The Impaired Lawyer: Why We Need To Talk About Mental Health In The Legal Profession

23 October 2016
Sandhya Visvanathan for The Caravan
Sandhya Visvanathan for The Caravan

On a warm August morning, as I was waiting for my matter to be called for a hearing in court number two of the Supreme Court, I saw a fellow lawyer who appeared to be about my age, sitting in the gallery. Every day, nearly 3,000 lawyers of various descriptions—of varying practices, ages and even gown forms—occupy the corridors of the Supreme Court. They are uniform only in the black and white hues of their attire. The man I noticed was staring at his brief and talking quietly to himself. Although he caught my attention, his actions did not strike me as particularly odd—after all, he could have been doing anything, from practicing his submissions to recreating a recent conversation he had with someone. Soon enough, he realised that I had been looking at him. He did not smile at me, as lawyers often do at each other in the corridors, regardless of whether they know each other. “Does your boss shout at you?” he asked.

I was taken aback by the abrupt manner in which he posed the question to me, but quickly realised that he was having a bad day and had likely gotten into a tussle with his superior at work. It would only strike me later that it was perhaps an oversimplification on my part. I responded by saying that such skirmishes were fairly regular at my end too, and asked him not to worry about it. I then added that it is only when we get called out when we make a mistake that we learn.

He wasn’t impressed by this platitude. “What if I was just not able to do it, not because I was not capable of doing that job,” he continued. “But because my mental faculties just let me down at that moment and I can’t for my life understand what I was supposed to do?”

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    Govind Manoharan is an advocate practising at the Supreme Court of India.

    Keywords: lawyer healthcare Law mental health