Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Panic Attacks in the Legal Field

Panic attacks can happen to any lawyer – and quite possibly at the worst possible moment.

When they do occur, it’s important to know what’s going on and what should be done.

One in five lawyers report have “severe anxiety” on occasion, according to the 2016 ABA Report on Well-Being in the Legal Profession. This 2020 survey found that 64 percent of lawyers self-reported anxiety.

Not all anxiety manifests in a panic attack. In lay terms, a panic attack is an overwhelming wave of fear that is powerful and physical. Sometimes the cause is identifiable (ex: before a court hearing or important meeting) but other times it just strikes.

From the Mayo Clinic: “A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you're losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.”

Persistent and recurrent panic attacks can lead to a diagnosis of panic disorder.

“Someone experiencing a panic attack may feel their heart beating at a faster-than-normal rate and have trouble catching their breath,” says this CNN News report. “Lightheadedness and tingles in extremities are common, too. But the throughline is always fear that feels suffocating, even if that fear doesn’t match one’s circumstances.”

Experts say the symptoms of a panic attack can match those of encountering a rattlesnake. 

This CNN News article includes accounts of professionals who have been struck by panic attacks while onscreen, onstage and reading news on live television. 

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Signs and Symptoms of a Panic Attack 

Following is from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment

“One of the worst things about panic attacks is the intense fear that you'll have another one. You may fear having panic attacks so much that you avoid certain situations where they may occur.”


When to See a Doctor

From the Mayo Clinic: “If you have panic attack symptoms, seek medical help as soon as possible. Panic attacks, while intensely uncomfortable, are not dangerous. But panic attacks are hard to manage on your own, and they may get worse without treatment.

Panic attack symptoms can also resemble symptoms of other serious health problems, such as a heart attack, so it’s important to get evaluated by your primary care provider if you aren't sure what’s causing your symptoms.”



'Puss in Boots' film draws praise for panic attack scene | CNN

Panic attacks and panic disorder - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic

Lawyer Anxiety: Causes, Signs, and How to Manage | Clio


Lawyers Mutual keeps you informed about the latest developments in technology that affect your practice. We’ve been in business since 1977 and insure more than 8000 lawyers in North Carolina. We’ve been providing continuous protection from professional liability to NC lawyers longer than any other insurance company. And our financial strength is absolute. Since 1999, Lawyers Mutual has paid dividends fourteen times, with more than $8 million dollars returned to policyholders since 2011. Visit our website, give us a call, or ask a colleague why Lawyers Mutual is the smart choice for liability coverage.


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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