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Mental Health in the Legal Profession: Attorneys

General

The true statistics of mental illness and substance abuse within the legal profession are unknown, largely due to reluctance to report these issues. However, there is the basic knowledge that of all the professions, the legal profession is the most plagued by mental health and substance abuse issues. There was a recent, large-scale study in 2016 that sought to gain a better understanding of how widespread these issues are. The full report of this survey can be found here, but most important are the report's conclusions:

Attorneys experience problematic drinking that is hazardous, harmful, or otherwise consistent with alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations. Mental health distress is also significant. These data underscore the need for greater resources for lawyer assistance programs, and also the expansion of available attorney-specific prevention and treatment interventions.

Patrick R. Krill, et. al., The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys, 10 J. Addiction Medicine 46 (2016) (the full article can be accessed on the Journal of Addiction Medicine website here).

Causes

Attorneys face a number of mental and environmental stressors in their legal careers. Below is a graphic of the results of a survey of Arizona lawyers about stress:

Tim Eigo, Stress Related to Firm Culture, Lawyer Choices, 54 ARIZ. ATT'y 22 (2018) (available on HeinOnline).

Although the results of this particular survey were based on Arizona attorneys, the same is true for attorneys across the United States.

Statistics

For more information about the study these statistics come from, as well as additional mental health statistics, visit https://abovethelaw.com/2020/02/has-the-legal-profession-had-a-negative-effect-on-your-mental-health/.

 

For a dive into a case study about Gabriel "Gabe" MacConaill, a young attorney who committed suicide in 2018, see Kent A. Halkett, Mental Health in the Legal Profession, 57 TENN. B.J. 18 (2021) (available on HeinOnline).

An open letter written by MacConaill's widow can be read here. The letter addresses MacConaill's binge drinking, heightened anxiety, and various other warning signs prior to his suicide. It is a very raw and emotional call-out to mental health issues within the legal profession, emphasized by the title: Big Law Killed My Husband.

 

Additional statistics (and how the fear of damage to reputation plays a role in not seeking help) are discussed in Patrick Krill, What Do the Statistics about Lawyer Alcohol Use and Mental Health Problems Really Mean, 92 FLA. B.J. 10 (2018) (available on HeinOnline).

Manifestations

The American Bar Association (ABA) has recognized the following common manifestations of stress:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

For more information about stress and lawyer assistance programs relating to stress, see the ABA page here. It is also important to note that these same manifestations of stress may also apply to law students. Additionally, there are a few other manifestations that may apply that are mentioned in the "Law Students" tab of this LibGuide.

For further discussion of manifestations of stress, anxiety, and depression in lawyers, see Janet C. Pancoast, Chronic Stress and the Practice of Law, 28 NEV. LAW. 12 (2020) (available on HeinOnline). This article covers negative coping mechanisms (working excessively, comfort eating, etc.) and how lawyers can learn to positively cope with stressors and mental health issues.

Research Databank

The ABA has an entire data bank of resources on lawyer mental health issues, substance abuse, and burnout. All of the resources mentioned within this data bank are extremely helpful for understanding these issues within the legal profession. The ABA also includes several resources particular to law students, as many of the mental health issues are similar or the same.

Overworked Attorneys

Gayle Cinquegrani, Lawyers Need Vacations. Case Closed., Bloomberg Law, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/business-and-practice/lawyers-need-vacations-case-closed/ (May 25, 2018).

Depression in the Legal Profession Explanatory Videos

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