Substance Abuse

Sadly, lawyers are a group vulnerable to succumbing to addictions.  In fact, according to one study, while 10% of the general population suffers from alcohol addiction, this number increases to 20% among lawyers.  That’s right: one in five lawyers are alcoholics.  At this point, you may be starting to wonder who in your firm proves this statistic.  I would advise against this game, however.  Although it may seem mildly entertaining at first, you’ll quickly realize that it’s actually pretty sick.  This is because, of course, the statistic is true.

I remember being warned about the problem of substance abuse in the legal profession during the first week of 1L orientation when we watched a video about addicted attorneys. Unfortunately, this movie — which followed high functioning alcoholics and a woman with a shopping problem — failed to have its intended effect.  That is, instead of scaring me away from drugs and alcohol, the film left me with the misguided impression that being a lawyer is easy.  After all, if those people could practice law when they were completely wasted, doing it sober must be a breeze.

Notwithstanding my experience during 1L orientation, I do realize that drug and alcohol abuse is a serious issue in our profession, and not one to be taken lightly.  If you or anyone you know has dealt with an addiction, you know how hard it can be. The question is, why are lawyers at such a high risk?

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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…

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