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Many lawyers are drawn to a career in social justice, in part, to help others and, in part, to fulfill their own path to wellness. Advocacy that sustains personal well-being, however, also poses considerable obstacles to well-being. Some of these obstacles are inherent to social justice work but some are embedded within organizational culture. These cultural norms impair the health of advocates, harm the communities with whom they work, and portend far-reaching consequences for the future of progressive struggles for freedom. Drawing on the author's personal experience, this Essay identifies three cultural norms, described as pathologies, that are rarely discussed in social justice circles. Qualitative studies and accounts by social justice advocates suggest that these pathologies discount attention to well-being in the field, compromise the sustainability of organizations working for social change, divert attention from the complexities of the issues that social justice movements seek to address, and narrow the perspectives within social justice organizations for how best to approach the problems they seek to solve. This Essay argues that sustainable advocacy requires a considerable cultural reorientation that treats collective well-being as an institutional concern.


Cause lawyering, social justice, mental health, well-being, secondary trauma, trauma-informed, trauma exposure, legal education, sustainable advocacy

Publication Title

Wake Forest Law Review

Publication Citation

56 Wake For. L. Rev. 907 (2021)