Bad, bad blogger.

When I was a teenager and even as a young adult, I used to keep a journal.

A big believer in fresh starts, I’d start a new journal whenever a major life event prompted me to think it was the right time.  A new grade in school, beginning college, beginning or ending a job or relationship… Whatever.  And each journal starts out with something like, “I always have so many ideas, and I know now I’ll keep writing, no matter what.”


And then one day, I hit on the idea of using my journal — really using it.  For thoughts about life, practice, personal stuff, keeping track of quotes I like, my grocery list, you name it.  Ever since, I’ve kept a journal and used every single page!  It isn’t as neat as it used to be, but it’s much more useful, and looking back, I’m sure it will tell more about my life than perhaps I would care for it to do.  (That’s a topic for another day, and another blog: when and whether to look back at journals!)

Why am I yammering about this here?  Because, forgive me dear reader, it’s been 17 days since I last posted on my blog.  Although I would like to stick to a schedule of making new posts, that isn’t always realistic.  But, having my journaling experience, I know that I will always return to the blog — sometimes on schedule and sometimes not.

And this illustrates another point about Life at the Bar: balance.  We all strive for balance, and it’s impossible to look at any practice management publication without seeing some reference to balance.  It’s as if balance is a single state of being, and once we get there, it’s static.  We reify balance.  It’s something we have on a daily basis or not.

I don’t believe that’s true.

Balance is something we attain over a period of time, something that’s fluid and flexible.  If I work 16 hours a day everyday for a year, I am clearly out of balance (at least according to my values and energy).  But if I work 16 hours a day for a month and then take a week-long vacation, perhaps that is balance.  (Whether it is a balance that suits you may be another matter altogether!)  For me, I’m not “out of balance” just because I might spend sun-up to sun-down sitting at my desk, talking with clients and writing.  I don’t keep a scorecard and note whether I had “balance” at the end of each day.  And I don’t look at my calendar every morning and juggle plans and commitments so I can achieve “balance.”

But I do make sure than over time (a week or month) I’m spending sufficient time in each area of my business and my life.  And that, my friend, is balance.

Studies show high rates of attorney depression, substance abuse, and suicide. What do practicing lawyers need to know?

I attended a seminar last week in Orlando entitled Practicing with Professionalism.  Michael Cohen, Executive Director of Florida Lawyers Assistance, presented the first session, entitled “Chemical Dependency/Stress.”  He opened with his own story of substance abuse and recovery — instant credibility, a spellbinding tale of breakdown and recovery.  I suspect that most of us who attend mandatory CLE presentations tend to zone out (especially at 8:30 AM on a beautiful Friday morning, as this program was), but the entire room stopped to listen to Mr. Cohen’s story and its lesson for us.

Mr. Cohen presented some startling statistics about attorney substance abuse, depression, and suicide rates.  I haven’t been able to track down links to the surveys he cited yet, but here are the figures he presented:

  • 15-18% of attorneys will have substance abuse problem vs. 10% of general population.
  • Over 1/3 of attorneys say they are dissatisfied and would choose another profession if they could.
  • Attorneys have the highest rates of depression and suicide of any profession.

He also cited a study of Canadian lawyers that showed suicide to be the third leading cause of death for attorneys, behind only cancer and heart disease.  Evan Schaeffer’s blog includes a fascinating March 2005 post on this subject, with a lively discussion in the comments.  And, last but not least, studies show that 51% of lawyers experience stress at higher levels than the “normal” population.

These studies — if valid — reveal a crisis point for practicing lawyers.  They indicate that the way many of us approach practice just isn’t working.  Perhaps the law attracts people who are intrinsically more susceptible to substance abuse or emotional issues because lawyers tend to be pessimists.  But I’m inclined to believe that lifestyle and the pressures of today’s practice has a lot to do with these findings.

I am certainly not suggesting that most lawyers are headed for depression, drug or alcohol addiction, or suicide.  But I do submit that many lawyers are stressed out.  And, more importantly, I suggest that there are enough pressures on lawyers, especially lawyers who are fairly new to the practice, that it’s critical to be aware of the danger signals for these disorders.

And what can a stressed lawyer do to relieve that stress?  I believe that there are certain “best practices” for life and for conducting a legal practice that can reduce stress.  They can increase productivity and efficiency.  These “best practices” can keep us attuned to our own values and the way we express those values in practice.  They provide guideposts that can help lawyers reach their goals — professional and personal.

Stay tuned.  The next entry will describe these “best practices” and why they’re so beneficial.

PLEASE NOTE: Depression, substance abuse, and any suicidal thoughts are best addressed with the help of counselors who are trained and certified. Coaching is not therapy, and those issues are not appropriate topics for a coaching relationship. If you need help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 Hours a day.  Please call them if you are in crisis.