Lawyers bear the brunt of many jokes regarding their profession but the truth is that they are a necessity for managing complicated dealings with the law. The truth is that lawyers work in a pressure cooker and they absorb a lot of problems that the public would otherwise have difficulty managing.
Studies have shown that lawyers have two times the rate of depression of the general population. According to the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, lawyers rank 4th in suicide by profession.
The work performed by lawyers is highly confidential. They work every day on projects and issues that cannot be discussed or shared with friends or family. Working in a high stress bubble with little opportunity to share details even with their closest contacts is a breeding ground for issues. Lawyers have high rates of depression, burn out, and dissatisfaction with their jobs. They are sometimes angry and feel as if they have no true friends.
Working as a lawyer can be very gratifying as you watch your clients succeed because of the work you’ve accomplished but the reality is that the law profession is adversarial in nature. Meetings with clients can be a motivational call to arms to fight for the best results for the client. Lawyers are constantly planning and developing strategies to win. This highly stressful work environment where they are constantly engaged in a state of conflict can spill over into to their private lives. Working day in and day out with this confrontational attitude can be habit forming and can cause lawyers to carry on with this adrenalin rush even when they are not at the office.
The profession attracts hard working people who want to do good things for their clients. Unfortunately, as law firms grow and expand to worldwide operations the work often becomes more focussed on billable hours and the business aspects of law. The practice becomes dehumanized – both from the lawyer’s point of view and the client’s.
The profession is a breeding ground for stress and depression but it also breeds a sense of invincibility and secrecy.
It is gratifying to see that the legal firms are beginning to recognize that the work has many psychological pitfalls. I have been working with individuals and corporations for 30 years as an executive coach and therapist and the trend I have observed is that lawyers don’t often reach out for help on their own when they need it. As legal firms begin to offer more in house coaching or training for stress management skills, an essential tool to fight depression, we will break down the barriers and stigma that is often associated with seeking help for managing the pitfalls of the profession.