Lawyer: One skilled in the circumvention of the law. -- Ambrose Bierce
Many lawyers report increasing levels of emotional distress and
dissatisfaction in the practice of law. As a result, significant
numbers of attorneys are leaving the practice of law.
Of great concern is the finding that attorneys are at greater risk of
depression, substance abuse and other emotional and/or physical
ailments. Many lawyers just don't know how to cope with the emotional
stress found in the practice of law today.
Identification of emotional stress and learning appropriate stress
management skills can help us more appropriately balance our lives and
increase our productivity, without becoming victims of the emotional
distress so prevalent in the profession today.
EMOTIONAL DISTRESS-A LEADING CAUSE OF DISSATISFACTION AND LAWYER
Recent surveys have indicated that lawyer dissatisfaction with the
practice of law are on the increase. This includes dissatisfaction
arising from both mental and physical stress, with over 70% of those
surveyed complaining of intolerable pressures and tensions daily.
Emotional distress, whether arising in the context of the practice of
law or elsewhere, has been linked to physical problems such as
headaches, depression, heart trouble, sleep disturbances, and
deterioration of interpersonal relationships as well as chemical
dependency and substance abuse.
Recent research on lawyers gives troubling results, because it appears
we are at a higher risk for these problems than the general population.
In several studies, it has been determined that 1/3 of lawyers show
symptoms of clinical depression or substance abuse; these results are
twice the national averages. A study at the Johns Hopkins University
disclosed attorneys are most likely to suffer from depression when
compared with 104 occupational groups.
State Bar studies indicate that 60% of the disciplinary proceedings in
some states involved attorneys who were chemical dependents or mentally
impaired. It follows that maintaining our emotional health and
stability can both deliver a higher standard of professional service to
our clients, and help prevent disciplinary action by our respective
LEADING CAUSES OF LAWYER STRESS:
Causes of emotional distress among attorneys tend to be either those
found in other high stress occupations; or unique to the practice of law
in particular; or those involving particular individual character
A. Stresses Found Particularly in the Legal Profession:
1. Arising from the adversary system itself;
2. Arising from particular fields of practice;
3. Arising from conflicts based on one's role in the legal system.
EXCESS HOURS-AND THE DANGER OF "TIME MANAGEMENT" FOR LAWYERS:
One of the leading complaints of lawyers is that long hours are
required, frequently spent in an urgent state of activity. Elwork, in
his seminal text "Stress Management for Lawyers", discusses
"workaholism" as a chronic lawyer problem and a two-edged sword.
On the one hand, the workaholic lawyer can get more work done, while on
the other hand, workaholic lawyers are at risk of developing:
"...headaches, sleep disturbances, high blood pressure, and other more
serious illnesses. They are prone to acquire various food, alcohol and
drug addictions. In addition, they have difficulty establishing or
maintaining close personal relationships, and they have higher divorce
and failed parenting rates. finally, it is not unusual for them to
experience depression, anxiety, and even more serious emotional
illnesses---and eventually to burn out." (Elwork, "Stress Management
for Lawyers", at 16)
Some causes of lawyer emotional stress include:
A. The nature of our adversary system;
B. "Thinking like a lawyer";
C. Strong drive for professional and/or financial success.
The adversary system: In addition to a fear of failure (i.e., losing
the case), it's common for both litigants and their attorneys to suspect
(or harbor) ulterior motives; to take every advantage; and to engage in
manipulation and/or discourteous treatment of opposing counsel or
"Thinking like a lawyer" proceeds from the legal system being subject to
rules, order and organization, based on logical thought, analysis and
attention to details, in a context where any mistake can be costly.
These attributes can cause fear of failure and perfectionist thinking
which can lead to an obsessive dedication to work.
The strong drive for professional and/or financial success may cause
lawyers to temporarily sacrifice their personal lives to achieve
success, but often success is illusive, and new, higher goals often
replace those reached. This can tend to make one always "live for the
future"... a future which never comes.
One problem of effective time management may be that the overworked
lawyer, becoming more efficient, may begin to take on responsibility for
even more work.
RECOGNIZING FEAR OF FAILURE OR REJECTION:
The adversary system itself can produce fear; both fear of failure
("performance anxiety") and fear of rejection. While fear of failure
typically involves anxiety over losing the litigation itself, fear of
rejection typically involves fear of losing the client or our
professional standing as a result of losing the litigation.
HOSTILITY AND ANGER IN THE ADVERSARY SYSTEM:
The adversary system itself can bring out negative behaviors such as
hostility (the "Rambo litigator" syndrome), suspicion, manipulation
and cynicism. These behaviors can lead to feelings of anger, fear,
irritation and impatience.
WHERE TO GET HELP.
Lawyers with emotional distress can obtain confidential help from the
State Bar of California's Lawyer Personal Assistance Program. Contact
can be made confidentially by the involved attorney, a concerned friend
or colleague, employer or family member. 24 hour assistance can be had
by phoning 1-800-341-0572.
Lawyers whose emotional distress has propelled them to substance abuse
can get help from "The Other Bar", a state-wide network of recovering
lawyers dedicated to confidential assistance to attorneys. This program
is voluntary and confidential, and the anonymity of those seeking
assistance will be mainained. The Other Bar can be reached toll free by
Attorneys seeking additional information about stress and the legal
profession and basic steps for self-help to managing stress may purchase
a copy of Stress Management for Lawyers, by Amiram Elwork, Ph.D.,
either from the Vorkell Group, Gwynedd, Pennsylvania or may obtain a
copy from I.C.L.E.
excerpted from material Copyright (c), 1995
by THE INSTITUTE FOR CONTINUING LEGAL EDUCATION
P.O. BOX 30
L.V., NV 89125-0030
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