Letters to the Editor

Condolences, Conundrums

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Richard B. Schmitt has written a sad but memorable article about Mark Levy in the recent ABA Journal (“A Death in the Office,” November). Mark and I had become friends in the past few years, and we often exchanged views in writing about appellate practice and about his articles for the National Law Journal.

You have done a valuable service to the bar in writing of Mark’s sad, tragic death.

Myron H. Bright
Fargo, N.D.

Levy’s career and tragic death are symptoms of the brutality of our profession. It is a profession, at least in the private sector, that seems to value the ability to market oneself and generate business and revenue for the firm over legal talent.

I myself was a Senate-confirmed presidential appointee in an agency very prominent in my field, and I am unapologetic in my belief that I have nothing to prove as far as my accomplishments and abilities in analyzing and applying the law. And yet, 22 months after my last term as a presidential appointee ended, I have yet to land a permanent position anywhere. From my conversations with law firms, I have concluded that the private sector is nearly closed to me because I have spent most of my career in government and thus I have no clients to bring with me. My accomplishments and abilities are acknowledged but not valued.

I mourn Levy’s death and would not wish such a fate on anyone’s family. Also tragic, however, is the waste and loss of his prodigious legal talent, which I would lay directly at the feet of the legal profession.

Dennis P. Walsh
Washington, D.C.

I know other attorneys who, like Levy, see law as a profession and not a business. They are the real lawyers of this society; and speaking of society, we have one that tends to reward bad behavior more often than not while those who play by the rules and do everything “right” suffer the consequences (attorneys and nonattorneys alike experience this injustice).

As a practicing lawyer, it is a disillusioning experience and one that happens every day in the courtroom as judges who know more about raising money or securing political favors serve on the bench. Society, and perhaps Kilpatrick Stockton, just doesn’t pay the respect that people like Levy deserve.

Certainly, there is much we don’t know about Levy, but we do know that the disrespect he was shown when he was laid off could cause anyone to be angry. As for everything else, we have to remember that meaning should not and does not come with the increasingly thankless profession of law but from our shared humanity and sympathy of the human condition. With the spirit of that respect of our fellow people lies the service that is the real practice of law—I think Levy knew that. He just lived in a world where money mattered more than service and ethics.

We all have a role to play in Levy’s tragic death and a role to play in the future of our society. What role do you want to play?

Lisa D. Moore
Westerville, Ohio

Levy’s final e-mail message is so haunting and such a reflection of a careful, thorough and thoughtful person. This was a deeply moving story and it was beautifully written. A prominent woman lawyer in our community killed herself not long ago, and the ripple in the community is still being felt.

Ginny Agnew
Austin, Texas

I believe many suicides are acts of anger. When no other communication seems effective, it delivers an emphatic message. What kind of firm would throw away a person as talented as this? Answer: not a good one. One that generates obscene profits for its partners, but not a good one.

R. Bernard Briggs
Juneau, Alaska

A good lawyer can find a hundred different things to do. Levy should not be eulogized or mourned for what he did. He found the coward’s answer to problems that required a little faith and hope. While I am sad for his family, and grieve for them and what they have lost, I am angered that the Journal would attempt to elevate this act to something akin to martyrdom. He was a fool, and died a fool’s death.

Anthony L. DeWitt
Jefferson City, Mo.

This story is, of course, sad; but on a wider scale it is a disturbing microcosm of a changed profession—changed for the worse. Here is a story of a highly educated, talented, personable attorney. His only “flaw” being that he was not a worthy rainmaker.

I submit that Levy’s internal battles and predicament were put in play by a profession that has lost its once regarded vision, loyalty and humanity to money and rainmaking standards. Lawyers and their worth are solely measured not based upon their human worth but on weekly and end-of-the-year accounting pro formas. This was not the profession that I joined 20 years ago, nor was it the career that Levy joined fresh out of law school. The term lawyer today is increasingly becoming synonymous with terms like depression, anxiety, career dissatisfaction, incivility and, yes, suicide.

The legal profession needs to seriously digest this poignant story, to look in the mirror and ask the question: Has it so abandoned its traditional ideals that the only measurement of a lawyer’s worth is his or her rainmaking?

If yes, as this story painfully illustrates, that makes this story sadder.

My heart goes out to Levy, as well as his family and friends. The profession has lost an elite attorney, and more importantly by all accounts, we lost an elite human being. My heart goes out to our profession as well, whose leaders know full well that it has lost its way but are either too busy or paralyzed to fix it. May Levy rest in peace, and may the leaders and participants in our profession find better and creative ways to restore the profession’s luster, which in my opinion is further tarnished by this story.

