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State bars battle lawyer depression; legal profession ranks fourth in suicide rate

Posted Jan 22, 2014 6:45 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Former lawyer Steve Angel understands the link between burnout and depression.

Writing at the Oklahoma Bar Association website, Angel wrote about how stress led to the loss of his law license. “I am a workaholic who, after 27 years in the profession, hit a wall, crashed, burned and lost the one thing I always wanted to do—practice law,” he wrote. CNN highlighted his story, along with that of several lawyers who took their own lives, in a story about lawyer suicides.

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Angel said he worked at least 80 hours a week and sometimes put in more than 100 hours. He cut back on sleep, gave up his hobbies, and eliminated vacations. The chief joy in his life became winning a case. He went through a divorce and didn’t heed warnings until 2002, when he stopped taking new cases. But Angel still felt overwhelmed as he tried to wind down the business. He began staying in bed and hid from his responsibilities. He agreed to voluntarily resign from the bar when a bar investigator visited his house.

The legal profession ranks fourth for its high rate of suicides, according to age-adjusted information provided to CNN by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The top five are:

1) Dentists

2) Pharmacists

3) Physicians

4) Lawyers

5) Engineers

The CNN story also cites statistics that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than nonlawyers.

Several state bars are responding with hotlines, public education and lawyer assistance programs, the story says. Seven bar associations have added a mandatory mental-health component to their continuing legal education requirements. The states are California, Montana, Iowa, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. In addition, Kentucky has added a program on behaviors that increase suicide risk to its annual continuing education conference.

The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs develops educational materials for lawyers about stress, depression, addictions and other mental health issues. More information is available at its website.

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “State bar president calls recent lawyer suicides ‘disproportionate’ and ‘disconcerting’ ”

ABAJournal.com: “How Lawyers Can Help Depressed Colleagues”

ABAJournal.com: “Perfectionism, ‘Psychic Battering’ Among Reasons for Lawyer Depression”

ABA Journal: “A Death in the Office”

ABA Journal: “The Less Final Option”

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