Colorado Supreme Court

Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel

Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.

Professional Isolation

By Elizabeth Lembo, M.S., LPC

It's no secret the legal profession is a highly specialized and demanding field. It’s also no secret that anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns can arise out of the enormous levels of stress and pressure commonly associated with demanding professions such as the practice of law. Underlying these intersecting experiences of sacrifice, demand, anxiety, and depression is an elusive topic that rarely gets its day in court: professional isolation.

While many professionals face isolation due to career demands, different professions have subtle nuances that contribute to isolation in ways that are unique to their field. Certain professions require perspectives and skills that those without specialized training don’t have. Both the journey towards and mastery of these skills can make professionals feel less relatable to those outside their professional circles. In law school, it becomes clear just how specialized and demanding training will be. Schedules are packed, free time is fleeting, and relationships with friends and family start to shift as priorities compete for time and energy. Of course, students make new connections in law school, but competitive environments can influence or limit the nature of budding relationships.

Newly licensed attorneys put in long hours in effort to prove themselves as they seek success and promotion. While this is a normalized dynamic within the field, friends, family, and partners, or loved ones who haven’t practiced law can struggle to understand. It’s important to remember that every time we say “yes” to something, we’re saying “no” to something else. For many within the legal profession, saying yes to extended hours means less time with loved ones and cultivating friendships outside the practice of law. This can increase the risk of isolation, especially if you are uncomfortable finding personal and professional support among colleagues. When possible, try to balance your commitments and priorities between your work and those who provide you with personal love and support to replenish any stress or burnout that your work might create.

Lawyers can also experience the dichotomy of practicing ingrained skills that, while required for success in the practice of law, may also contribute to isolation. Contingency planning, critical thinking, extreme attention to detail (and sometimes obsessive need to proofread) and knowing how to argue a point while swaying people’s opinions make for great lawyers, but these skills don’t always help foster positive personal relationships. After all, no child wants to be cross-examined by their parent at the dinner table. Considerable use of these skills also has the potential to shift the way someone views the world, people, and situations. For example, an overly cautious and skeptical outlook can create harmful paranoia, particularly if we start experiencing the world as unsafe or full of untrustworthy people. In addition, work might expose professionals to graphic forensic evidence, the suffering of others on a regular basis, and incivility or competitive peer relationships. These dynamics can also contribute to feeling isolated and even fuel increased physical isolation in extreme cases.

So, what can legal professionals do to reduce experiences of professional isolation? While it looks different for everyone, there is no question that investing in a strong social support system is essential. Drawing from self-assessments commonly used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, reflect on the following questions:

  1. Do you have someone to speak to about personal and professional struggles without concern of consequence?
  2. Do you have supportive people around you who understand the unique challenges of balancing the competing demands of the legal profession and personal life?
  3. Do you support yourself in keeping a broad and balanced perspective of the world?

If you answered no to any of these questions, consider increasing efforts to shift towards a yes in this area. If you answered yes, plan how you will continue to invest in maintaining these strengths. Without investment and connection, the quality of relationships can naturally fade over time. To maintain support systems, we must actively contribute to them. Schedule a time to have dinner with friends, send a message to a loved one sharing gratitude for their support, and acknowledge the sacrifices others make to support you. Check-in with those you care about by asking them how they’re doing, actively listening to their response, and share honestly how you’re doing as well. Reach out to COLAP for a wellbeing consultation or consider therapy for confidential support.

If you find your support system wanting and don’t know where to start, expand it by meeting new people through activities you already enjoy. Return to a hobby you let go of long ago, or finally sign up for that recreational pickleball league you’ve been eyeing. Consider trying new things, taking breaks throughout your day, enjoying time off, and learning about positive outcomes of human efforts across the globe; these can all help keep our perspectives of the world more balanced. Whichever path you choose, an investment into your social support and overall enjoyment of life can make a positive impact in fostering connection and reducing experiences of professional isolation.


- Elizabeth Lembo is a Clinical Coordinator for the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program. After earning her BA from the University of Northern Colorado, Elizabeth graduated from the University of Wyoming with a MS in Counseling and is currently completing a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision at Adams State University. She is a Colorado Licensed Professional Counselor and adjunct faculty at the University of Denver experienced in the treatment of behavioral health issues including substance use, PTSD, depression, and anxiety.