Depression in the Legal Profession

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 which are worth checking out.


  1. Nicole, thanks for adding to the discussion. I do believe in these more challenging times, more lawyers will have to look for emotional assistance. They shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge the stresses which exist in the profession, even unique to the profession. Sadly, the most common refrain is, ‘I’m trained to be a problem solver but it seems I’m not very good at addressing my own.’

  2. I’ve known several people who claim that law students are some of the heaviest binge drinkers they knew back in college/university. Perhaps this behaviour should be discouraged from the onset to prevent dependency later on.

  3. Albert, it’s a great idea. Some students at our school tried that, or at least suggested that alternative activities offered.

    The official response from our social committee, put in print in our school paper, was that this was the reality of law firms. Law students should therefore suck it up (I paraphrase).

    The vast majority of our funds still goes to alcohol-related events, some with significant law firm sponsorship. To be fair to the students, this is the preferred activity for almost all of them.

    One of my professors says, not approvingly, “You cannot be a lawyer without being an alcoholic.” My response to him has been, “You can’t be a student either.”

  4. For anyone in New Brunswick, Daniel Lukasik (of is one of the keynote speaker at a symposium at the UNB Faculty of Law next week addressing these issues.

  5. Well, then, appointment to the bench must be a very good wagon, given the saw “sober as a judge”. OTOH, there’s the old joke:

    A man was arrested for being drunk. He was taken to court and appeared before a judge. Still drunk, he protested that he was innocent.
    “I was as drunk as you are. As drunk as a Judge.”
    The judge was annoyed. He corrected the man “The expression is ‘As sober as a Judge’. We say ‘As drunk as a Lord'”.
    “Yes my Lord. Sorry my Lord. Well that is how drunk I was.”