Suicide

This is my first blog entry. I am the creator of the website Lawyers with Depression. I created it two years ago. I have been a lawyer for over twenty years and have suffered from depression for the past seven. I created the site to create a virtual home for lawyers all across America who struggle with depression. I went looking for such a home on my computer two years ago and couldn’t find one – – so I built one.

Since it was launched, I have heard from thousands of lawyers, judges and law students about their battles with depression. It is my hope that this blog will be a good supplement to the website. It will offer frequent commentary, thoughts, observations and insights about working as a lawyer and dealing with depression.

The launch of this blog starts on a very sad note indeed.I was interviewed for a piece in The National Law Journal which appeared today.

Reports of Suicides Point to Job Stress – The National Law Journal

The interview concerned the rash of lawyer suicides. I have known or spoken to many lawyers who have either thought about suicide or attempted it. Unfortunately, there are attorneys in my own community who took their lives when the pain got too deep.

One of them was a dashing man who taught me trial technique years ago. He was a pillar of our legal community and a person of integrity. After a string of stressful events, he slit his wrists in a bathtub. Why people commit suicide is a complicated question.

For an excellent discussion of the issue, the best book I have ever read is Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by psychiatrist, Kay Redfield Jamison. What makes the book so compelling is Dr. Jamison’s own bipolar illness and past suicidal ideation.

As I said in the interview with The Journal, stress due to layoffs may explain a few of the recent deaths. But such stress is, most likely, only the most recent incident in a long line of stressful incidents for these poor people.

Stress, as I will discuss in future blogs, plays a major role in the creation of depression.

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54 thoughts on “Suicide

  1. Thank you so much for your blog. This is a stigma. The problem is that you get afraid to seek for help since your licensing board can suspend your license.

  2. What makes lawyers deserve special treatment? Many people from all walks of life commit suicide everyday. Lawyers have been the cause of some these suicides. Threats of suits, foreclousures, etc. These vultures have brought their depression on themselves. We should feel sad when a lawyer makes this choice? Why? What about the poor guy trying to make an “honest” living that is hounded and threatened by a lawyer over a bill or the yelling and screaming that lawyers do over the phone with someone as one did recently with me over an estate issue. True professional huh? If a homeless man commits suicide it seems no one cares, but we can have a website to prevent lawyer suicide…lol. If a homeless man commits suicide I am saddened; if a lawyer commits suicide I really don’t care.

    1. Don’t you think it is so easy to talk about people behind closed doors. Man up, when you have such horrible comments about people, identify yourself.

    2. This is one of the most disgusting responses I have ever read. A lawyer is just like you. Have some compassion. Life is not easy for any of us.

    3. I agree. If lawyers commit suicide that’s comfort to hundreds who won’t endure their taunts and that’s comfort to me – I hate them

  3. Just to clear up any misunderstanding about my previous post I want to say that I understand the tragic effects of suicide on the families of those that choose that route. Any loss of human life is bad. I just don’t think that it is right to have multiple websites for lawyer suicide prevention while turning a blind eye to others. Doctors commit suicde as well as people from all walks of life. I just cannot understand why the page after page of this subject on lawyer suicide. What puts them on a special plain above everyone else?

    1. Why don’t you google your question before you post here? Become more informed about suicide rates for lawyers. Then you will understand the need for sites like these. Perhaps you would not have chosen to say such a horrid thing. . .or perhaps you would have. I don’t know you. You clearly don’t know anyone who needs this site.

      Start your own site rather than say awful things on this one.

  4. RGC,

    The fact that you are not saddened when a certain class of people kill themselves makes you the scum of the Earth. I am a lawyer. I have never yelled at anyone on the phone. I defend people when less scrupulous lawyers threaten them with suits. I am infinitely saddened by any homeless man who commits suicide. This is why I volunteer each weekend at the homeless shelter run by my church.

    I have also thought about suicide. My job has ruined my life, and I have been unsuccessful in starting another career. The fact that some self ditch outs prick like yourself considers my life less valuable than those of other people makes me sick. You are correct that there are bad lawyer, but there are bad people in every profession and walk of life. Some of us chose this career to help the people who are the victims of frivolous suits.

    No one is arguing that lawyers deserve special treatment or protection. Lawyers are by nature speakers and writers, and, as a result, they reach out to each other over blogs such as this one more than others.

    I think anyone like yourself who would publicly announce that he doesn’t care if an entire segment of the population is driven to suicide should examine his soul. Such a statement is callous and evil. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I will be praying for your soul.

  5. Depression is a major cause of low quality of life across the world, both for those suffering from it and for the friends and family members involved. Depression can result in family problems, problems at work or in school, relationship difficulties and even child neglect and domestic violence.

    1. Depression IS a major problem all over the world. In fact, it is the second leading cause of disability worldwide, only to heart disease, and the World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, it will overtake heart disease. It is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for those between the ages of 15 and 44. Dan

  6. Jen and CP: You are both right 100 percent. I lashed out from aggrevation and I do apoligize. I am willing to admit that I was wrong. Thanks to both of you and your responses I can clearly see that. Its not the lawyers that are bad it is the damn system. The system corrupts some, but drives others to depression as they are good people caught in the bad tide.

