Lawyers Stress Part 1: Awareness of the Problem

The Spectre of Stress

Managing your law firm, or your role in one, is as much about managing your own health and well being as anything else.  Every job comes with it some amount of stress, but on average those in the law profession are feeling it on a much higher level.

Here are some alarming facts to get your attention:

  • According to a Johns Hopkins University study of more than 100 occupations, in a study about lawyers stress researchers found that lawyers lead the nation with the highest incidence of depression.
  • Another fact about lawyers stress. According to CNN Lawyers rank fourth in most suicides by profession.
  • Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers.

Add to this the high levels of substance abuse and chronic health issues found in the profession and you can see why this is a very serious issue that has to be addressed.  It may not be pleasant to talk about, but avoiding the subject can only make things worse.

I want to help you keep that balance of success and health so you don’t succumb to the burnout that claims so many lawyers each year.

The first step is to draw awareness to the problem and then in Part 2 we can turn our focus on to solutions that you can implement into your life and business practice.

So What’s Going On With Lawyers?

We can draw a fairly clear connection from stress to depression, and from depression to substance abuse, social anxiety and marital problems.  But why are lawyers leading the way?

There are two areas we need to discuss.  One being the type of personality that is drawn to the law profession, and the second is the nature of the profession itself.

Personality Type A

Steve Angel, a former lawyer who has blogged about his own downward spiral into depression, believes that the profession is a magnet for workaholics who fall into a pattern where stress leads to depression.

It is the Type A’s that are highly ambitious, over-achieving and have a tendency towards perfectionism that are at high risk.  I suggest you take an honest look at yourself and recognize if you have these attributes.  If so, you need to take care and heed the warning signs.

Are you constantly reducing the amount of sleep you are getting?  Do you need a dictionary to understand the word vacation?  Is your social and family life suffering because you have no time away from your work?

Unfortunately, this might sound normal to a lot of you in the profession, because that is what the profession often demands.

Demands of the Profession

Whether it be the stress of reaching your minimum billable hours for the firm, the responsibility you feel to meet your client’s expectations, or the drive to succeed in a hyper-competitive market, if you’re practicing law, you’re managing stress.

It isn’t uncommon for many lawyers to be juggling 60-hour work weeks.  Or more.  Endless hours studying case law, documents, regulations, and a necessary attention to detail to avoid the emotional toll of losing isn’t the glamourous image we’re presented with in the media.  But it is often the reality.

So, you’re busy.

On top of the workloads and expectations come the subtle psychological effects that shouldn’t be overlooked.  Too often, skills in subterfuge and conflict are rewarded, and the ability to persuade others using distorted interpretation leads to success in law.

Adversity and argument is the nature of the profession after all, but not too successful if applied to interpersonal relationships.  This would be disastrous.

Does this sound all to familiar?

Taking Care

So what to do about all this?  I really want the best for you and I am trying my darnedest to get those uncomfortably real statistics to start moving in a downward trend.  The first thing is to be aware of the issue and take a hard look at your life and practice.

Are you in the danger area?

Ideally, you are reading this before any serious problems have occurred and you have a chance to be proactive.

Join me for Part 2:  Zen and the Art of Lawyer Maintenance where we look at solutions and strategies to help you avoid stress and burnout, or turn that ship around if you are already in the deep waters.

See you there!

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