A lot of lawyers struggle. Challenges to lawyer well-being, affecting physical and mental health, are common. We see this throughout the legal profession, including in law schools. Depression among law students is high. According to one source, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers, and 15% of people with clinical depression commit suicide. These days, substance abuse is a familiar concept among lawyers.
Why should I care? Perhaps because my classmate, Rob, took his own life in our third year of law school. Perhaps because I want high-quality colleagues to thrive, so that they can help my practice and our clients. Perhaps because I understand that the healthier our profession becomes, the better our profession serves its clients. Perhaps because I love being a lawyer and I want to keep it that way.
In this month’s issue of St. Louis Lawyer, the magazine of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis (“BAMSL”), I authored an article devoted to this subject. In it, I point out some symptoms that I have seen, and I speculate on possible factors that might lead to unhealthy lawyers. Just about every part of the lawyer lifecycle bears some responsibility. We can admit it: the legal profession is slow to adapt, evolve, and innovate. Outdated reliance on and obsession with class rank and GPA in law schools. The law firm student-recruiting process. A culture of abuse of alcohol and other substances in law school and throughout legal careers. Tuition increases that may cause perverse incentives within law schools and may distort career decisions. Scrutiny from state bar examiners and the disincentive to struggling individuals to seek help from mental health professionals. Structural flaws in the economics of some law firms: one-size-fits-all compensation, high billable hour requirements, consequential internal frictions resulting in toxic stress, and the lack of a work-life balance.
You might say things look rather bleak. But not everywhere, and not all the time. In fact, some of the bad news that you just read point to several of the things I appreciate the most about Stock Legal and its leadership. We innovate. We flex. We evolve. Our ability to operate differently arises out of our confidence and results in competence. Our team does not have to be at wit’s end to be effective; in fact, the contrary holds true here. I hear that the contrary holds true for many lawyers.
So what am I doing to help our profession? Most importantly, I am showing up. I serve on BAMSL's Well-Being Committee. That committee includes the vice president of the Missouri Bar, law school deans of students of both St. Louis University and Washington University, and many other key colleagues. I am sharing with legal colleagues the American Bar Association (“ABA”) report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. It contains actionable recommendations for law schools, state bar admissions boards, employers, judges, bar associations, insurers, and lawyer assistance programs. Nationally, I have testified multiple times during my service in the ABA House of Delegates to inform the senior leaders of our profession about issues of concern to law students and young lawyers. They include law school tuition, debt, bar admission, school accreditation criteria, and more. On several occasions I have shared with the ABA President my concern for our profession. The good news is that he, like his predecessor, shares the same concern.
The legal profession is at an inflection point. I look forward to ushering in a new era of healthier lawyers. That said, meanwhile we at Stock Legal are not waiting. We will continue to structure our practice in a way that increases the likelihood that our clients will receive valuable legal services for their investment. With lawyers who are at their best.
*The choice of a lawyer is an important decision, and should not be based solely on advertisements.*