  7. It would be interesting to know if the high suicide rate of lawyers is specific to defense lawyers. The systematic, ingrained use of language to deceive and obfuscate is trouble, and not just for lawyers, but they have sort of mastered it as a trick of their trade. So we would expect an elevated incidence of mood disturbances in such people, among whom lawyers are a subset.

  8. Here’s some reasons I have felt.

    1. The fear of leaving some case some piece of information or any other type of stone unturned which will damage your client in some bad way. Especially in an adversarial system you can never stop. There is only win or lose.

    2. Living with debt for years on end.

    3. Career stigma if you dont make partner w/in 10 years or God forbid take time to raise your children or do anything that gets you off the track. You’re then ruined in your profession and “overqualified” for everything else.

    4. Being a conduit and/or a “solution” to everyone’s problems.

    5. Living in a world of endless forseeability and detail.

    That’s all I got. In the beginning thoughts its a noble profession seeking justice and to help others make their way through the world in our system based upon the “rule of law.” In reality its a cruel joke that heaps the worst of man’s traits upon you day after day whether you are still in the profession or cast out of it.

  9. I graduated in 2010 and entered an oversupplied market. After a brief stint at a small firm, I’m now on my own. Many things about the practice of law are depressing. I find it particularly irksome that clerks do not give my pleadings the same benefit were I a partner or from a storied firm. I then have to go into “zealous advocacy” mode as I explain that there is only one law, whether the attorney is experienced or not, and advise that I may have to seek relief from clerical error. This situation means I usually have to work much harder because some clerk, despite his/her considerable experience, has pretensions that that experience counts more than my law license. My case with the greatest workload is pro bono in large part because attorneys for the other side and the court behave much the same way.

  10. How can I reach you. I am a journalist with CNN reporting on this issue and i’d like to interview you. Please email me at rose.arce@turner.com

    or my cell is 917 273 9471. i’m travelling to Kentucky and Cincinnati tomorrow to interview lawyers.

  11. I have been a lawyer for 16 years and with the exception of a few days, I’ve been miserable for that entire time. We try to find reasons that lawyers are so depressed and so prone to substance abuse and suicide. The reason is simple. It is an awful way to earn a living. We, by definition, worry about people’s problems on a constant basis. That is our job. In litigation, we get up in the morning and go to work so we can fight with people all day long. Try this experiment. Ask a non-lawyer friend how they feel physically/mentally when they have to deal with conflict. They will tell you that it is unpleasant. It is uncomfortable. It isn’t normal to fight with people. We lawyers do it everyday, all day. We fight with Judge’s, we fight with adversaries. We fight with our own clients (who frankly resent us for having to hire us to begin with). Then, misfile a document or make some other minor mistake and lose sleep worrying if you’ll be sued or taken to the ethics office. Normal people simply don’t live this way. The only thing I’m shocked about is that more lawyers don’t kill themselves.

    1. Kevin, thanks for sharing. I found your note honest and insightful. I have been a trial lawyer for 26 years and know all too well the wear and tear of which you speak. But, I do believe, that we have a responsibility to counter these stressor do diminish the adverse effects they have on your body and mind. There are many ways to do it, Kevin. You probably already know most of them, you just have to do them. You have to find a way to discharge the very real stress you build up over the course of your day. I highly suggest your read “The Mindful Way Through Depression” by Dr. Richard O’Connor to begin with. You also need to work in some things that have directly to due with your body that’s storing all of that stress. Physical exercise is but one way to do it. A more passive way is through massage, acupuncture or mindfulness meditation. If you ever feel like working together for a period of time, I have coached a lot of lawyers who struggle with the same things you do. Helen Keller, who lived her whole life deaf, dumb and blind, once wrote “Life is full of suffering, but it’s also full of the overcoming of it.” Don’t give up your hope for a better life, Kevin. You deserve it. Dan

    2. Kevin’s comment is spot on.

      I don’t think a normal person could cope with the stress he describes, anymore than they could cope with the stress of trench warfare, regardless of their coping mechanisms. Certainly not year after year after year.

      This is my 22nd year as a trial lawyer and I’m pretty much done. Not depressed, just exhausted.

      I recently had a cancer scare – still undergoing tests – and noticed two odd things: first, that the prospect of dying was somewhat of a relief, and second, that there were professional worries that troubled me a lot more.

      1. David, thanks so much for sharing. I think most lawyers – especially litigators – can identify with what you’ve written. I would be happy to give you some thoughts for the next chapter in your life. Just pop me an email at danieltlukasik@gmail.com.

