By Susan Smith Blakely • October 06, 2016•Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job
Recently I wrote an article for Corporate Counsel magazine and its on-line blog which addressed, among several topics, the toxic cultures of law firms. Here is some of what I said there:
The truth is that we don't do the profession of law very well in America. We ignore the lifestyles and well-being of practitioners. The law firm culture encourages workaholic behaviors that lead to stress-related illnesses and dependencies, as confirmed by research demonstrating that lawyers suffer from alcoholism and illegal drug use at rates far higher than nonlawyers. Divorce rates among lawyers, especially women, also appear to be higher than divorce rates among other professionals. Although lawyers represent some of the best-paid professionals, they are disproportionately unhappy and unhealthy. The result is a profession of burnouts and resentment.
Pretty serious stuff, I am sure you would agree. Now, in the aftermath of that article, comes some newly discovered research demonstrating that these dependencies and related mental health issues are getting their start among law students. Even more serious, if you ask me.
In a recent article on Law.com, the author addressed a first-ever national study of drinking, drug use, depression and anxiety in the legal profession that was published earlier this year in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. As described in that study, the health and well-being among lawyers is "grossly wanting." Specifically, "younger attorneys in the first ten years of practice are experiencing the highest levels of problem drinking and mental health distress." According to the data, the early stages of a legal career strongly correlates to a high risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
Another study cited in the Law.com article, the 2014 Law Student Well-Being Survey, made the connection between well-being problems law students exhibit and their future well-being problems as lawyers. The article concludes that the two studies taken together suggest that "the front end of the legal profession is running on some very wobbly wheels."
The question then becomes: What are law schools doing about this? Not much it seems. The article poses the following question: "[W]ould a one-credit course or seminar about these issues during the first year of law school be too much to ask?" and concludes with this summary: "Given the far-reaching implications of the substance use and mental health problems of lawyers -- on the public and the future of the profession itself --- the time is long overdue that we make substance use and mental health a similar priority."
Hear, hear. We call it risk management when we discuss similar issues with our clients. How about taking care of ourselves.?
Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law. She is author of Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another. Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.
Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Lawyerist. Com, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business. Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division. She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law, and she is the recipient of a Lawyer Monthly Women in Law Award 2016.
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy. For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com.