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The term litigation stress syndrome describes what some people experience after prolonged, intense litigation.

Litigation Stress and the 5 Stages of Grief

The psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, whose specialization was working with the dying, outlined the five stages when someone learns they are dying, which also applies to anyone experiencing grief. Some sources say those undergoing litigation stress syndrome also go through these stages of grief, which are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Grief
  5. Uncertainty (Other sources equate this final stage to acceptance)

When a litigant has a favorable outcome to a case, he/she typically experiences a sense of renewal, even personal growth.

But if the outcome is unfavorable, the litigant might revert to some of the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining).

When Litigants Suffer, Their Families Suffer

Not Guilty,1859, by Abraham Solomon (digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program)

Not Guilty,1859, by Abraham Solomon (digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program)

A wise criminal lawyer recently told a judge, who was intent on “destroying” someone, “That man has a family. Destroy him, you destroy his family, too.”

Trial lawyers are experts in the courtroom, ready to fight the good fight for their clients. We need to remember, however, that our clients are often new to the world of trials and their built-in stressors. They might suffer from inability to sleep or nightmares, fragility, exhaustion, or maybe have difficulty focusing. Unfortunately, their wives, husbands, children, parents might be experiencing these symptoms, too.

Symptoms Can Last for Months

In “The Psychological Impact of Litigation,” a 2006 article in the DePaul Law Review, the authors claimed that litigation stress symptoms often linger for up to six months afterward. The good news is that symptoms for nearly sixty-five percent of litigants disappear after a year.

The not so good news is that forty percent of litigants, even those who receive treatment for their symptoms, continue to suffer from litigation stress up to six years afterward.

Good Shark, Bad Shark

Leopard shark (image is in the public domain)

The leopard shark is harmless to humans (image is in the public domain)

Lawyers are often compared to sharks, as if our legal-species is one big lump of heartless, blood-thirsty creatures in business suits. However, not all sharks are bad to the bone — for example, the shy leopard shark is harmless to humans.

Even among the more blood-thirsty types, some individual shark-members might be more reserved and shy. A recent study in the journal of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology stated that within a group of ground sharks, found in the shallow waters off Norway and the British Isles, sharks had distinct, unique personalities. Some preferred to keep to themselves and skulk along the bottom while others were more social and liked to hang with “the gang.”

My point? It’s not a bad thing to be a fearless, even heartless, shark when you go to battle for your client in the courtroom. There’s also nothing wrong with showing your good-shark side and helping your client if you see indications of litigation stress by:

  • Being aware of what your clients and their families might be experiencing.
  • Taking the time to clearly explain things and answer your clients’ questions.
  • Showing compassion for their concerns.
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Managing Partner at Shaun Kaufman Law
Shaun Kaufman has 30 years of in-court experience, with hundreds of hours spent defending numerous high-profile cases including homicide, white-collar theft and RICO offenses. Specialties: Criminal defense, personal injury, business litigation, DUI.

Shaun Kaufman Law: 303-309-0430
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