        Dan

        1. Cl I can relate I have been practicing 23 years in litigation hell and feel my only escape is lottery, a major medical emergency or death. Every day is spent on high alert def con 5. Whether it’s dodging efforts from opposing or co defendants counsel to sink you battleship or dealing with outside forces such as crazy scheduling ordered bombastic judges, unrealistic clients and insurers squeezing you for every nickel billed . I am exhausted and in my personal life I have never enjoyed conflict but every day I am involved in conflict

  12. I’m practicing law since 1991. I started at a firm but after 4 years went off to open my own practice. I lived in NY at the time. Things seemed to be going okay. I was making a living. My then-wife also worked and we were raising three kids. It all kind of went to hell when we decided to move to Florida. I was a pushover, too easy going, and always gave in for the sake of my marriage. I never wanted to move, certainly did not want to move as quickly as we did – but I thought if I didn’t agree it would have been the end of my marriage. My marriage already suffered from cracks by the time we had moved, and eventually we divorced. I went through a terrible depression over the divorce, we owed a lot of money — we had lived somewhat beyond our means and I always caved in – something I deeply regret. I am so far in debt on so many different levels. The financial pressure of trying to pay for where I live and contributing to the house where my three kids live with my ex-wife drove me to take on anything and everything to help keep the plates spinning and meet the monthly cash-burn. I took on cases I probably was not fit to handle out of pressure to raise money. Now I’m in a terrible situation where I can’t keep up with the work flow, even on cases where I was paid (some of the work I do is for flat fees) and I am not able to make enough money to even hire someone and take myself out of my home office (although I use an executive suite to meet clients). I live with the fear that because I could not keep up with the work load, I have prejudiced rights of some of my clients. I have something now where I blew a deadline on something and I am completely agonizing over it and there is a lawyer shark on the other side licking his chops to take advantage of it. I can see it coming and it won’t end well for me. It’s just one of a number of client files that I did not keep up with. I’m emotionally and physically drained. My sister (my angel) tried to help me out of some of the debt and now I put her in a terrible position where she needs that money and I don’t have it to give back to her. I also borrowed from my mother. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I started out so well, I thought. I was admitted in two states, eventually Florida was my third, but when my marriage came apart it’s like a couple of screws fell out of my head and no matter what I do, I am unable to make a success of myself. I have no health insurance. I can’t afford it. Every dollar that comes in is allocated to some bill, to some person I owe money to. I don’t see a way out of the financial and legal mess I am in. I have hurt clients in the process of trying to do good. How do I explain that to them? To my three wonderful kids? The only thing keeping me from pulling my own plug are my kids but I am starting to feel like there is no way out. I don’t even have money to hire someone. I have literally had days where I had to cash in my quarters to put gas in my car. I’m a disaster. Falling apart at the seams. And I recognize the symptoms some have mentioned. I have days I cannot get out of bed. I try to unplug and just forget about everything for a few hours – to wish myself someplace else. My older son is going away to college after the summer. I was so depressed when I left my house at the time of divorce, because I knew as much as I would stay involved in the day to day lives of my kids, it would not be the same as living under the same roof. Honestly, I feel so helpless. I know I am to blame, and I feel guilty about it. Between the IRS, judges, lawyers, clients, obligations to family that I have hurt — the pressure of trying to keep up with workload (workload that isn’t producing new money – problems and complications) has drained me. I feel trapped in my profession and in my life. I wish I could roll back the clock somehow but of course I can’t. I’ve made an utter and complete mess of my life and I did it without any drugs or alcohol. I wonder if there is anyone else like me that suffers from the overwhelming guilt of screwing up client files, prejudicing them, not making enough money to cope. I wish I would have bypassed law school and learned how to be a plumber. I’m 50 years of age now — I have virtually nothing to show for my years of practicing law. I feel like I have lost everything and now I am poisoning those around me. I am like a cancer. I am a candidate for suicide. I just wish I could break from this practice of law, but how would I even do it? I’m so deep in the sh*t and I’ve created problems. I have the pressure now that someone is at risk of losing his home because of my mistake in missing a deadline. I will try to remedy it but in doing so will have to fess up it is my fault and maybe that even gets me barred from practicing. I don’t know. That’s just one of many cases. I need to escape the practice of law. I did not do it the justice it deserved and it seems that I will pay a price for it now. I have been dodging bullets for the last several years, putting out fires, reacting to things, trying to hemorrhage the bleeding, and all of that prevents me from being able to take time out, to figure out a solution, an escape – I just don’t see it.

    1. Eliott —I was very moved by your comments. I’ve been a lawyer for 33 years and have certainly experienced the highs and the lows of this profession. The highs are few and far between, and they never seem to last very long. And the lows —they tend to become more numerous as we grow older, and last much longer. And if you’re a solo like I am, there is really no one to talk to and share your difficulties. The stress of generating income, handling clients, dealing with unsavory opposing counsel, deadlines, etc., sometimes just becomes so much that you aren’t able to function in any capacity.

      A good friend of mine was under a lot of pressures in 2009 —money, Bar complaints, marriage issues —you name it—and decided to take his own life. Recently a prominent lawyer that I respected and had prior dealings with jumped from a 14-story balcony. Both of them left behind families that will never truly get over the loss, and the feeling that if they had only done something, the attorney may have found a reason to keep on living.

      So —what do we do? Do we give in to the pressures that constantly take away our happiness and fulfillment? Does the depression just become too much to bear, and we look for anything to remove it?

