Having personally experienced the lows of depression and the positive energy that comes from blogging and social media, I have to believe the effective use of social media could prevent depression for many lawyers.
In a story outside of law, AP sportswriter John Marshall (@jmarshallap) reported Monday on the positive impact social media is having on a six-time Olympic gold medal winner, Amy Van Dyken (@amyvandyken), just a few weeks after she suffered a life-threatening spinal injury.
Not long after Van Dyken’s first surgery, her husband Tom Rouen, a former punter for the Denver Broncos, placed a cellphone in her hands:
The decorated Olympic swimmer had always enjoyed sharing her life and thoughts on social media, so… Rouen figured it might do her some good when she awoke.
It worked more than he could have imagined, providing Amy a therapeutic tool as she makes the transition from elite athlete to possibly spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
“She sends stuff out there and gets so much positive energy and positive feedback that I really think it helps her a whole lot,” Rouen relayed to Marshall.
William Ward (@DR4WARD), professor of social media at Newhouse School at Syracuse University, told Marshall, “She’s doing it in such a positive and upbeat way, it’s almost breathtaking how inspiring it is.”
Reading Van Dyken’s story, I couldn’t help but think of the positive psychological impact blogging and social media could have on lawyers.
Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers. Lawyers rank fourth in suicide rate among all occupations, trailing only dentists, pharmacists, and physicians. A study by Dr. Andy Benjamin of the University of Washington estimated that 40% of law students suffer from depression by the time they graduate.
Depression and suicide are rampant in our profession, for a number of reasons:
- Adversarial process of fight to the death. After I left working in law, I was struck by each phone call now being focused on building something, as opposed to tearing each other apart.
- Guilt from not getting work done as deadlines approach — or worse yet, missing self-imposed deadlines to get back to clients.
- Not doing the work you dreamed of.
- Lack of social interaction with clients — or not even having any real clients.
- Stress over not spending time with your spouse, partner, or children, often leading to marital strife while feeling cornered in a high-pay position with no way out.
Perhaps even worst of all is is not knowing what is going on and having nowhere to turn. Ask anyone of us who have been there what it feels like not to know where to turn—and to be scared as hell that you may need to confide in a law partner that you cannot keep up, and may suffer from something you’ve been told is depression.
What do blogging and social media have to do with all of this? They provide positive feedback and improved self-esteem — often in spades.
I’ve seen it play out for any number of lawyers. Here’s how it happens:
- Chart a plan to use blogging and social media for going after the work you’d love to do and who you’d love to do it for. What do you want to be known for?
- Start blogging and using social media in a strategic way to go after your goal. It may take a couple years, but that’s okay. Eventually, you’ll be doing the legal work you love to do and working for the clients you want to work for. You can establish yourself as an authority, even a go-to lawyer in your niche. Want to be known for fashion law? Do it. Want to be the go-to guy for wearable technology? Try it. You’re interested in being a top expert on consumer drone law? The opportunity exists. You could be called as a source by journalists working on a story, or have prominent bloggers and reporters citing your work.
- Imagine being looked at much differently by your firm’s leadership—it’s nice walking around three feet off the ground. You can see a world where you control your own destiny: “This is my work and these are my clients, whether I stay at my current firm, move to another, or start my own.”
- Finally, the social side to it all. Bloggers are invited to speak at leading conferences, where people you have never met before come up to you just to introduce themselves and thank you for what you have done for them through your blogging and social sharing. You can have clients and business professionals complimenting you on your blog and social media activity. Judges will compliment you as well, as they have many blogging lawyers. People with an interest in your niche will like and share your blog posts. Rather than feeling isolated by not interacting with clients regularly, you find yourself regularly interacting with professionals and the business community through blogging and social media, which in many cases leads to face to face meetings.
- Lastly, but most importantly: you find you are becoming a better lawyer through blogging and social media because of your reading, writing, engagement, collaboration, and networking.
Jeff Hancock (@jeffhancock), a Cornell professor of communication and computer science, relying on a recent Cornell study, told LaCapria that though social media (Facebook in the study’s case) is decried as psychologically taxing, in actuality it imparts positive influence: “Our research shows that it can be a psychologically meaningful activity that supplies a sense of well-being at a relatively deep level.”
There’s not a study yet on how blogging and social media may reduce the incidence of depression in the law, but it makes good sense that it could. I’ve seen it, and I’ve experienced it first-hand.
Positive feedback on what you do and what you love, time away from your core job, the emotional release of writing and socializing, and a move towards doing the work you love for the clients you’d like to do it for are the stuff that make for a better psyche.
Kevin O’Keefe is the CEO and founder of LexBlog, which empowers lawyers to increase their visibility and accelerate business relationships online. With LexBlog’s help, legal professionals use their subject matter expertise to drive powerful business development through blogging and social media. Visit LexBlog.com.
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