Attorneys, like all other kinds of professionals, need to perform their jobs while dealing with all of the stressful things that come up in personal life. Invariably, over the course of their careers, lawyers will need to face health challenges whether personal medical issues or those of a family member. Lawyers and courts should often be more empathetic to attorneys facing health problems and should cut some slack and extend courtesies to make difficult times a little easier to bear.
Earlier in my career, I had an adversary that was going through some medical issues. This attorney was not specific about the malady he was suffering, but based on the treatment and testing this lawyer faced, I knew the attorney was experiencing a serious medical ailment. My adversary requested that he have more time to complete parts of discovery and that the case essentially be put on hold until his condition stabilized.
I tried to put myself in my adversary’s shoes, and I couldn’t imagine what this lawyer was going through. He was pretty young, had a family, and was going through a serious health scare. I ended up giving this lawyer every courtesy I could, and in the end, the case was only delayed a month or two.
I took some heat from my client after cutting my adversary slack since my client wanted me to push forward even though the lawyer was dealing with health issues. I told my client that this likely would not help us obtain an advantage in the case since the court likely would not want us to push an advantage when a lawyer was suffering health issues. I also told my client that showing empathy would likely help build a rapport that could help resolve the case. Eventually, I got my client on board with my strategy, and showing some empathy toward this lawyer definitely helped improved the outcome I was able to get for my client.
Courts should also have more empathy for lawyers who are going through health issues. It is important to note that many judges are sympathetic to lawyers who are facing health issues. One time, I was sitting in the courtroom of a judge that was known as being very stern and maybe even a little mean. The judge asked a lawyer where the attorney was who had regularly appeared on a matter, and the appearing attorney said that counsel was going through cancer treatments and could not make it to court. The judge showed a lot of compassion for the lawyer and asked the lawyer appearing that day to give the ill attorney his best regards. This judge ended up adjourning all deadlines in the case so that the sick lawyer would not face a disadvantage. This was a very just and compassionate outcome.
However, I have also seen judges not share too much compassion for lawyers facing health issues. One time, I was handling a case involving a lawyer who was facing some health issues. At a compliance conference, this lawyer informed the court that he had health problems and that he was requesting more time to compete tasks related to the case. Of course, I did not object to extensions because I knew that my adversary was having medical problems.
The court did not want to grant this lawyer any courtesies. The court said that the lawyer worked at a larger firm, and the sick lawyer could have an associate handle tasks if the lawyer was unable to complete tasks on his own. I have sympathy for judges who often need to dispose of cases on a set timeframe or face scorn from presiding judges and others. However, the case was not that delayed, so there did not seem to be any good reason why this judge could nor cut some slack for the sick attorney.
All told, everyone will likely face medical issues or need to care for a family member who is going through a health scare at some point in their careers. Attorneys and judges can be more sympathetic to counsel who are going through medical issues since it is the right thing to do. We all also hope that others would be empathetic to us if we were going through a similar situation.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at email@example.com.