The headline hit with a force unusual in legal reporting: “‘Big Law Killed My Husband’: An Open Letter From a Sidley Partner’s Widow.”
In the article, Joanna Litt catalogued in heartbreaking detail the downward spiral of her husband, Gabe MacConaill, a partner at Sidley Austin who killed himself at the age of 42.
Litt, also a lawyer, made a desperate search for answers in the wake of her husband’s death. She concluded that he suffered from maladaptive perfectionism, a condition that combines unattainably high standards with harsh self-criticism.
“Simply put, he would rather die than live with the consequences of people thinking he was a failure,” Litt wrote.
Slings and Arrows
Perfectionism is one of many hazards that threaten lawyers’ well-being. Others include frequent deadlines, clients’ expectations, the slings and arrows of the adversarial system, and Big Law elevating the billable hour over other considerations.
Add these all up, and the result is a mental health crisis, one the Task Force on Wisconsin Lawyer Well-Being and the State Bar of Wisconsin, convened in July 2020 under the auspices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, set out to address.
Key goals animating the task force’s work were:
Preventing harm to the public and other lawyers;
Enabling lawyers to thrive, rather than merely survive;
Highlighting proactive strategies to promote well-being;
Undoing the stigma that too often keeps lawyers from seeking help; and
Making lawyers aware of their colleagues’ struggles.
The 46-member task force, which was organized into seven subcommittees, issued its report in December 2021.