      I truly believe that all our lives have meaning and purpose. Sometimes we may spend the majority of our life finding what that purpose is —but giving up shouldn’t be the response we default to. Believe me —it’s easy to say that but so difficult to act upon. Especially if you have no one to turn to. Shortly after my friends’ death, I initiated a committee within our local Bar Association that we named Lawyers Helping Lawyers….Our initial emphasis was on depression issues and how we can help others in our profession deal with some of the issues that caused my friend to end his life. I learned that there are other such named committees in different States with the stated purpose of Helping their fellow lawyer as well. We’ve expanded our emphasis to encompass all means of assistance to lawyers and even their families.

      Eliott —I realize that you have a full plate and you feel that you’ve messed up your life and the lives of others around you. But it’s also obvious that you do have a good heart…Otherwise, you just wouldn’t care about how your actions may affect others. My motto that I’ve tried to live by is: Do the very best you can at whatever it may be that you’re called upon to handle. You may not be the best, but you can do your best….That’s all anyone can expect of you. And then let the chips fall where they may….You may lose that case –go down in flames –but you will know that you did your best. And you can live with that.

      We decided to get into this profession for some strange reason —and sometimes we realize that what we do, can actually make a difference in a life that we’re called upon to help. If somehow we can focus on the good that will come out of the efforts we make, our outlook may seem a little brighter. It certainly doesn’t happen all the time, and many times our clients are completely unappreciative—but that’s no reason not to strive for excellence. Don’t let the pressures you’re facing get in the way of being the kind of lawyer (and person) you know that you are. Pick yourself off the mat —get up—and get into the fight. If you go down, go down swinging. It’s NEVER too late to give yourself the mindset that I’m NOT giving up. I’ll tackle these problems one at a time, do what I can, and move on. If it doesn’t work out —it doesn’t work out. If bankruptcy is one of the answers, then so be it. You wont’ be the first or the last lawyer to face it.

      I’ll be glad to be a sounding board —as I know what it means to have someone you can confide in. Thank you, Dan, for putting this site together and trying to make a positive difference in the lives of fellow attorneys.

      Jim

    2. Elliot,
      This is coming to you rather late as I just discovered this web site. I hope that things have improved. I know somewhat about the things you spoke about in July having lived in “the black bottomless pit of despair” for most of my life. I have found the key to life on a really bad day is just achieving at least one thing a day. This may be professionally, personally (like doing something nice for a stranger, spending time with someone…), just planting a few flowers, mowing the lawn, putting pictures in an album or just getting out of bed! It really doesn’t matter what you choose to do – what matters is that you did some thing to make the day count.
      I am sure you are probably taking medication and/or in therapy. If the medication isn’t working please try another one. Sometimes it takes multiple medications until you find the right one – and sometimes you do not find the right one – but in the meantime you stay alive and make it through another day and maybe, just maybe, there is a new medication that will save you on the horizon. And that’s where I am headed…

      1. Clarissa, thanks so much for sharing your journey with depression with others. I agree, as someone who has struggled with depression for the past 15 years, that it’s the smaller things that add up and count. Often, we as depression sufferers are looking for the BIG solution to our depression. Who wouldn’t, after all? But while we are waiting or hoping for that, we need to stay focused on the little things in life that add up to A LIFE. Warmly, Dan

    3. Ill say a prayer for you. Father God this man has been fighting a spiritual battle. by his 5 since. thank you for remove the devilish power that has chained his life. delivering him . not by me but the power you’ve invested in me though the name of Jesses Christ. God bless

    4. Ill say a prayer for you. Father God this man has been fighting a spiritual battle. by his 5 since. thank you for remove the devilish power that has chained his life. delivering him . not by me but the power you’ve invested in me though the name of Jesses Christ. God bless thanks for giving him the wisdom on picking the right clint

  13. Eliott,
    So much of your story sounds like mine- even down to being admitted in 3 states with FL as the last. My life, and law practice, went off the rails as well after chronic illness set up residence in my depressed, stressed out body. Bankruptcy, foreclosure, bar complaints from clients, working out of my home- been through it all. While divorce came earlier in my life, the guilt associated with it pressed on. All the while, I (probably just like you) had the best of intentions toward my clients, did not rip them off financially, and really wanted to help. A very small percentage recognized and appreciated my effort. The majority used me as their whipping post and latest excuse for why their life was a mess. Although I recognized this fact intellectually, emotionally I tortured myself with every critical word. As the years went on, and lawyers as a whole were suffering financially, I found my greatest stress coming from back-biting, opportunistic, and wholly unpleasant opposing counsel. What was once a pretty friendly bar (with known notable exceptions) became anything but. After holding on for as long as possible, my health declined to the point of permanent disability. I gave up my law practice after 20 years and moved my family in with my mother- which, believe me, has led to many stresses as well. I’ve tried to explain why the practice of law is so personally damaging to others. And, while very fortunately, my second husband lived through so much of it with me that he completely understands, most are mystified. Let’s face it- the public thinks lawyers are a pretty privileged lot. I recently read an article in my law school’s magazine, “Emory Lawyer”, Summer 2014, about the high incidence of lawyer suicide. I was shocked and heart-broken. But, I also realized I am not alone. . . and that, was comforting. I thought for the first time- maybe I’m not just a complete and total failure. Maybe there really is something about this profession that is particularly brutal to self. The article quoted a psychologist, Dana Wyner, of Emory University, who said that “‘lawyers are Teflon for praise and Velcro for criticism””. How true… It’s been almost 4 years now since I stopped practicing law. I still jump when the phone rings. But, I also have hope knowing there are people like you who care so much about your family and your job that you wrote all that. In my book, the world (and definitely the legal profession) would be a better place if more people were like you- concerned, honest, willing to admit your mistakes and take responsibility for them. Rare qualities indeed. I am hopeful some solutions have come since you wrote. But, even if they have not, they will. Just know that one lady, whose been right where you are, is praying for you tonight. May you have peace that passes all understanding.

