Lawyers and Depression

As a part of my annual bar-mandated continuing legal education, I recently watched a video on the subject of clinical depression and the legal profession.

It was…well…depressing. Here are some highlights:

  • How many professions are truly adversarial, day in and day out? When a medical team tries to save a patient on the operating table, there isn’t another team at work trying to kill the patient. A hostile work environment of this nature tends, over time, to take an emotional toll on its participants.
  • Overwork and overworry leads to too much focus on professional life. Lawyers tend to lose themselves in work, only to “wake up” years later and wonder when their kids grew up and why their spouse is so different.
  • Our true “failure” rate, in terms of client satisfaction, is fairly high. In theory, because one party must win and one must lose, clients will be dissatisfied at least 50% of the time with their lawyer’s job. In reality, it is much higher, because most cases settle, and clients are generally unhappy when they decide to settle. In other words, clients seldom have a lot of love to give for the work their lawyers perform.
  • Its been repeatedly established in the psychological literature that lawyers tend to be more pessimistic than most people. This trait in and of itself tends to lead to depression.
  • Our profession teaches us to be skeptical, untrusting, and cynical about everything we read and hear. We are masters of deconstruction and of manipulation of facts. We often carry this into all of our other relationships, and it tends to put distance and strain on them.
  • Our success in life is based on our intellect and ability to analyze, so we tend to rely on it a lot. But when we do this day in and day out, for year after year, we tend to neglect our emotional health.
  • The attempted suicide rate among lawyers is apparently not too far off from that of the general population. However, the rate of successful attempts is much higher than that of the general population (I believe the video indicated it was about three times higher).

Wow! Its been almost two weeks now since I watched the video, and I’m still processing all of this. I don’t think I’ve every been clinically depressed myself, but I’ve experienced enough to know exactly what can happen if you aren’t careful.

More (maybe) to come on the care and feeding of the lawyers in your life.


One Response to Lawyers and Depression

  1. Glad you brought this up. Sounds like a difficult job to do. Perhaps we need to think about this the next time we desire to tell a lawyer’s joke. Here’s a link to what one Chicago law firm is doing. They have a “happy committee”. The article backs up your topic.

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