The legal profession has notoriously ignored the reality that a significant number of its members exhibit signs of serious mental illness (and become addicted or habituated to drugs or alcohol at levels that are statistically significantly elevated from levels of the public at large). This is no longer news. What has not been explored is why so much of the bar has remained willfully ignorant of these realities, and why it refuses to confront the depths of this problem.
The roots of this puzzle are found in the social attitude of sanism, an irrational prejudice of the same quality and character of other irrational prejudices that cause (and are reflected in) prevailing social attitudes of racism, sexism, homophobia, and ethnic bigotry, that infects both our jurisprudence and our lawyering practices, that is largely invisible and largely socially acceptable, and that is based predominantly upon stereotype, myth, superstition, and deindividualization, is sustained and perpetuated by our use of alleged ordinary common sense (OCS) and heuristic reasoning in an unconscious response to events both in everyday life and in the legal process.
Just as lawyers are sanist towards clients with mental disabilities, they are sanist towards their peers with mental disabilities. This presentation will (1) explain sanism, (2) describe its impact upon the legal system with special attention paid to the narrow but important question of its impact on lawyers who represent persons with mental disabilities, (3) speculate as to why lawyers are as susceptible (or more susceptible) to sanism's pernicious power as others, and then consider (4) how a consideration of and an application of therapeutic jurisprudence principles to this problem may eventually have a redemptive effect.
University of Pittsburgh Law Review, Vol. 69, Issue 3 (Spring 2008), pp. 589-608