Bench + Bar of Minnesota

ADHD in the legal profession: The quiet struggle

By Hannah Scheidecker     

Last year I attended an event featuring the renowned author and motivational speaker Mel Robbins. Little did I know that attending this event would serve as a catalyst. As Robbins candidly shared her own journey, and her back-door discovery of her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), I found myself connecting the dots in my own life. The echoes of her experiences resonated deeply within me, leading me down a path of self-discovery that ultimately resulted in my own diagnosis of ADHD. 

I had more questions than answers, so I began reading and reviewing everything I could find about ADHD. This unexpected revelation marked the beginning of a new chapter, challenging my preconceptions and unlocking a newfound understanding of myself. It has been a bittersweet journey toward self-acceptance. 

I am part of the lost generation of women discovering ADHD in adulthood. There is a complex blend of relief and grief as the diagnosis weaves a clearer understanding of my past struggles. Relief for finally understanding the intricacies of my mind; grief for the years spent grappling with a silent and unrecognized battle. It involves a mix of gratitude for newfound clarity and a mourning for the time lost in the shadows of misunderstood challenges.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a complex brain disorder that affects approximately 4.4 percent of adults.1 ADHD is not a behavior disorder, a mental illness, or a specific learning disability. Instead, it is a developmental impairment of the brain’s ability to manage itself. ADHD presents in three different ways: inattentive type, hyperactive type, or combined type. For people with ADHD, these symptoms are chronic, pervasive, neurologically based, and highly disruptive of their everyday lives. 

The signs of inattentive type ADHD include difficulty sustaining attention, difficulty with organization, avoidance of tasks requiring sustained mental effort, losing things, being easily distracted, making careless mistakes, appearing not to listen, struggling to follow instructions, and proving forgetful in daily activities. 

Signs of hyperactive/impulsive ADHD include extreme restlessness, fidgeting with or tapping hands or feet, being unable to engage quietly in leisure activities, talking excessively, answering questions before they’re asked completely, having difficulty waiting one’s turn, and interrupting others.2 Combined type ADHD includes symptoms from both these lists. 

What does ADHD have to do with lawyering?

Lawyers report being diagnosed with ADHD at a rate of 12.5 percent, a figure two and a half times greater than the general adult population.3 High achievers with ADHD are drawn to the legal profession because we thrive under pressure. This isn’t anything new; we have had to perform well in high-pressure scenarios such as law school, the bar exam, and juggling 10 roles at once for most of our lives. In the realm of lawyering, ADHD can present both challenges and unique strengths. 

Lawyers with ADHD bring a unique set of strengths to the legal profession that can contribute to their success. Their heightened creativity and innovative thinking allow them to approach legal challenges with fresh perspectives, fostering novel solutions. The periods of hyperfocus associated with ADHD become valuable assets in tasks such as legal research, complex case analysis, and thorough preparation. Quick thinking and adaptability, inherent to ADHD individuals, prove advantageous in navigating the fast-paced and unpredictable nature of legal practice. 

Moreover, the passion and tenacity often characteristic of individuals with ADHD can fuel a deep commitment to advocacy and justice, making them formidable advocates in legal proceedings. The ability to multitask effectively, a skill heightened by ADHD, aligns well with the demands placed on lawyers, who frequently handle diverse responsibilities simultaneously. Finally, the high energy levels of individuals with ADHD can empower them to meet demanding work schedules and handle the intense workload often associated with legal practice. Recognizing and harnessing these unique strengths—coupled with tailored coping strategies and accommodations—allows lawyers with ADHD to navigate their professional roles successfully.

Amid the intricacies of legal work, lawyers contending with ADHD often find themselves grappling with a range of issues that extend far beyond the stereotypical notions associated with the disorder. One significant challenge lies in maintaining focus, a cornerstone of effective legal practice. Lengthy research sessions, intricate document reviews, and complex legal analyses demand sustained attention—precisely the cognitive function that individuals with ADHD find elusive. The struggle to concentrate becomes a silent undercurrent in the legal professional’s journey, impacting the quality and efficiency of their work.

Strategies for success

In the face of these challenges, lawyers contending with ADHD can employ strategic approaches not merely to cope but to thrive. Leveraging effective time management tools is a critical factor in mitigating the impact of attention-related difficulties, ensuring tasks are organized and deadlines are met. Stress-reduction techniques can further equip individuals to navigate high-pressure legal work. And seeking accommodations that create a supportive work environment, such as flexible schedules or assistive technologies, can enhance productivity and well-being. 

In addition, lawyers with ADHD may wish to consider the benefits of occupational therapy or an ADHD coach. These specialized resources can provide personalized strategies, skill development, and ongoing support, offering tailored approaches to address specific challenges and foster sustained success in the legal profession.4

Providing better support to lawyers with ADHD

To enhance support for lawyers with ADHD, the legal profession should cultivate an atmosphere of inclusivity and understanding. Educational programs to promote awareness and dispel misconceptions surrounding ADHD help to foster a more empathetic workplace culture. (If you’re interested in exploring an ADHD support group for lawyers, check out the one sponsored by Minnesota Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers at Other measures to improve workplace culture include:

  • implementing flexible work arrangements, such as providing quiet workspaces or allowing for alternative schedules; 
  • encouraging open discussions about mental health within law firms and organizations to help lawyers feel comfortable disclosing their ADHD and seeking necessary accommodations; 
  • creating easily accessible resources within law firms to facilitate a voluntary and confidential process for lawyers to address their needs;
  • offering training for supervisors and colleagues to recognize and support individuals with ADHD;
  • advocating for mental health support programs and clear accommodation procedures; and 
  • integrating technology and organizational tools tailored to enhance time management. 

Ultimately, the goal is to cultivate a workplace culture that values self-awareness, open communication, and the voluntary pursuit of necessary support for lawyers dealing with ADHD-related challenges. Our profession should be a space where neurodiversity is not merely acknowledged, but integrated into the fabric of everyday practice. By fostering an awareness of the challenges posed by ADHD, legal workplaces can begin to dismantle the stigma surrounding the condition and pave the way for a culture that encourages open dialogue, understanding, and targeted support. 

HANNAH SCHEIDECKER is an attorney at Fremstad Law, where she practices probate, estate planning, and guardianship and conservatorship.


1 Kessler, R. C., Adler, L., Barkley, R., Biederman, J., Conners, C. K., Demler, O., Faraone, S. V., Greenhill, L. L., Howes, M. J., Secnik, K., Spencer, T., Ustun, T. B., Walters, E. E., & Zaslavsky, A. M. (2006). The prevalence and correlates of adult ADHD in the United States: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. The American journal of psychiatry163(4), 716–723.

2 Barkley, RA. (2014). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, fourth edition: A handbook for diagnosis and treatment. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

3 Krill, Patrick R. JD, LLM; Johnson, Ryan MA; Albert, Linda MSSW, “The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys,” Journal of Addiction Medicine 10(1):p 46-52, January/February 2016. | DOI: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000182

4 Adamou, M., Asherson, P., Arif, M. et al. Recommendations for occupational therapy interventions for adults with ADHD: a consensus statement from the UK adult ADHD network. BMC Psychiatry 21, 72 (2021).

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