    1. JANIS, I am sorry to hear how bad it has gotten and KEVIN, I sure relate well to everything you said…
      Having lived with depression since I was a small child I only know too well how much energy it takes trying to act and function “normally” in a world of people (particularly attorneys)who often appear to have it all together. For those of us who have suffered a lifetime of depression as well as those who came to it later on in life, there is constant worry – worry that “someone will find out” worry that our work product is perfect/without a single mistake”, worry that “our brain won’t start in the morning” just like our car doesn’t start in the morning, worry that “medication will have a negative impact on our abilities, our memory, our understanding of the intricacies of the profession, our presentations in court, our writing skills, our relationships with others”… I don’t have the answers but I have learned to accommodate my disability and put one foot in front of the other. I think that is the key to functioning, to staying alive, the ability to say as they do in AA “I will get through the next 24 hours”. That’s it, just get through the next 24 hours and then try and get through the ones that follow, one day at a time. As for me, I have pinned my dreams on a new medication being tested by NIH that appears to cure treatment resistant depression in an hour or two. If the clinical trials go well, I will get an opportunity to “grab the brass ring” for the first time in my lifetime! So even for those of us who have never known joy, there can be hope.

  14. I’ve been a lawyer for 12 years and have found so much of it depressing. Ive practiced in different fields and have found all of them similarly depressing. I used to think to myself that I would hear news of the passing of a loved one and I would be stuck at my lowly desk left to deal with it. I have always been significantly overpaid and the first to witness judges that are a little less than scrupulous. I’ve never reacted well with medication and have always felt a bit slower than the heard, I wasn’t raised to be competitive. Certainly I have felt crippled to the point of wondering if there is a way out. In my own practice I was taken advantage of constantly by my own clients. I don’t have a lie-telling disposition and tend to feel sorry for many people. Hope is difficult to find and no matter what you do a negative, judgmental, self-belittling thought will come to mind. Maybe that is more of a disease of the mind, as I tend to be agoraphobic and have melancholic feelings wherever I choose to roam.

    The only thing I can concretely state is that as a lawyer, one is called upon to right a wrong (or darkly, the reverse). Most of these events have happened so long ago and people have died and most don’t care. recognition is always lacking in the profession and it feels as though it is mostly a compulsion that keeps us tied to the profession. I hated setting discovery dates because depositions suck. Waking up for a court hearing also sucks.

    Everyone looks so happy but the feeling inside describes the truth.

  15. To all the lawyer haters, who go so far as to wish our demise, you are not only disgustingly wrong, because every life is valuable, but your failure to have the most basic of human empathy shows that YOU do not have a valuable opinion. Likewise, you fail to realize that many of us lawyers posting on this site are also hurt by attorneys and judges (and clients) who lack morals, and ethics. And yet, we find that they can also be depressed and questioning life. Often, they are stellar human beings in other areas of life. There is a better way for all of us. One of my mottoes is: “Live YOUR Life!” Meaning, hold on to whatever makes you happy, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem to others, and pursue that happiness. Accordingly, don’t judge your life in terms of success or happiness based on your comparative perceptions to others. They might not be happy because they are putting up a front for others to perceive. Honestly, I share most of the feelings that I read in the stories here. Twice I have gone into such deep depressions stemming from the legal profession that psychotic ideations led to thoughts of suicide. But, I grew up with kids who had to endure the emotional pain of such acts, and that leads me away from such thoughts. I’m kinder to others than myself. I am at peace with God if I keep living.

  16. After serving on a jury for a disturbing murder torture trial I realized I would never want to be a lawyer or work any job in the courtroom. The crimes and images lawyers are exposed to I’m sure would make anyone depressed. Then having all that pressure of proving someone’s innocence or guilt would send most over the edge.

  17. Thanks to all who have posted on this site. My son , an assistant Commonwealth attorney, committed suicide on Jan. 31, 2016. He was 44 years of age. He always wanted to be an attorney and chose classes in high school and college that he thought would be helpful. He also engaged in debates. His IQ was in the genius level. He was very well liked in his community. Thanks for helping me understand the stress of being an attorney and the depression that can result. Please keep trying to help other attorneys who need help.

    1. My deepest sympathy. Depression is an illness and I hope you don’t blame yourself. At its worst the illness results in an individual taking his/her own life to escape the hopelessness and weight of the disease think of it as stage IV of the disease just like cancer. Outside stressors definitely play a role and the practice of law is very very stressful.

