Feb 1, 2010
The Legal Profession's Dirty Little Secret
No one, especially not the profession as a whole, law schools or even lawyers themselves, wants to fully acknowledge there is a big pink (or rather very dark gray) elephant in the room. And this elephant is depression and the fact a significant percentage of attorneys suffer severe and debilitating depression.
It was reported by the ABA that “About 19 percent of lawyers experience depression at any given time, compared with 6.7 percent of the general population. About 20 percent of lawyers have drinking problems, twice the rate of the general population.”
Now with the economy making employment for lawyers even more challenging, one has to be even more aware of the effects of this disease. In the New York Journal there was an article, ” Employment Woes Fuel Uptick
in Lawyer Depression.”
Depression increasingly has been recognized as a major problem among attorneys, members of a high stress occupation vulnerable to anxiety even in good times. And these are not good times.
“There is anxiety and depression over being underemployed or unemployed, or marital difficulties if they lost their job and the question is, how do they handle the anxiety,”
Occasionally, there will be an article on the subject, but it seldom gets much play in the social media circles, even the blogs. But it is here, it’s real and it’s time it is discussed. One can’t responsibly discuss building a solo practice if they don’t discuss the pervasiveness of depression, and how lonely it is, maybe more so for the solo.
Why does depression seem to be more prevalent amongst lawyers?
Some of the more specific work qualities that make lawyers particularly prone to depression are long work hours; the competitive nature of the work; the adversarial nature of the work; the requirement for highly focused attention to detail; the extreme repercussions of professional errors; the need to be pessimistic and skeptical, and to be prepared to deal with “worst case scenarios;” responsibility for assisting clients and others who are in crisis or dealing with tragic situations; constant scrutiny of your work by employers, judges and opposing counsel; the reality that your work will directly impact the client’s financial, relationship, liberty and quality-of-life interests; the pressure of deadlines and the potential consequences of missing deadlines; rigid and particularized rules and procedures that must be followed carefully and completely; the need to perform, both in terms of achieving results and being “on-stage” and observed by others in public arenas; the need to advance or defend a position that might conflict with your personal values.
This may be even more intense for the solo. You can read more here.
There have been a few blogs popping up which do a very good job on the topic, some written by lawyers who suffered from depression and now are looking to help other lawyers.
Within the next four weeks I will announce a guest lecturer at Solo Practice University (this lecture will also be available for free on our SPU Fan page) He will discuss his 18 year history as an attorney, his slide into depression, his subsequent suspension, and how he got help. His goal is to help other lawyers recognize the signs and to take care of themselves now.
The disease is insidious but there is help. Coming from the proverbial ‘horse’s mouth’ may help others who are highly stressed to avoid his professional fate.
Look for the announcement shortly on the Solo Practice University blog. If you haven’t subscribed to the RSS yet, you can do so here and you will be notified.
I hope those reading this will take the time to circulate this post.