Gregory J. Parry
Troy, Mich.

It’s absurd to suggest [as some commenters at ABAJournal.com did] that Levy took his own life because he lost his job or because of the state of the legal profession. It’s as if people are accusing him—sympathetically, perhaps—of throwing a tantrum. How can anyone suggest that Levy left his children and wife behind because he was heartbroken over the business realities of practicing law? It’s insulting.

Depression is not about losing a job, not getting into an elite school or a bad breakup. Simply being unhappy, hurt or angry isn’t depression any more than being clumsy is epilepsy.

I have no training in psychology, but I have experienced the suicides of two friends. One was in high school. He was clever, funny and physically strong. His family was stable, and his friends listened to him because he seemed to say what he was really feeling. When we got to school one Friday morning to learn that he had taken his own life, no one suggested that it was because high school is hard or because of whatever insignificant event befell him on Thursday.

When my dorm mate and friend from college was found hanging from a rope a few years after graduation, another friend, thinking himself insightful, said it was because he was having trouble holding down a job and didn’t want to burden his family anymore. In reality it was because he was a paranoid schizophrenic with a long history of severe clinical depression.

Levy was a great man, but he was not a martyr—just a poor soul cursed with bad brain chemistry. Don’t mock his tragedy by holding it up as an example of what’s wrong with the legal profession.

Tim Fisher
Oakland, Calif.

Regarding the sidebar about lawyers suffering from depression, “The Less Final Option,” November, the stigma is real and oppressive. So is the misinformation.

I write because I am alive. I am healthy. I am not quite where I want to be yet, but I am optimistic that I will get there. Many of you may have associates and family who are suffering. Many are functional, even though they may self-medicate—often the choice of medication is alcohol (but not always) and they escape notice because of the tendency of those in our profession to be “heavy drinkers.” When they are noticed they are labeled alcoholic or a problem drinker and left alone because “Well, they are functioning, right?”

I don’t know that I know the answer. I think they should be allowed to make an informed decision, though. And that means making them aware that self-medication may be due to a brain-chemical disorder (that’s what most “psychiatric” illness is, folks—listen to those commercials). They may become alcohol dependent, but that is the nature of any substance abuse. And they might reach the point of being an alcoholic. But still they might be saved. I don’t think they should be allowed to destroy those who depend on them: People like you, like your partners and the staff, like your mutual clients, as well as his or her family and friends. We are lawyers. We fight to win. How about fighting for your friend?

Mark F. Fisher
Orlando, Fla.

I am writing to you as a wife whose husband’s position was terminated 17 months ago, just two weeks shy of age 60. I could totally relate to Levy’s feelings in your story. My question is: How can anyone not understand Levy’s story or his feelings?

No one is interested in hiring a 60-year-old attorney whose life has been dedicated to service or who isn’t a financial maverick and marketing genius.

Of course these attorneys are suffering from depression. Who would not be depressed? They did everything they were supposed to do for the good of their clients. As your story stated about Levy: He helped people and associations and “never asked for anything in return.” What are these attorneys to do at their age, with so many out of work but not yet of retirement age? Have you looked at the unemployment statistics for people over 55?

We have a child and elderly parents to support. Because we have taken money out of our retirement account, it’s considered “income,” but it’s not considered income to help us refinance our mortgage to a lower rate, which would help us keep our home. We both have pre-existing health conditions, and while we have not been turned down for health insurance, the prices given to us are unaffordable. We wonder what tomorrow may bring. At times we feel simply hopeless.

My husband is quick to volunteer, for which everyone is grateful. But volunteering doesn’t pay the bills. He picks up some work here and there, but it doesn’t replace his income.

Diane Prucino, a co-managing partner at Kilpatrick Stockton, stated, “We all understand the impact that this action will have on each of these attorneys and their families.”

But we don’t live in a socialist country where housing, health care and food are a given. I’m sorry, but unless you are in our shoes and unemployed, you will never understand. I can tell you from firsthand experience, these attorneys—like anyone who has lost their job—don’t need counseling, as your sidebar story suggests: They need paying jobs.

Ellen Smith
Pittsford, N.Y.

I, too, lost a dear friend/fellow attorney to suicide a couple years ago. I encourage those of you who are lucky enough not to have been a victim in any respect to depression or suicide to help those who have.

There are many ways to do so—I do so by participating in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness walks, held across the country.

There is no way for those of us who have not been there to understand the depths of pain suffered by those in the grips of depression. God bless those and their families who are suffering now.

James J. Allen

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