  18. I have been a lawyer for some time now, and have suffered with anxiety, so I know the obstacles of having to fight through your own emotional distress to represent and more importantly, help clients through theirs. About two years into my profession, I realized that I needed to keep my go back to my old profession, to even have the wherewithal to do law. I also found a passion in volunteering for people with barriers; my volunteer work keeps me alive to handle my two occupations. And yes, regular massages, meditation and acupuncture is a necessity. I love helping others, but it can be in any form. Sometimes, downsizing your law practice, while giving focus to something else is the balance you need. To my fellow lawyers, don’t give up, take a break, go on vacation or get out, but your life is valuable, and know that no matter how much went wrong,a lot went right because of you. Start counting what went right. Dwell on what went right, and watch how more positive reflections will come.

  19. I have practiced law for over 15 years and I dont know if i can do it any longer. The stress and anxiety are too much. I really want out but don’t know what to do with myself. My wife tells me that everyone is stressed at their job. I dont think she understands….

    1. I don’t think she understands either. It’s tough for people who have never been through depression – they have no reference point. There’s a big difference between stress and burnout or stress and depression. Mike, e-mail me at danieltlukasik@gmail.com and I might have some more ideas for you. Dan

      1. Yes Dan, I definitely understand your feeling. When I was completely burned out in 2014, I stopped for about eight months. I later returned with more vigor and learned to set definite boundaries as to what type of cases I would accept versus ones I would not, as well as the types of clients with whom I would work. It has definitely been better. I practice law on a part-time basis now, and have a fulfilling career as a career consultant. Law is stressful with or without depression and anxiety, so setting those limits are key. Good luck to you.

  20. I would like to post my experience as I have a unique perspective. Depression hit me hard during law school. I cannot count the days I could not force myself out of bed. I would write down on the calendar how many days I could miss class and still graduate. Somehow, despite all this, I graduated in 2012 in the top 15% of my class only to find a lack of employment as my graduation gift. I was lucky, and cursed at the same time, that my parents and scholarships carried me through school debt free. The lucky aspect is I had no debt coming out of school, thus the credit hounds were not after me. I was cursed because it was my parents, not me, that wanted me to go to law school(more specifically my dad). I was a mess during and after school, but somehow suicide never came to me as an option. I have a daughter who is the light of my life and I love her so much. Really, it was her that carried me through in that I hoped I would make enough money to provide for her in the way my parents(engineer and IT engineer)did for me. After all, an attorney carries a great amount of respect in society, right? Well, I went solo for 4 months after graduation and before a foreclosure firm hired me. I thought my troubles were over but, in hindsight, my troubles only began to get worse.
    Hostile work environment is to nice of a word to use for that firm(St. Louis based). Now, I have 4 months of real world experience and 6 months of clinic experience at my law school and despite these limiting factors I was handed a litigation file of 200+ cases in a judicial foreclosure state. Roughly half of these files were in horrendous shape, and my paralegals had a combined 4 months experience between the two of them. Daily, if not hourly, phone calls from the partners or managing associate came. Screaming, yelling(yes, there is a difference between the two), the heated silence etc. Emotional abuse at its finest. I weathered four months of this daily abuse before calling the attorney who was in charge of managing the judicial foreclosure side of the process. While fighting through tears, I told him that I couldn’t take anymore. I was done. Yet, somehow, I struggled through for another 12 months of daily pain. I began drinking as I couldn’t sleep. The running thoughts, the out of control work environment and the lack of decent pay(40 thousand per year) were all too much. I lost the woman whom I was going to marry, and I do not blame her for leaving me as I was a mess and unhappy. I worked about 65 hours per week, had no friends(never had time to keep up with anyone) and hardly saw my daughter. I vividly remember the day I knew I had to do something or that I would eventually be found dead from alcohol poisoning. It was a beautiful February day(70 degrees in the midwest!) and I took my daughter snow tubing. I actually smiled that day and my 8 year old daughter noticed it and said “daddy, you smiled”. I knew right then that my daughter was aware of how unhappy I was. I was alone in my own miserable world, isolated out of necessity and felt that I was better off dead. I quit the firm two months after that day of snow tubing, quit practicing and sold insurance for a year(selling insurance sucks almost as bad as being an attorney). My parents and friends in the profession couldn’t understand what the hell I was doing.
    After the insurance experiment failed, I tried becoming a financial advisor. I truly think this would have been a fit but for my systemic worsening of depression and my out of control alcohol problem. I gave it six months and quit that too. I was, and to some extents still am, a shell of a human being. But, I started to get my life together. I work at a grocery store as a butcher and, besides the crappy pay, am somewhat happy. Most people at my store have no idea of my former profession and I am continuing therapy(8 months now). I am broke, but otherwise ok. Depression is the worst thing that can happen to someone because, while depression itself doesn’t kill you, the symptoms kill who you are.
    Now, the next part. I need money, thus I am getting back into the law world on a part time basis. I will not work at a firm because of the terrible taste remains in my mouth. Here is my heartfelt advice:
    1. Get therapy now! Do it. I walked into the therapists office on our first meeting and she had me fill out a depression intake assessment. The questions carry certain points depending on your answers and have a maximum of 30 points(30 equates to the worst depression, 1 is no depression). I scored a 25. I remember thinking that I would give therapy a shot and, if it doesn’t work, I would kill myself in a month. I now score a 3 -6 on the same assessment(mild depression).
    2. Get a support group. It is easier said than done, and I do believe this requires the guidance of a therapist in order to make it work. My support group is my friends I have met through working at a grocery store. I started out with one shaky friend and I now have 6 solid friends. Sure, there are zero noble peace prize winners amongst them and I doubt any of them have the idea of the century, but they are good people.
    3. Get help for any addictions. I am now heeding this advice. I went one month sober and fell off the wagon. I am now two weeks clean and still fighting. I will find sobriety and so can you(if applicable)
    4. YOU ARE NEVER STUCK. File bankruptcy if you have to. Find a low level job if you need to. Uber, UPS, Fedex, grocery store, bar tend, waitress/waiter, fly fishing guide etc. Hell, I know of a guy who makes 45 thousand a year scuba diving for golf balls to resell. Don’t believe me, check out this website: http://golfballpauls.com The point is, it is not how you make a living, the real question is whether you make a living. Further, I don’t consider it to be a living if you never actually live i.e. enjoy yourself. You have to find something because death eventually awaits all of us.
    5. Take a break. This is the most important lesson(outside of therapy) I have learned. Going to any CLE on ethics is just terrifying to so many because we take this job so seriously that we are blind to the fact that, disbarment or not, the world keeps spinning. I now plug in small wireless headphones when the lecture on ethics comes up in order to avoid the bible thumping coming my way for something I never did. Sure, I am taking my code of ethics seriously, but I am ok with being disbarred if that is the inevitable consequence. I will find a living somehow even if it is not the living I thought I wanted.
    Step away for at least a week. See your doctor and let him/her know of your mental issues.

