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Lawyer Depression Comes Out of the Closet


Lawyers suffer greater rates of depression and alcohol abuse than the general population, but fear of going public caused many to battle their problems in isolation.

That’s beginning to change, the Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.). The ABA and other bar groups are questioning the emphasis on billable hours (PDF) that drives lawyers to exhaustion, while some law schools are helping students and alumni evaluate whether they have chosen the right field. Individual lawyers are also stepping up to discuss their depression on websites or as visiting lecturers.

The practice of law, with constant conflict and billing pressures, can take a toll. Another problem is the lawyer mindset, says psychologist Martin Seligman: Pessimists excel at law, but they are at risk for depression.

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.

For some, the problem is a bad career choice, the Wall Street Journal says. Two-thirds of Oregon lawyers surveyed said they had no exposure to the day-to-day life of a lawyer before law school, and 30 percent of that group said they would have picked a different profession if they could go do it over.

Law schools helping with career choices include the University of Iowa, which sends an associate dean to talk to alums about whether they have chosen the right career. Oklahoma City University is addressing the subject of depression with lectures by trial lawyer James Webb, who explains that his drive to succeed also made him vulnerable to depression.

Another lawyer coming forward to discuss depression is Dan Lukasik, who created a Web site to support others with the disease. Lawyer assistance programs are also available to lawyers who need help.

“You can be a productive, vital attorney who does meaningful, good work and have clinical depression, but there are steps you’re going to have to take to treat your depression,” Lukasik told the Buffalo Law Journal.

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