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Did Overwork Kill Skadden Associate? Inconclusive Autopsy Points to Cardiac Issues

Posted Nov 16, 2011 8:41 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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When a 32-year-old associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom was found dead at her California home in June, blogs reported she was putting in long hours and appeared to be under pressure before she died.

The death of associate Lisa Johnstone spurred other lawyers “to assess their lives and their mental and physical well being,” Above the Law noted at the time. Now the Am Law Daily is taking a look at the autopsy released in September.

The findings were inconclusive, but the most likely cause of death is identified as a cardiac arrhythmia, the Am Law Daily says. The autopsy report also says another possibility can’t be excluded: a syndrome such as Wolff-Parkinson-White, a sometimes fatal heart condition in which there is an extra electrical pathway in the heart that can lead to rapid heart rate. No alcohol or drugs were found in Johnstone’s system.

According to the coroner’s report, a friend became concerned when Johnstone didn’t show up at work on Monday. She had planned to arrive at 4 a.m. When Johnstone’s boyfriend arrived at her condo to investigate, he found Johnstone lying unresponsive on the bed. The TV was on, and a law firm document was on a hope chest at the foot of the bed. Her home was "very clean, upper scale and organized,” the report said.

Johnstone’s mother told a responding officer at the scene that her daughter had worked more than 80 hours a week and had "worked herself very thin." She was recently treated for dehydration and previously had an ulcer. Johnstone’s brother told the officer his sister “sounded more frazzled than usual."

“Did the rigors of working at Skadden actually contribute to what killed Lisa Johnstone?” the Am Law Daily asks. “Nearly five months later, the official cause of her death remains undetermined.”

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