It is no secret that the practice of law can be very stressful. The well-being of lawyers almost always gets put on the back burner. Ever higher expectations cause lawyers to go through bouts of feeling burnt out. Why is the prevalence of alcohol, substance abuse, and depression much higher than in other professions?
Demands for perfection.
Practicing law demands a lot of lawyers. Long hours, demands from senior attorneys and clients, obstacles that may derail entire cases, and inflexible work environments are just the beginning. The industry demands lawyers be “the best”, to win every case, and to be perfect in their writing, their speaking, and their appearance. These demands lead to a lower quality of life, with lawyers becoming depressed, isolated from family and friends outside the legal world, and frequently turning to drugs and alcohol to navigate these negative stressors. Recent studies indicate that problem drinkers make up nearly 21% of lawyers. Nearly 45% of lawyers surveyed reported feeling depressed during their career. These numbers are alarming and much higher than those numbers from the general population.
Despite the many demands, support is hard to find. Many do not reach out for help due to denial and embarrassment of not being able to “handle” it. In recent years, organizations supporting lawyer well-being sprung up to address these issues and help provide a positive way forward. In Illinois, Lawyer’s Assistance Program works to help individual lawyers retake control of their practice and to educate the industry about the importance of mental health.
Next up: Improving Lawyer Well-being from the top, down.
Authored by: Karen Munoz, Partner