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Disappointments Preceded Suicides by Lawyers at Three Major Law Firms

Posted May 11, 2009 7:27 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Job stress and career disappointments are apparently taking a toll on lawyers working in the high-pressure world of large law firms.

In the past six months, lawyers working for three major firms have reportedly committed suicide after job or trial losses, the National Law Journal reports. Experts told the publication that lawyers are already at high risk of depression because of heavy workloads and training that focuses on the negative. Economic stress may be making the problems worse.

The suicide of Mark Levy, a 59-year-old Yale Law School graduate who headed Kilpatrick Stockton’s Supreme Court and appellate advocacy practice, has already been reported. Levy shot himself in April at the law firm’s offices after learning he would be laid off, according to the earlier stories. Colleagues said he was a brilliant litigator who may have struggled with the business aspects of legal practice.

The National Law Journal notes two other reports of suicides at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and King & Spalding.

Above the Law first reported the April suicide of the Simpson Thacher lawyer, reportedly an associate who had been laid off. The law firm confirmed the death of an associate but did not provide her name or the cause.

The National Law Journal says the third lawyer who killed himself, in December, was a partner at King & Spalding who was part of a legal team that had lost a big trial for a major client, Bank of America. The Charlotte, N.C., office that he helped open was also seeing a decline in work, the story says. Colleagues confirmed the report in interviews with the legal publication but the firm did not comment.

Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, a group devoted to suicide prevention, says risk factors for suicide include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide ideation, divorce and stress. And lawyers experience many of these risk factors at higher rates than the general population, he says. Lawyers are also more likely to be perfectionist and competitive, personality traits that make a person considering suicide less likely to seek help.

Nearly all large law firms have employee assistance programs, but they don’t appear to have expanded programs since the economic downturn, the NLJ story says. The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs lists local assistance programs that can help troubled lawyers.

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