I am sick of people saying lawyers are miserable, angry, drunks, mentally unwell, sociopaths, stressed out, have no lives, jerks, etc. etc. etc. Really. I’ve had it. I’ve been a lawyer for a long time. I’ve known lots and lots of lawyers. There are lawyers who are some of those things, one of those things, and none of those things. Because lawyers are people and people are some of those things, one of those things, or none of those things.
You don’t like being a lawyer? Don’t be one. No one is making you. No one is telling you that this is the only thing you can do. In fact, the profession is better off if those who are not committed to it, who think it is too stressful, leave. You notice how I didn’t say if they think it is stressful. Because being a lawyer is stressful. That’s kind of the job. If you don’t feel the stress or the anxiety when a person’s well being is in your hands, you should quit and find something else. No judgment on you. I don’t want to be a doctor, but I think that’s a great job. Smart people, doctors. We need them. It’s not for me. I have a lot of respect for a lot of people who do lots of different jobs. But I am not going to do them.
I read an article today that was entitled “Surprise. Lawyers are problem drinkers, and worse.” (http://abovethelaw.com/2015/12/surprise-lawyers-are-problem-drinkers-and-worse/) (My link adder thing isn’t working.)
You know what the ‘worse’ is? Depression. Anxiety. According to this article, lawyers are substance abusers and have depression (mental illness) because we don’t take care of ourselves. We are too concerned about, you know, doing work. And I guess doing work all the time is bad and it makes you use drugs and get depressed. I disagree with this premise. I think it is flat out wrong. And, not only that, but it’s dangerous to the practice of law and lawyers. I do not want young lawyers thinking that if they don’t take all the breaks they think they need, they will become drunks or get depressed. That’s simply not true. You can be completely committed to the work. You can work your ass off for your clients. You can do great work and function like a normal(ish) human being. But your definition of normal will be changed.
Look, we work hard. You have to. There are people who are looking to you to save their lives, their homes, their jobs. This is serious business. You need to understand that you will not always be able to go on vacation when you want, you may spend less time with your kids than you’d like and you might work 70-80 hours a week sometimes. If you don’t want that kind of life, don’t be a lawyer. There is not any way to take care of clients and have this ‘work/life balance’ in the full time practice of trial work. Sometimes it is work, other times it is life. It’s a tightrope on most days but one that we can manage with sufficient practice and dedication.
And here’s the other thing, while environmental factors like stress can contribute to depression, there are plenty of people who have everything in the world and still are depressed. Just like there are those who experience extreme trauma with no effect on their mental health. To tell people that their inability to manage their workload or stress causes their depression is like telling someone that if they eat a salad every day they won’t get cancer. Is it better to take time for yourself and eat well? Sure. But not doing it probably won’t cause you to have a nervous break-down or get the flu? There are people who simply cannot handle the stress of certain jobs. Those people should find other jobs.
Being a lawyer is the best thing there is, if that’s what you want to be. I love it. I encourage people who want to practice law to go to law school and be a lawyer. Why would I tell you not to do a thing that has given me such great pleasure? Some days it sucks monkey balls (if I didn’t admit that, well, you’d know I was full of shit) but overall, there is nothing else I would rather be doing. And if there’s something you’d rather be doing by all means, go do it. But stop shitting on my profession and the people in it.