Balancing the Bar

Happiness and the Practice of Law

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Balanced Living Lecture Series from the Cincinnati Bar Association’s Health and Well-being Committee

The Cincinnati Bar Association’s Health and Well-being Committee has launched a new lecture series to address Health and Well-Being issues faced by lawyers and law students. The Committee developed the program to provide much-needed information on overall mental and physical health. A healthy mind and a healthy body are essential to the long-term happiness of practicing lawyers.

Too much stress is a central issue for lawyers today.   Stress, however, can be both positive and negative.  Stress can be the fuel that drives the success of many in our industry. The thrill of winning a trial or getting a superb result for a client keeps many of us going. However, with all the thrills there is the mundane nature of what we do, the client demands, the struggle to make billable hour requirements and for solos the struggle to make enough money to keep our business going. And, for many of us, its is hard to turn off our bodies natural stress response and relax into the natural flow of our work and life.

Being an attorney and learning how to harness our stress in a positive way is something we should all be interested in. In the Inaugural lecture of the Balanced Living Series we will hear from an expert on performance enhancing stress. The topic of the first lecture is Under Pressure? How to Survive and Thrive Amidst Stress and Life’s Other Realities and will be presented by Ohio State University Assistant Football Coach and Cincinnati native Kerry Coombs.   Mr. Coombs is a 30 year coaching veteran who will discuss adopting the proper mindset in a pressure-filled environment to turn stress into a motivator and help enhance you performance as a lawyer and find satisfaction and reward in your daily routine.  Lawyer’s at all career levels will find something interesting and/or  inspiring.

 The event is free to CBA Members and only $10.00 for non members.  If you are interested you can register here.  Be sure to login in the CBA webpage in order to register as a member.  You can also email Dimity Orlet at    The event is being underwritten by the Cincinnati Bar Foundation’s  Kenneth D. Jameson Health and Well-being Fund which was established in May of 2012 to promote the work of the Committee and to foster a better understanding of the mental health issues unique to practicing attorneys.

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Diagnosis … Legal Industry is in need of change

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 …..

  1. The most intellectual people are rarely the most successful lawyers.
  2. Legal profession attracts negative and hostile personality types who are more likely to be successful (i.e. narcissists, sociopaths, bullies and egomaniacs)
  3. Being good at what you do means less than being good at getting clients.
  4. Perfectionism is valued but is a double-edged sword.  It makes for great work product but can cause tremendous stress.
  5. Lawyers are 2 times more like to be depressed.
  6. Lawyers are 3 times more likely to have anxiety disorders
  7. Lawyers get less sleep that most other professionals.
  8. Lawyers have higher suicide rate than the general population, particularly male lawyers in their 50’s.
  9. There are far more lawyers seeking a job than there are jobs. New graduates have only a 50% chance of landing any legal job.
  10. Law school process can lead to depression in 40% of students within the first two years.
  11. We are profession that thrives on anxiety, fear, aggression and we make more money the longer our clients remaind in an adversarial situation.  
  12. We graduate a lot of new lawyers but most of them do not make it past 10 years in practice.
  13. Our law schools have misled applicants about graduate employment rates.
  14. The most successful lawyers are often the ones who are workaholics,  who can’t understand that working more does not make you more productive.
  15. 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.

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During my time away ….great people and ideas coming together for attorney wellness.

During the weeks since my October post, I have been busy working with the Cincinnati Bar Association on a Health and Wellness program for its members.  I have been meeting with area professionals to form an advisory group for the new Health and Wellness intitiative.  I suggested the CBA adopt such a program after a friend/partner of mine lost his battle with depression in May.  My own battles with the demands of my practice and the stress I see in those around me has made me accutely aware of the downside of the legal industry.

It has been wonderful and interesting meeting with other professionals and connecting with other attorneys who feel the way I do about the practice of law. The reaction has been by and far positive.    However, there is a fair amount of education for those not in the legal arena.  Perhaps the idea that law students and lawyers have higher rates of depression and anxiety seems difiicult to comprehend unless you are inside the profession.  Of course, when I discuss the ideas with other legal professionals I am met with enthusiasm and support which reinforces my feeling that most lawyers are people first and lawyers second.  In other words, there is a human side to us all which must honored and respected by ourselves and others.

So far, I am proud to have met with and received support of the CBA’s Executive Directory, John Norwine, Dimity Orlet, the CLE coordinator and Julie Borths the CBA Report editor.  Outside the CBA,  Patrick Garry of the Ohio Laywers Assistance program, Dr. Richard Sears (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction specialist), Lawson Wulsin of UC Medical School, Dr. Doug Mossman, of UC Psychiatry and Law Program, Ellen Wolf, Magistrate in Hamilton County Municipal Court, John Francis of Centerpoint Health, Tony Dattillo of Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health, Stu Schloss of Ulmer and Bearne have all been receptive to serving in an advisory capacity.   I reached out last week to professor Jennifer Jolly Ryan of Chase College of Law and hope to bring in their participation as well as UC Law School. I still have a few additional people to speak with but I am very thrilled to have so much interest so far.   It is a great group with a lot of diversity.

Now that we have this advisory group, our first task is to start developing a program.  So, I am meeting with the CBA folks, and Pat Garry on the 20th to get the ball rolling as they say.  So, excited about the chance to get valuable information to law students and lawyers alike.  No, I don’t think we will reach 100% of the lawyers, but I do think having information available to people is so important and a good first step of creating a support structure for the people who are in the legal profession.  The task ahead may seem “like climbing Mt. Everest”, but nothing ever gets accomplished unless you start.  Or as Henry Ford once said “Coming together is the begining, keeping together is progress.  Working togther is success.”  May the CBA move toward progress and onto success.

I will post further details as the program develops….