Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Why Are So Many Lawyers Depressed?

TaxProf Blog:

Telling statistics from today's Wall Street Journal Work & Family column by Sue Shellenbarger, Even Lawyers Get the Blues: Opening Up About Depression:

  • 19% of lawyers suffer from depression (v. 6.7% of general population)
  • 20% of lawyers are problem drinkers (v. 10% of general population)

The causes of lawyer depression?  "Escalating billable-hours quotas fuel chronic overload, and the ceaseless deadlines and adversarial nature of the work feed anxiety."   Legal education is partly to blame:

[S]ome legal educators are beginning to see poor career choices as a root cause of work-life distress. Two-thirds of 1,500 Oregon attorneys surveyed by the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program said they'd had no exposure before law school to the day-to-day life of a lawyer; if allowed to start over, 30% said they'd choose a different field.

To support career adjustments, the University of Iowa law school last year dispatched a roving associate dean, Steve Langerud, to meet with alumni; he has counseled more than 100 so far on such questions as, "Is this the right field for me?" he says.

Oklahoma City University's law school runs programs to help students weigh their options carefully. One speaker, James Webb, a successful trial lawyer, tells how some of the strengths that led him into the law -- his drive to succeed, to win battles -- also made him vulnerable to depression. A few years ago he almost committed suicide. Noting that no one discussed mental health when he was in law school, Mr. Webb, now 40 and doing well, says he sometimes has to force himself to speak up. But he does so, he says, on the belief that "it's never going to get better until we start talking about it."

My question is whether or not being a lawyer makes one depressed or if people prone to depression are also prone to become lawyers?  My guess is that it's the latter.

On the other hand, maybe all the happy ones go into academia?

In 2006, Yale Law School surveyed members of the Yale class of 2001 on a variety of career-related issues including job satisfaction. 67% of graduates working in academia said that they were "very satisfied" with their jobs, compared to 51% of those working in "public service," 30% of those employed by businesses, and 30% of those working for private law firms.

At the other end of the scale, there were no academics who were only "somewhat" or not at all satisfied with their jobs, compared to 19% of those working in public service, 16% of those employed in business, and 34% of those in private law firms.

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