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 15:43
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    This does not provide an answer to the question.
    – feetwet
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 16:47

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