    I hope this helps.

  21. Three days before my 50th birthday, I was forced out by my former partners. Apparently, a significant client had lost confidence in me and no longer wanted me doing their work. No particular instances of inadequate, negligent, or inappropriate work were cited by the client (or so I was told), just that the loss of confidence had occurred “over time”. That was the first I heard of it.

    No one wants a 50 year old lawyer, even one with significant trial experience and several published appellate opinions. I’ve sent dozens of resumes to various firms in this mid-sized Midwestern city (1.5 million metro) and only two had the courtesy to get back to me to say they weren’t interested.

    Truth be told, I was not happy at my old firm. However, given my age, I believed I was stuck. Plus, the salary was good and allowed me to finally, in the last few years, start building a little wealth which gave a glimmer of hope that I’d be able to retire “someday”.

    Now, that’s all in jeopardy. For now, I’m fine as I’m still receiving my share of partnership income based on the lag in billing. However, that’s going to stop at the end of the month.

    What happens if I can’t find another position? Do I continue to look until my money runs out (1 to 2 years)? Do I start my own firm with that money? What if that venture fails? What happens when the money runs out. These may be worse case scenarios, but hell, one worst case scenario has already happened. I’m single so I don’t have a spouse’s income to soften the blow.

    I feel like a complete and abject failure. My career was pretty much all I had. My only real friend died from cancer about a year ago. My only immediate family is a brother and three nephews whom I’m not particularly close to. Thankfully, I’m healthy but what good is that if you can’t be a productive member of society? I can’t see being anything but a lawyer. The thought of suicide has crossed my mind, but at this point I can’t see myself going through with it.

  22. My situation is not nearly as dire as many of yours. But I’m worried that might only be because my career is only 2 1/2 years young.

    My grandfather was a lawyer. My father is a lawyer and is the junior partner in the small firm where I work. He directed me towards a career in the law and away from most anything else. He genuinely has my best interests at heart. I had my misgivings, but when it came time to choose a career I felt that it was the logical move- approval, prestige, money, independence, excitement, et cetera. So, I went to law school.

    I struggled mightily but was told that the practice was nothing like school, and that things would improve if I just willed my way through school and the bar (I’m told a variation of that now- that the first few years of practice are hard, but it gets better). I came out with over $200k in debt. I’m so fortunate in that my parents are helping me bring the debt under control, and we’ve made great progress. I live in my childhood bedroom and drive my mother’s old car. Friends and acquaintances that took different paths in life have surpassed me professionally and personally.

    I still don’t feel at ease for the most part. Square peg, round hole. I was never a confrontational person, and so I stress over delivering bad news to clients or arguing with an adversary. I am a perfectionist, and so I worry about making mistakes or leaving a judge, client, peer, et cetera with the impression that I’m incompetent or unhappy in my work. Sometimes the fear of making a mistake is paralyzing, and there are so many pitfalls in the law- the result is low productivity, and that in turn makes me feel guilty. I ruminate on mistakes and losses from months or even years ago. The extreme highs of a successful motion give way to the extreme lows of an upset client or a convoluted problem. Something as simple as seeing a certain phone number incoming can turn my stomach. I drink, et cetera, to de-stress and temporarily forget.

    I’m treated wonderfully by everyone I work with, and for that I am beyond lucky. I have a great support system when things go awry. But, within five years most everyone here will be retired or winding their careers down. I struggle to see myself working as a solo or with anyone else. The thought of having to take on more responsibility one day is overwhelming. On paper, I’m in a great position and poised to take over the office one day. The fact that I see this as a burden and not an opportunity is a source of guilt.

