Open Letter from Sidley Austin Partner’s Widow

Widow’s heartbreaking letter describes how the stress of Big Law contributed to her husband’s suicide.

Yesterday, The American Lawyer ran an “Open Letter” from Joanna Litt, the widow of Sidley Austin partner Gabe MacConaill who took his own life in October. In this heartbreaking piece, Litt describes how MacConaill had been struggling under the pressures of his “Big Law” job. She explains that an existing mental health issue, a deep-seated need to be perfect and a culture where shame attaches if help is sought “created the perfect storm.”

Litt’s letter underscores the importance of reducing the stigma* associated with mental health issues in the legal profession. In her letter, Litt explains how MacConaill viewed getting help as “the end of my career.” She writes, “Simply put, he would rather die than live with the consequences of people thinking he was a failure.”

This tragedy serves as a reminder of the tremendous stresses lawyers often face in the practice of law which can contribute to, and worsen existing mental health issues. Help is available for all members of the legal profession who may be struggling with depression or other mental health issues. Each state has a Lawyer Assistance Program that provides confidential services and support to judges, lawyers and law students who are facing mental health or substance use issues. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, contact the lawyer assistance program in your state.

Read more in this Above the Law article.

*CoLAP is currently engaged in a profession-wide anti-stigma campaign and is raising money to help de-stigmatize mental health and substance use disorders in the legal profession. Donations will go towards producing high-quality videos that highlight personal recovery stories of lawyers, judges and law students who have overcome these issues, serving to raise awareness about the nature of addiction and mental health distress in our profession, and challenging the biases and stigma that surround those problems. Learn more.


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