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The Intersection of Emotional Wellness and Employment Law

by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.

Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness

Employment law involves navigating complex workplace conflicts, including, but not limited to, abuse, discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination. Lawyers practicing in this field often handle highly emotional and distressing cases. However, an often overlooked component of this work is the significance of emotional wellness for the lawyers themselves and their clients.


The National Center defines emotional wellness as an awareness, understanding, and acceptance of our feelings and the ability to manage effectively through challenges and change. By understanding the significance of emotional wellness and emotional distress, lawyers can create a safe and comfortable environment for their clients to disclose the details of their experiences while equipping themselves with evidence-based strategies and tools to manage the emotional pain of others.


Creating a safe and comfortable environment for clients to share their experiences is crucial in employment law cases. Clients may have endured outrageous and shocking experiences, leaving them emotionally scarred and vulnerable. Lawyers who are well-versed in emotional wellness can create a space where clients feel safe to discuss their concerns without fear of judgment or secondary traumatization. This can lead to a deeper level of trust between lawyer and client, ultimately resulting in better outcomes for the case.


In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that when individuals feel understood and validated by others, they experience lower levels of distress and improved emotional well-being (Lambert, N. M. et al., 2010). By demonstrating empathy and understanding toward their clients' emotional distress, lawyers can help alleviate their psychological burdens while fostering a collaborative attorney-client relationship.


An understanding of emotional wellness benefits clients, but it can also help lawyers themselves deal with the emotional pain of others. Lawyers frequently witness their clients' suffering, hearing intimate details of the hardships they have faced in the workplace. This exposure to others' emotional pain can have a profound impact on the emotional well-being of attorneys. Research suggests that those in helping professions, including lawyers, are at increased risk of experiencing burnout and compassion fatigue (Lindsay-Smith, G., & Anderson, L., 2018).


By incorporating evidence-based strategies and tools to manage the emotional toll of their work, attorneys can mitigate these risks. Practical education and self-care practices, such as mindfulness meditation, regular exercise, and seeking support from peers or therapists, can help lawyers maintain their emotional well-being. The American Bar Association has recognized the importance of self-care for lawyers and has promoted initiatives to promote emotional wellness within the legal profession (American Bar Association: Attorney Well-Being Toolkit). These initiatives include providing resources, training, and support networks to help lawyers navigate their emotional challenges.


Employment law intersects with emotional wellness in different ways. Lawyers who understand the significance of emotional wellness can create safe spaces for their clients to disclose their experiences and cultivate trust. Furthermore, by adopting evidence-based strategies and tools, lawyers can also prioritize their emotional well-being and effectively manage the emotional pain of others. As the legal profession evolves, recognizing the importance of emotional wellness in employment law practice is crucial for client outcomes and lawyer self-care.


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