YLD renews its #StigmaFreeYLD campaign
While serving nearly a decade as a prosecutor, Delray Beach attorney Danielle Dudai had a front-row seat to the dark side of human nature.
Dudai brought more than 50 cases to trial, including convicting a South Florida rapper of human trafficking, before the work took a toll.
“It can be really soul-crushing and soul-destroying to see that ugliness every day,” Dudai said. “I started to notice that my health was declining.”
A change was necessary, but when Dudai interviewed with private firms, she bumped into a wall of disregard for government service. Her years of dedication, a stellar conviction rate, and even a business degree, didn’t seem to count.
“It still was, yeah, you have a lot of litigation experience, but that only goes so far,” Dudai says. “You’re a government lawyer, you push paper, you don’t have the work ethic, we’re going to have to retrain you.”
Feeling trapped and frustrated, and considering leaving the profession, Dudai began slipping into clinical depression. She sought counseling on the advice of a mentor, and today, she is the founder of Dudai Legal, P.A., a successful private firm.
“I can’t believe how happy I am being a lawyer,” Dudai said.
Dudai is the latest star of the “#StigmaFree YLD” campaign sponsored by The Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers Division. Her story is featured in a six-minute video at https://flayld.org/stigmafreeyld-danielle-dudai/.
YLD President Santo DiGangi says Dudai’s story provides a teachable moment for everyone from fellow government lawyers to managing partners.
“I was a trial court law clerk and an assistant state attorney and I would hear all too often that government lawyers are nine-to-fivers, that they don’t know how to research, that they don’t know how to write,” DiGangi said. “And I consider myself to be a rather good researcher and writer, so it offended me.”
The brainchild of former YLD President Christian George, “#StigmaFree YLD” was launched last year as part of The Florida Bar’s mental health and wellness campaign.
The original series featured high-profile attorneys, including members of the Board of Governors, describing how they overcame alcoholism, addiction, depression, and other forms of mental illness.
Florida Lawyers Assistance plays a recurring role.
DiGangi said the original series was so popular that he wanted to expand it to cover new topics. Dudai’s story fits neatly with this year’s YLD focus on government lawyers, DiGangi said.
YLD board member Ethan Wall, who co-chairs a health and wellness committee, said Dudai’s video was a huge hit at the YLD’s first outreach conference for government lawyers in November.
“Government lawyers have an incredible amount of skill, and they’re the real workhorses in what is becoming a dying art in our profession,” Wall said. “Fewer and fewer cases are going to trial.”
Beginning March 13, the YLD will post a video addressing the stigma lawyers face when they fail to pass the bar exam the first time.
Wall estimates that between 15% and 20% of lawyers fall into the category, yet most go on to successful careers. It’s easy to fall into despair after failing the exam, and watching other law school classmates launch their careers, Wall said.
The stigma follows young lawyers throughout their career, Wall said.
“When they go to apply for jobs, people will say, oh, I see that you graduated in May, but here you are coming for your first job in September, so what happened,” Wall said. “We want to eliminate the stigma that not passing a ridiculously hard test the first time does not measure your worth as a lawyer, and that you are not alone.”
On April 13, the campaign will post a video dealing with “women’s unequal treatment in the workplace.”
“This is 2020, and we still don’t have an inclusive environment where women get equal pay for equal work, and it’s shocking,” Wall said.
On May 1, the beginning of Health and Wellness Month, the campaign will post a video dealing with a stigma attached to lawyers who take “maternity/paternity leave.”
All lawyers hesitate before asking for time off to enjoy the birth or adoption of a child, fearing loss of advancement, but men may feel even more stigmatized, Wall said, because they are not traditionally seen as caregivers.
Wall recently discussed the problem with a new father who works in the local office of a personal injury firm that answers to an off-site management committee.
“His local office said, sure, take some time off, but they didn’t want to bring this up to the management committee because they were more senior, and they were afraid they were going to start asking questions.”
A final video, to be posted May 13, will deal with “generational/burnout” issues. Technology has accelerated lawyering into a 24-hour, seven-day profession, and more lawyers are leaving law school under pressure to repay six-figure debt, Wall said.
The combination makes burnout nearly inevitable, Wall said.
That conclusion was reflected last year in a YLD survey that showed alarmingly low rates of job satisfaction in the legal profession, Wall said.
“We’ve got to support each other, we’ve got to support our colleagues, and we’ve got to demonstrate that you can get support from The Florida Bar as you go through these issues,” Wall said.