Deaths, Small Law Firms, Suicide

Suicide Stalks Small-Town Lawyers

The classic version of lawyer suicide (and yes, it happens so often in this profession that there are “classic” representations of the problem) is the big-city lawyer who sold his soul, and possibly his ethics, who kills himself when the authorities come circling. Another tired trope is the hyper-stressed lawyer working in a high-rise who jumps out of a window when he loses a big case or a big client. Or maybe you think of the over-achieving law student who throws himself in front of a train or off of a bridge during exam season.

Lawyer suicide is so common that I think a disproportionate rate of early, self-inflicted death is just considered part of the price of doing business. Maybe hazard pay should be built into lawyer salaries like it is for race car drivers or test pilots.

But the longer I cover the legal profession, the more I learn that lawyer suicide is happening more than I think, in places where I wouldn’t expect it. Today’s sad piece is about a rash of lawyer suicides in a small state…

The Louisville Courier-Journal has the most depressing kind of “trend” piece — a report on a spate of lawyer suicides in Kentucky:

They are among at least a dozen lawyers in Kentucky who have committed suicide since 2010, including three in Louisville and three in Northern Kentucky. Half died in the past 12 months. All were men, their average age 53, and most were trial lawyers.

Kentucky doesn’t track suicides by occupation. But citing his recollection from 38 years of practice — and amid studies that show lawyers are six times more likely to kill themselves than the general population — Kentucky Bar Association President Doug Myers said the number of suicides among the state’s 17,500 lawyers is “disproportionate” and “disconcerting.”…

In a recent post, legal blogger Shannon Ragland, publisher of the Kentucky Trial Court Review, called the suicides by “middle-aged trial lawyers” an “apparent epidemic” and said the issue deserves serious attention and study by the KBA and the Kentucky Justice Association, the state trial lawyer group.

The paper told some of the stories of the individuals who passed away, but there’s no real common thread among them — other than their profession and general age. Some of them had substance abuse problems. One guy was under indictment. There were financial troubles and marital squabbles.

Obviously, it’s not like being a lawyer is the only factor in these deaths. But there really isn’t enough information on how being a lawyer relates to those other factors. Does belonging to the legal profession contribute to substance abuse and marital strife in ways that are specific to law? Are lawyers less likely to ask for help than other professions?

We can’t even answer the foundational question: do lawyers kill themselves at higher rates than people in other professions? The Courier-Journal notes the lack of recent studies on the subject. The Kentucky Bar Association shouldn’t just be going on the recollection of one person when we could be talking about a statewide epidemic. We shouldn’t be so used to this.

Rash of Kentucky lawyer suicides concerns colleagues [Louisville Courier-Journal]

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