    I would love to leave and reinvent myself, but seem stuck. I need to get rid of my law school loans and become independent, and lawyering seems to be the best way to do that. Despite the old trope about being able to find all sorts of jobs with a law degree, I’ve looked and I don’t seem qualified to do anything else that would pay well enough. My parents and peers would never understand me leaving the law and becoming a ski bum, or a bartender, or a teacher, or an electrician. It would be a source of relief but shame as well- I’ve invested so much time and money in this, and so have my parents. I’ve broached the topic of my unhappiness with them before, but they don’t understand.

    I can’t imagine going through what the other posters have described, but I worry that I’m on course for some type of disaster. I’d appreciate any guidance anyone can give.

  23. I can relate to many comments on this site but my situation is a little different.
    I was a lawyer for 10+ years but lost my license to practice about 4 years ago. My father is a successful and well known lawyer in the city where I live and it was ridiculously easy to get my start and move up. I didn’t mind the work, in fact I quite enjoyed it, but depression took over and I was self medicating with alcohol and gambling. I was always good to clients, never over charged or ripped them off. I genuinely wanted to help them and mostly enjoyed the work. I worked with nice clients. I worked with some fantastic and inspiring people at large and medium sized firms. For many years I was the golden boy of the family. How things can change. I am now 40 and definitely not the family star. Black sheep now.
    Due to my depression and the way I was medicating I was caught out and lost my license. I asked clients to pay me direct $30K that was firm money and not the firm. I repaid the money to the firm before it was even noticed but I told my female partner and when we split up over the stress of the situation, because I felt so guilty, she informed the firm about it. The way the firm and the Bar Association came down on me was brutal. I was locked out of my office without warning and then went through a process where I lost my license. The law is all I know and all I am trained and skilled at. Now its gone. I have tried to run another business since but I just don’t have the skills so naturally it is failing. Now the depression is back and there doesn’t seem to be any light in the tunnel ahead. My father won’t speak to me as he is ashamed of my conduct so I am basically disowned. My mother is similarly unimpressed despite everything I did for her when I had money and was in favour. Half our family friends are lawyers so naturally I am just a disgrace now. None of my former colleagues similarly want anything to do with me apart from say things like ‘don’t become like him’. I needed a reference from the managing partner from a firm where I worked before I had any issues and someone that I had a good relationship with and the calls are just not returned. Not one colleague contacted me when I lost my license and asked whether I was ok. It has meant I can’t have a family, am mostly broke, and most of my ‘friends’ are not interested in spending time with me as the world seems to only love a winner. My mother has sold her property she received from her divorce for millions and I asked her for a a small loan and she said there was no chance.
    The chances of returning to the law are doubtful according to my shrink. My girlfriend is at her wits end because I am so depressed and I find it so difficult to function and contribute to bills etc. I hate what I do now to earn a living and I just don’t want to get out of bed. Sleeping seems the closest thing to death and that is what I want. Literally the only thing stopping me is the general stigma against it as a cowards way out and the fact that others will have to clean up my affairs and go down the BS process of dealing with the coroner and the public examination of my affairs. Yes people will be a little shocked but people will get over it quick – they are all so busy making money and raising families that it will be a momentary pause. I have sought professional help, taken medication but it just doesn’t seem enough. I just find it so hard to live with myself. I just want things to change. Everyday I pray for some type of opportunity that will change my life. I wish I could go back to the law but the nature of the law is so unforgiving, I would not be accepted.

  24. Dan,

    Thank you for publishing this site.

    I am alive today, in part, because of it (I take it day to day so we will see). I am a middle aged lawyer who has practiced for over 30 yrs. I was first diagnosed with Depression in my 30s but I certainly had it well before then. The last ten years of my life has been very difficult: deaths, divorce, Recession, Legal, etc. It has been unrelenting.

    I greatly sympathize with the persons who have posted on this site. I understand what they have gone through even if my experience differs from theirs sometimes.

    Depression is such a pernicious and insidious malady. Although mine is not always like the following description, I think Russell Hampton captured it well when he wrote:

    “If there were a physical disease that manifested itself in some particularly ugly way, such as postulating sores or a sloughing off of the flesh accompanied by pain of an intense and chronic nature, readily visible to everyone, and if that disease affected fifteen million people in our country, and further, if there were virtually no help or succor for most of these persons, and they were forced to walk among us in their obvious agony, we would rise up as one social body in sympathy and anger. There isn’t such a physical disease, but there is such a disease of the mind, and about fifteen million people around us are suffering from it. But we have not risen in anger and sympathy, although they are walking among us in their pain and anguish” [The Far Side of Despair, 78].

    My heart and sympathies go out to everyone who has been touched by this affliction.

    O

    1. Dear Orrin, thanks so much for sharing this your personal journey – and that you have found this site so meaningful to you. Life, with all its ups and down, can be unrelenting – and so can depression. As I’ve written before, people who fight the struggle with depression are my heroes. Remember. You’re one, too. Dan

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