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December 14, 2007

Why Are Lawyers So Damned Depressed? Well, You're A Lawyer. You Figure It Out.

Jim Calloway, author of Law Practice Tips, writes a compelling commentary on the recent Wall Street Journal piece regarding the high rate of depression amongst lawyers.  He quotes several articles which then reference several studies.  It appears the top three drivers are:

  • the adversarial process;
  • non-stop deadlines; and
  • pressure to meet billable hour requirements.

You should read the commentary and the articles because I believe most lawyers can relate on some level.

I would like to see a study of depression amongst solos specifically to see if the percentages are the same in this sector as the profession taken as a whole.  There are different issues solos face, for sure.  But they can control the quantity and quality of client they take on which in turn controls deadlines and billables. They can even determine to get rid of the billable hour which many are doing.

However, I would like to proffer another perspective on challenges facing all lawyers which are unique to our profession.  I see it quite often with my clients and we address it.  It's not depression but my guess is it can cause depression.  It is the knowledge that we have chosen a profession which turns problem-solving into an art form in order to be professionally and financially successful.  This very same problem-solving skill which is highly regarded makes you a magnet for EVERYONE's problems, not just paying clients. Everyone includes family, spouses, kids, friends.  Lawyer's hear it all the time, "Well, you're a lawyer. You're smart. Can't you figure it out." Or, my favorite, "It's easier for you to do it."  Lawyers are always in problem-solving mode and they can't turn it off.  And if they try, others try to flip the switch back on and you feel obliged.  Everyone's seeming inability to resolve problems or just plain laziness somehow magically becomes your responsibility and you allow it because on some level you feel, well, you are a lawyer, you should do it.

But the worst is when you create your own stress. Sometimes you trap yourself and believe you have to solve your own problems, understand all things, figure everything out because YOU have determined you are the only one who can resolve a matter.  You shouldn't have to pay another to address a 'weakness,'  whether it be business, marketing, technology, accounting, management, etc. because, well, lawyers shouldn't have weaknesses, vulnerabilities, inefficiencies, right?  G-d forbid it gets out to the legal community that you aren't superhuman. So, when you do hire others you promote it as efficiency because you are growing.  And sometimes it is.  But sometimes it isn't.  You just can't admit you are not good at something because, after all, you are a paid problem-solving warrior. You feel compelled by yourself and others to be able to solve ALL problems, learn all tasks, or you are somehow a failure.  And it is rooted in the experiences in law school starting with where you are accepted and the unforgiving Tier system.

So, while there are many reasons for depression in lawyers, I venture to say this could very well be another stressor which relates to the depression statistic.  This particular graduate degree and professional status comes with some pretty heavy extra baggage seldom discussed.  Give yourself a break.  You don't have to solve everyone's problems or even take the time to figure them out...unless they've paid you handsomely to do so.


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Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the alarming rate of depression among lawyers. The Journal cites the statistic that 19% of lawyers suffer depression at any given time, compared with 6.7% of the population as a whol... [Read More]


Edward Wiest

Believing you can (and must) do it all-and thus denying the need for help-- may not only be a trigger for depression, but bar discipline. I have represented a number of solos in such cases, and a common thread was taking on a matter which was either outside the usual scope of their practice or getting ensnared in a case which required more time than they had available to commit to it. The inability to accept that one is not a jack-of-all trades may be a risk not only to your psyche, but your license.

Meyer Silber

I think dealing with clients that do not appreciate and/or pay for one's services is a source of significant stress.

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