Susan Cartier Liebel has written a thoughtful blog post on the high prevalence of depression in the legal profession.
The ABA reports that “about 19 percent of lawyers experience depression at any given time, compared with 6.7 percent of the general population. About 20 percent of lawyers have drinking problems, twice the rate of the general population.”
The Lawyers Assistance Program of BC states that “research shows law to be the occupation most susceptible to clinical depression. Legal professionals are now three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than the general population.” Further, “substance abuse among lawyers is rampant. While 10% of the general adult population is alcohol-dependant, among lawyers practicing from 2-20 years, the number jumps to 18%. For those practicing more than 20 years, the number is 25%. Many of these individuals are both depressed and chemically dependant.”
Susan Cartier Liebel references a recent article on the possible sources of lawyer depression:
“Some of the more specific work qualities that make lawyers particularly prone to depression are long work hours; the competitive nature of the work; the adversarial nature of the work; the requirement for highly focused attention to detail; the extreme repercussions of professional errors; the need to be pessimistic and skeptical, and to be prepared to deal with “worst case scenarios;” responsibility for assisting clients and others who are in crisis or dealing with tragic situations; constant scrutiny of your work by employers, judges and opposing counsel; the reality that your work will directly impact the client’s financial, relationship, liberty and quality-of-life interests; the pressure of deadlines and the potential consequences of missing deadlines; rigid and particularized rules and procedures that must be followed carefully and completely; the need to perform, both in terms of achieving results and being “on-stage” and observed by others in public arenas; the need to advance or defend a position that might conflict with your personal values.”
In addition to the traditional sources of anxiety and depression noted above, current economic, technological and demographic forces are putting increasing pressure on the traditional law firm business model and lawyers themselves. Increasingly competitive pressures and a rapidly changing profession may serve to exacerbate an already very serious issue among lawyers.
There are an increasing number of resources available to lawyers online, such as www.lawyerswithdepression.com which are worth checking out.