“To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer.”
The rule of law underlies the foundation of our free and democratic society. Dedication to the principles of justice, equality, fairness and respect for the rule of law brought many of us to pursue a career in the legal profession. It is deeply rewarding to contribute our skills, knowledge and talents to building a productive and fair society. Most people enter the profession expecting to feel professionally and personally satisfied by engaging in such meaningful and valued work.
So why, then, do we find that lawyers increasingly suffering from depression, anxiety and substance abuse? What has gone wrong in this honorable profession that has led to the disaffection and distress of so many of its members? And what do we need to do about it?
There are many societal factors contributing to the problems being experienced by lawyers, as well as some that are specific to the legal profession itself. Advances in technology have increased the speed of our day to day lives, while reducing the frequency and depth of interpersonal connections. Many of us spend more time interacting with the screens on our devices than in face to face interaction with our fellow human beings. Recovery from the impact of the recent economic recession and been slow, particularly in Connecticut. Overall, purchasing power of the average American has been declining for decades.
The practice of law itself has been undergoing serious changes. In recent years, the practice of law has been viewed less as a profession guided by principles and more a business drive by profit. The pressure to get more clients and bill more hours seems like a never-ending upward spiral. Alternative providers of legal services have reduced the market and made it more competitive. The personal, collegial, human element of practicing with your fellow professionals has declined or disappeared in the face of these pressures. All of this add stress to the daily lives of lawyers.
The process of becoming a lawyer planted the seeds of your success, but may also have taught you to be little more than a work horse. Becoming a lawyer took hard work, dedication and commitment over a period of years. It’s not for the faint of mind or heart. But sometimes the very skills that allowed you to become lawyer can work against you in creating a satisfying life.
For most people, a rewarding professional life occurs as one part of mosaic that includes other elements such as the personal, the physical, the creative and the spiritual. The single-minded focus that served you so well to get you where you are today as a lawyer may not be what you need to live a full, enriching life.
Having practiced law for ten years, I personally experienced many of the unique pressures and stresses that are part and parcel of practicing law. I know that the legal culture has typically viewed questions and doubts, either professional or personal, as a sign of weakness or lack of commitment. To survive, most of us had to learn to suppress our feelings, and sometimes even our humanity.
You don’t have to do it alone. It’s normal for humans to need help and support, at least on occasion. Maybe now is the time to reach out for some support. The consequences of ignoring stress can range from simple dissatisfaction to depression, anxiety, substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, etc.), and problems in personal and family relationships.
Here are some resources you might find helpful:
Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers-Connecticut, Inc., an IRS Sec. 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation created pursuant to C.G.S. Sec. 51-81d to provide free, confidential crisis intervention, peer support and referral services to Connecticut lawyers. Their confidential hotline is 1-800-497-1422.
Why Can’t Lawyers Relax? – And How They Can, by Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD
Getting Counsel From Someone Who’s Been There, by Douglas S. Malan of the Connecticut Law Tribune, full text of March 30, 2009 article.
A Lawyers’ Guide to Healing: Solutions for Addiction and Depression, by Don Carroll, J.D.
The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
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