As I write this, I’ve spent the last two weeks preparing for and then actually in trial, with a two-day interruption for a nerd friend conference. I am finally done, and am using the one functioning brain cell I have that isn’t devoted to keeping me upright to write this, while it’s fresh.*
This post is directed at anyone who needs to deal with a lawyer after a major project is over, so I am going to write directly to those people. They may be people who are married to or partnered with lawyers, who are close friends, or who live with lawyers.
Anyway, if you have to deal with a lawyer experiencing Trial Drop, read on. I call it Trial Drop to borrow from fandom, but it doesn’t have to involve a trial (and usually doesn’t involve fandom, though I won’t yuck your yum). It can be any major endeavor requiring concentration and near-immersion (be it a trial, series of depositions, conference, transaction, etc.), and then it ends. “Trial Drop” here refers to the phenomenon following that major endeavor, which may come on shortly after it is over, or a day or two later, involving physical, intellectual, and emotional collapse, when all of the adrenaline and excess caffeine wears off. There isn’t a real relationship between the outcome of the endeavor and the depth of the drop—in fact, in my experience, drop can be greatest after a big victory.
Your lawyer probably hasn’t eaten well, or exercised beyond schlepping heavy boxes, or kept up with any current events or hobbies. Depending on food options, your lawyer may have eaten a cafeteria Cobb salad four days in a row because that was the only thing available that resembled a vegetable, or they may have eaten a lot of Jimmy Johns because of that freaky fast delivery, or they may have subsisted off of Red Bull and protein bars. Regardless, they’re off their usual diet. If the project required travel, they may have packed their workout clothes to use in the hotel gym, but any claims they used any of this probably won’t pass the smell test. (Take that however you wish.)
So, they get home, or back to the office. They have enough brain and body power to remember to breathe and maybe unload boxes so that confidential information isn’t sitting in their car all night, but that is about it. At home, they may sit down with a beer or a glass of wine, and some food they hopefully didn’t have to cook. All will seem well for awhile. They’re cheery, and either happy about what happened or complaining, they may just want to talk about that ending to “Severance” or about how the theme to Gilligan’s Island can be sung to “Amazing Grace” and vice versa, but it’s all good natured.
Don’t be fooled. At some point that evening or in the next couple of days, they will experience Trial Drop. I think everyone does, but the depth and manifestation varies. Your Lawyer may want to do nothing but watch TV (and even that may be too taxing), or may want to get in all those workouts they missed, or may want to make a pan of lasagna to avoid dealing with the drop.
At some point, though, you’ll do something, like ask an innocent question. “Does the shower look a little scummy to you?” That’s when you will know that Trial Drop is for real, because your lawyer will respond to you and bring up some grudge from 12 years ago. Now is not the time to re-litigate that grudge. They might point out that it was your responsibility to clean the shower when they were gone for two week and you are an adult who can determine soap scum levels independently. (They may read this and wonder if they are being called out, passive-aggressively.) There may be some tears, probably not about the shower but maybe about a cat food commercial.
Everyone is different, but I think most people experiencing Trial Drop want to mostly be left alone and don’t want to have to think about anything. Whatever it is from anyone else, the answer is no. They may go for a run or take a long shower or watch the new Bluey with their kids or just doomscroll Twitter or stare into space. That’s all fine. If you’re in a position to do so, clean that shower (and for god’s sake, clean the toilet and your shaving stubble out of the sink too). Make sure there is food and water, too. If your lawyer is sober, do what you can to help them maintain their sobriety**, particularly if you know that stress and drop can be a trigger. If your lawyer does drink alcohol, a glass of wine or a beer may not be a bad idea, but too much will just exacerbate the issue. Don’t ask about work, or ask about the trial even if they talked freely about it before the drop. (They probably shouldn’t have said as much as they did, anyway.)
Trial Drop may also manifest as illness. Fandom calls this “con crud” (with the assumption that some bug was picked up during the convention), but here, it may not be a communicable disease. It may just be a blah feeling after being wound up for so long, or perhaps some GI distress after a week of courthouse cafeteria mystery food. (Lawyers have a way of deferring the crud until they can afford to be sick professionally but when they least want to be sick personally.) So, some ibuprofen, Pepto, and maybe some covid test kits may round out your Trial Drop care package.
The good news? Drop doesn’t last. It usually clears after a day or two, particularly when food, exercise, and sleep have begun to revert to mean. (Though don’t be surprised if the next time you’re in a restaurant, they order the Cobb, to see if it’s better than the cafeteria version.)
To the lawyers reading this, you may be wondering why I wrote about this in a legal ethics blog at all, let alone when I should be doing anything other than thinking about legal ethics. (C’mon, you know me better than that.) A big part of practicing ethically is knowing that you’re human, and humans have limits. Trial Drop is not the time to begin a new big project or really, do much of anything that requires detail and concentration (though I understand that workloads and calendars don’t always allow for time to just deal with drop—build that in if you can). Really, it’s ok to take some time to respect your human limits.
*This post, along with my laptop nightmare story from earlier this year, are now part of an occasional series, The Author In Extremis.
(**I am not a mental health professional, so working with lawyers experiencing Trial Drop who also have mental health conditions or substance use disorders is outside of the scope of my knowledge at any time, not just when I have been out of trial for an hour and a half and have maybe until tomorrow until I get Trial Drop.)