How many lawyers do you know who are disillusioned with the practice of law? I ran into a colleague I graduated from law school with last week and he said to me “I don’t know any happy lawyers”. This got me to thinking what is it about the practice of law (i.e. the business of being a lawyer) which makes the job so difficult. I came up with a list which says a lot about the business we are all engaged in on a daily basis. This list is not comprehensive and I would love to add to it. (So, comments are appreciated). Perhaps we can’t even begin to repair a system if we don’t know what ails it. I think the list below sets out a good case for why we need to change the way we practice and or how we deal with each other.
The Business of law needs to change because …..
- The most intellectual people are rarely the most successful lawyers.
- Legal profession attracts negative and hostile personality types who are more likely to be successful (i.e. narcissists, sociopaths, bullies and egomaniacs)
- Being good at what you do means less than being good at getting clients.
- Perfectionism is valued but is a double-edged sword. It makes for great work product but can cause tremendous stress.
- Lawyers are 2 times more like to be depressed.
- Lawyers are 3 times more likely to have anxiety disorders
- Lawyers get less sleep that most other professionals.
- Lawyers have higher suicide rate than the general population, particularly male lawyers in their 50’s.
- There are far more lawyers seeking a job than there are jobs. New graduates have only a 50% chance of landing any legal job.
- Law school process can lead to depression in 40% of students within the first two years.
- We are profession that thrives on anxiety, fear, aggression and we make more money the longer our clients remaind in an adversarial situation.
- We graduate a lot of new lawyers but most of them do not make it past 10 years in practice.
- Our law schools have misled applicants about graduate employment rates.
- The most successful lawyers are often the ones who are workaholics, who can’t understand that working more does not make you more productive.
- Money neurosis blinds many to need or desire to change. I make money so why bother.
I could add others to this list, but I think most people will get my point. There are way too many things wrong with our system to not address health and well-being on an industry wide basis. Clearly, there are those who say “it has always been this way”. My response to this is, so what? Seriously, that attitude says I am willing to accept the existence of these issues because I am AFRAID to change the system. Is it really easier to blindly follow a system on the premises “because it is this way at every firm”? To make such statements is to say “I accept to live in the misery I know because it is the same or worse elsewhere.”
Misery or as the Buddhist say “suffering” is so ubiquitous in our profession that it is accepted as standard operating procedure. This saddens me. It saddens me to hear about a colleague who develops a substance abuse issues, has depression or other health issues all of which are exacerbated by stress. And it angers me that colleagues have a mental break downs and that fellow lawyers label those people weak or look for logical reasons why they are ill (i.e., money issues, health and/or divorce). And worse of all in bothers me that some of the most well-respected lawyers choose to end their lives because of mental health issues. Suicide is such a horrible end that condemns the lawyer’s family to a lifetime of asking the question why? Sure, not all lawyers are miserable, but there are more unhappy rather than happy lawyers and that says so much about the way we deal with each other and gives the world around us just another reason to hate and or abhor us.
Change in our industry starts from within. It takes consistent diligent efforts like those undertaken by the Cincinnati Bar Association’s Health and Well-being Committee. It takes conscious decisions by each lawyer, judge, law professor and law student to address the issues outlined above. Until these and other related issues are addressed we will continue to see our colleagues self-destruct in one way or another and the rest of us will be left with regrets and questions. Or worse, some will say that lawyer was weak to crack under the pressure.