As lawyers, our job provides tremendous pressure. People have placed their lives in our hands, and if we screw it up, there is the looming threat that the bar will take our license and we will lose our livelihood. Clients want our attention, employees want our attention, our spouses and children need our attention, and if we don’t take care of our bodies and mental health we will likely end up in a mental institution. It is no wonder that attorneys have abysmal statistics:

  • A 1990 study by Johns Hopkins University found that among more than 100 occupations studied, lawyers were the most likely to suffer from depression and were 3.6 times more likely than average to do so. (“Occupations and the Prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder,” 32 Journal of Occupational Medicine 1079 (1990)).
  • A research study of 801 lawyers in the State of Washington found that 19 percent suffered from depression. (“The Prevalence of Depression, Alcohol Abuse, and Cocaine Abuse Among United States Lawyers,” 13 Journal of Law and Psychiatry 233 (1990)).
  • Some studies estimate that of the one million lawyers in this country, approximately 250,000 suffer from some form of depression. (“Depression is the Law’s Occupational Hazard,” The Complete Lawyer, 3/1/08, Daniel Lukasik).
  • One in four lawyers suffer from elevated feelings of psychological distress, including feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, anxiety, social alienation, isolation, and depression (Benjamin Sells, “Facing the Facts About Depression in the Profession,” Florida Bar News, March 1995).
  • Male lawyers in the United States are two times more likely to commit suicide than men in the general population (1992 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).
  • Estimates from around the country indicate that the incidence of substance abuse among lawyers is as much as double the national average. Substance abusers are ten times more likely to commit suicide.
  • The quality of life survey by the North Carolina Bar Association in 1991 revealed that almost 26 percent of respondents exhibited symptoms of clinical depression, and almost 12 percent said they contemplated suicide at least once a month. (Michael J. Sweeney, The Devastation of Depression; research conducted by Campbell University)
  • The North Carolina study was prompted in part by “the tragic suicides of eight Mecklenburg County lawyers in a seven-year period.” (“Reclaiming our Roots—Understanding Law as a ‘Learned Profession’ and ‘High Calling,’” The North Carolina State Bar Journal (Spring 2009), Carl Horn, III)
  • Surveys of lawyers in Washington and Arizona show that most lawyers suffering from depression also had suicidal thoughts. (Depression Among Lawyers, 33 Colorado Lawyer 35 (January 2004)). This study found that lawyers have a much greater risk of acting on their suicidal thoughts and in succeeding in doing so.
  • Suicide ranks among the leading causes of premature death among lawyers. (Utah State Bar Journal August/September 2003).

Work-life balance is about more than just getting everything done. What we are talking about today is living a life of fulfillment, purpose, and joy. As I write these words, I have to pause and take stock and ask myself, am I living this life?

That is the first step. Take the time and space to ponder and look inward to ask yourself if you are living a life that is fulfilling, joyful, and purposeful.