The Mental Health Crisis Facing Lawyers

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020
By Gideon Grunfeld

Data from the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Survey (ALM) demonstrates concerning levels of mental health issues among legal professionals. With 74% of the over 3,800 respondents agreeing that their career has had a negative impact on their mental health over time and nearly one-third citing their work or work environment as a cause of increased drug and alcohol use, the survey suggests these mental health issues are not simply correlated to the legal services industry but a direct result of this type of work.

The most shocking survey finding is that 17.9% of respondents reported they had contemplated suicide during their career in law. As noted in a article, this is almost “double the lifetime rate of suicidal ideation in the general population.” While the study’s publishers find hope in the numbers that professionals are more openly discussing these struggles, the results raise red flags about major facets of how the legal services industry functions.

As described in the article, a majority of respondents pointed to the following elements as causal factors in their declining mental health:

  • the feeling of always being on call and unable to disconnect
  • billable hours pressures
  • lack of sleep
  • client demands

This inability to disconnect extended even to vacations, with 72.5% reporting being unable to unplug during their time off. Righting these numbers would require sweeping changes in how legal work is valued and how firms compensate and reward employees.

Having assisted many lawyers in switching careers, we rarely run into someone who left the law and regretted it. There are other ways to contribute to society, and if a loved one were working in a field where approximately three out of every four people said the work negatively affected their mental health, you’d probably urge them to leave.

It is time to recognize that too many law jobs are not remotely worth the mental health trade-offs and other damages they inflict. We should start celebrating those who have left the law to find greener pastures.

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