The New York Legal Blog Round Up
The New York Legal News Round Up

The High Cost of Lawyering

Drlogo11

This week's Daily Record column is entitled "The high cost of lawyering."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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The high cost of lawyering

“Lawyers who work harder [to make partner, to earn more money], and then tell themselves they don’t have time now for family and friends, are on a very slippery slope. They may think they are only postponing the opportunity [to be a better parent, a more loving spouse], but in fact they are sacrificing that opportunity.”

—WILLIAMH. REHNQUIST

I am now thoroughly depressed about my decision to become a lawyer.

Why?

Because I had the misfortune to stumble upon two recent reports concluding that the very skills that contribute to professional success of lawyers are detrimental to their mental health, their personal relationships and their overall physical health.

Yes, it’s true: The traits we’ve cultivated so carefully —that allow us to represent zealously and meticulously our client’s interests —don’t serve us very well outside of the legal arena.

Imagine that.

As a result, compared to other professions, lawyers are more inclined to suffer from alcohol abuse, drug addiction and depression.

Alison Grant’s recent article from The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer —“Cleveland bar raises awareness of lawyers’ depression” —describes the conundrum:

[Lawyers] are praised and highly paid for being aggressive, intellectual and emotionally detached. … Pessimism backfires in most pursuits —insurance agents make fewer sales attempts, swimmers take longer to bounce back from substandard swims. But law is an exception. … If ‘prudent’ is substituted for the pejorative ‘pessimistic,’ it makes sense. A cautious, skeptical attorney sees problems that could hurt clients. But pessimism also harms family life and friendships.

In other words, as a group, we’re not exactly the life of the party, as we repeatedly interrupt other party goers, seek clarity in the fact patterns of their jokes and pick apart the punch lines.

Apparently, we’re not exactly a barrel of laughs at home either. According to Dr. Fiona Travis, those personality traits that are stereotypically lawyer-like contribute very little toward healthy a marriage.

In her blog post at Lawyer Avenue “Marry a Lawyer? Proceed With Caution,” Travis explains that the skills that serve us exceedingly well in the courtroom don’t translate very well to the home front:

[C]ertain lawyerly goals and techniques are at cross-purposes with the behaviors that foster good marriages —for example, win (compromise), doubt (trust), cross-examine (discuss), argue (admit error), attack (accept fallibility in self and others), avoid vulnerability (concede), think for others (respect partner’s opinions and ideas), deny weakness (allow for vulnerability), hinder and delay (cooperate).

So what does it all mean to those of us who unwittingly drank the lawyer Kool-Aid in law school? Are our social and personal lives doomed for all of eternity? If we attempt to modify our behavior at home, will we lose our edge in the courtroom, become financially destitute and despondent?

Is there a middle ground that will allow us to be mediocre, yet functional, both at work and at home? Is that even a viable alternative or is languishing in mediocrity a sentence worse than death for most over-achieving lawyers?

I don’t know about you, but I need to think about the paradox a bit more.

I’m going to lock myself in my office with a bottle of wine, conduct extensive research on the issue, pick apart the fact patterns, examine each and every possible conclusion, then share the results of my research with the next poor, unfortunate soul who tries to tell me a convoluted, confusing joke.

That’ll teach ‘em.

Comments

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Kelly

I think it depends on your idea of success.

I consider myself a success. I work hard but I make sure that I do it on my terms. I married another lawyer (!) and we have a lot of respect for each other. We don't care about having fancy cars or a giant house. We spend money on the things that matter. We enjoy our kids - it's why we had them.

Nine years ago, we opened our own law firm. It's not BigLaw but it's one of the things that I am most proud of. We treat our employees with respect. We take time to laugh. We value our clients. We work smart.

Our lives are not about always being right, or always being first. I don't think that gets you anywhere except maybe alone.

Maybe the "experts" are wrong. Maybe what makes a good lawyer are skills like a sense of humor, reasoning, organization, compromise and understanding. I'm pretty sure that's what makes a good person, too.

Bruce Cameron

Perhaps it is not such a paradox, perhaps the problem lies in letting the servant be the master.

Our finely honed lawyering skills are to serve us as we practice our craft. They need not follow us home.

Put your lawyering skills & personal on with your lawyering clothes but be yourself when in blue jeans.

Adrian @ adriandayton

Nice article, I am often concerned that being a lawyer will have a detrimental impact on my personal well being. It's ironic that being committed to something could have such detrimental effects in every other area of your life.

Some attorneys seem to ballance family life very well, and others seem to make no effort, but it is certainly possible. I think it is just a matter of priorities.

Jersey Todd

I saw that article, and it freaked me out, too.

I am coming up on the ten-year mark of practicing law. I know I am helping people, and providing zealous advocacy which they wouldn't get if they went to the firm down the street. This is a good thing, and I've helped thousands of people at their worst hour.

But at the same time, wine gives me acid. Do you have any scotch?

Pam @diy_pam

I think Kelly has it right. If you can live an authentic life, within your financial means, and not get caught up in more-bigger-better cycle it's not so hard. But parts that aren't used can wither away, so it helps to have activities that engage creativity & emotions too.

And BTW, I can't believe that Rehnquist & I agree on anything! Who knew?

Huma

Great post, certainly thought-provoking. I remember during our orientation week at the very start of law school, we spent about an hour watching a video about how lawyers are pill-poppers and winos and have the second highest suicide rate among the professions.

It was a very nice welcome to the next three years.

=/

Eric Johnson

I've spoken with a lot of professors and business consultants who work on the fringes of law or on legal issues. I get the impression that a lot of them wish they had become lawyers or at least gone to law school. I think the job of a lawyer is so much more pragmatic and human than many of the other social science/'thinking' professions and allows one to try and incorporate or use so many fields of learning to practical effect. All in all, I'm glad I became a lawyer.

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