Despite being in a remunerative and prestigious profession, lawyers often fall victim of depression. According to a 2014 pool, “52 percent of practicing lawyers describe themselves as dissatisfied.” The problem, certainly, is not financial. After all this is a profession where the median compensation for a fresh New York University grad is around $160,000, according to this Forbes article.
Lawyers are the highest-paid professionals, surpassing doctors in terms of remuneration long ago. Therefore, it is clear that the dissatisfaction of legal professionals has nothing to do with the amount of money they earn.
But then they are disenchanted and have remarkably poor mental health. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, which included over 100 occupations, legal professionals have the highest incidence of depression in the country. Another survey conducted by ABA Young Lawyers Division indicated that among female attorneys, 41 percent weren’t happy about their job.
The ABA also estimated that almost 15-20 percent of lawyers in the U.S. suffer from alcoholism and/or substance abuse. The divorce rate is also higher among lawyers, especially among female attorneys. Besides, lawyers have a higher rate of suicide and given a chance, many of these legal professionals would rather change their careers.
A typical characteristic of people suffering from depression and mental anxiety is that they feel they have no choice. Legal professionals are no exceptions; they are usually powerless and do nothing to change it apart from playing victims of their depression. But the question remains:
Why lawyers are often victims of depression?
Lawyers and Their Psychology
Most lawyers are highly ambitious and if that’s not enough, many of them are over-achieving individuals. Other common characteristics of lawyers, especially those who are working with top tier law firms and have high aspirations include rigidity and perfectionism.
This trait of perfectionism is not just limited to their professional pursuits, but also affects their personal lives. Now being a perfectionist is not necessarily a bad thing, and it is not even exclusive to those working in the legal profession. What makes it such a negative trait among lawyers is their rigidity towards it.
The perfectionism of attorneys and many law students coupled with their rigidness often stop them from being flexible and accommodating, which are essential qualities of mentally healthy individuals.
The Nature of Their Job
Ask an aspiring law student why he/she chose this career, the answer is almost always similar. It’s a glamorous profession. This profession has been glamorized by so many Hollywood movies, the likes of which include legendary Gregory Peck’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, Keanu Reeves and Oscar-winner Al Pacino’s The Devil’s Advocate’, and Hilary Swank’s 2010 legal drama film ‘Conviction,’ that you hardly blame these youngsters for dreaming big.
But the problem is they chew more than they can swallow even without evaluating the actual picture.
A career in law is hardly as glamorous as it is shown on the silver screen. Unlike those Hollywood heartthrobs, lawyers doesn’t have the luxury of sitting around a vintage Victorian drawing room, philosophizing about the law. It is a demanding career which requires lawyers to stay on their toes to keep from getting fired. It is also an exceptionally stressful job.
Even the most well-adjusted and balanced individuals are likely to succumb to the increasing work pressure. Things get worse with individuals who already have unresolved issues and are defenseless in such a hyper-competitive job field like law. All these together, sets the perfect plot for a psychological crisis.
Legal Professionals and Emotional Burn-Outs
Almost all attorneys at some point of their career experience stress and emotional burn-outs. They feel angry and helpless at the perceived loss of control, which is a common thing in the field of law.
And considering their practice areas, from accidents, murders, sex crimes and domestic violence to white collar crimes, which be so infuriating in nature, you can hardly blame them.
In addition, they have to work long hours and sometimes even during weekends and holidays to gather evidence and prepare the arguments in favor of their clients as well as to managing partners. While the “rainmaker” is in an elusive position, it will take years for an attorney to reach rainmaker status. Until then, an attorney is expected to work more than 60 hours in a week. As a result, they often forget their priorities – control of their schedule or work-life balance.
This profession is also adversarial in nature. In order to be successful and win the game, these people often rely on conflict, chaos, ploy, falsification, and persuasion. In fact, these skills are highly rewarded in this field. But in personal life, they have disastrous consequences and lawyers often end up applying them in their interpersonal relationships, sometimes without even realizing it.
How Lawyers can Deal with Depression
While some legal professionals eventually leave their profession, others stick to it regardless of their feeling of dissatisfaction and demoralization. The latter group is usually the worst victim of depression and are most destructive both to themselves and others.
From alcoholism to illegal drug abuse they do everything that further aggravates their mental illness. In most cases, they don’t seek help until it is too late.
But there are ways in which impaired lawyers can address these issues. First thing first, they need to make the choice of changing things in their lives. Depression is a wakeup call, instead of seeing it as an illness and falling victim of the stigma attached to it, seek professional help and take the opportunity to change your life.
Also, do not become a victim of your ambition. Set goals that are realistic and attainable. It’s just fine if your law firm chooses someone else over you as an associate, you can get them in the future.
Similarly, it’s fine to make a mistake, you are only learning. Don’t lament over things you didn’t get; instead, prioritize your life. There are so many insignificant things cluttering your life. Let go of those things.
Being in such a highly demanding and stressful profession, lawyers must take their mental health as seriously as their professional obligation. Manage stress and live a balanced life, giving equal importance to your professional, physical, interpersonal, spiritual, and psychological lives. You can never be truly successful unless you learn to address your psychological stressors, both in your professional and personal environments.
Author Bio: Rachel Oliver is a thought leader in laws dealing with personal injury and related niches. Updated with the latest happenings in the legal world, she shares her experiences and anecdotes through her write-ups on various websites. Interact with her through her Google+ profile.