Dear Friends and Readers,
Over the past twenty years since I graduated from law school my family and friends have asked me how was it possible that I became a crack cocaine addict a month after I had passed the Washington State bar. Up until now, I had vague answers based on my own personal reflections. Now, however, Bar Associations have finally caught up to what’s trending in the legal community.
First of all, studies now indicate there may be a natural self-selection process at work in the legal profession. According to studies, the results of which researchers don’t understand, some individuals who are susceptible to substance abuse and mood problems appear to be drawn to the law. The same personality traits that are over-represented in the populations of adults recovering from substance abuse related disorders and mood disorders-high achievement, perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive- are also common in the legal community.
Law School professor and Psychologist Susan Daicoff explains that the law school experience further exacerbates these tendencies, which often produce increased aggression under stress, a preference for competition versus cooperation, and a failure to rely on natural sources of social support from ones peers. These tendencies when combined with the law school experience create people who are thinking instead of feeling and who have a pessimistic outlook on life. Daicoff explains this is because lawyers are taught to anticipate and prepare for a whole range of problems that non-lawyers are generally blind to.
According to recent nationwide studies on lawyers, there is a substantial and widespread level of problem drinking, depression, and other behavioral problems among legal professionals in the United States. The highest rates of substance abuse and depression occur with young attorneys and junior associates. Studies also show that addiction issues and depression concerns start as early as law school. According to Hon. Robert L. Childers, a judge in the Circuit Court of Tennessee since 1984, who has served on
the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) since 1999, substance abuse and mental illness
often begin in law school.
On the first day of law school, studies show that the average law student is “normal” in terms of their happiness,
mental health and wellness. Within the first six months, early signs of psychiatric problems, such as depression,
anxiety, hostility and paranoia, can be detected. After the first year of law school, as many as 40 percent of law
students suffer from depression. Symptoms often persist through law school and into their later legal careers.
I don’t know about other lawyers, but prior to law school, I don’t think that I was depressed. However within 90 days of entering law school I was prescribed anti-depressants and I remain on anti-depressants to this day. According to studies conducted in in numerous jurisdictions the rate of alcoholism in the
legal profession at between 15% and 24%.
Roughly 1 in 5 lawyers is addicted to
alcohol. A whopping 33% of lawyers were diagnosed with mental disorders.
Interestingly addiction seems to affect the best lawyers with the top rated lawyers (who knows how they rated “the top lawyers) comprising about 18-25% of addicts who are lawyers. I guess, I was in good company. The idea that the best and the brightest in the legal community become addicts is in stark contrast to what most people assume about addicts. In reality only 5% of alcoholics and drug addicts live on skid row. Most addicts have families and homes and jobs and careers, leading lawyers who are addicts to believe that they are not addicts because they still have homes and families and careers. The following three examples of lawyer alcoholics were taken from an article written in a legal journal about the types of legal alcoholics. I limited to only two examples, because two are more than enough. Here is an example of what I call the “Olivia Pope” Lawyer:
Janet has been working for
the largest merger-acquisition firm in the
City since graduating first from a top law
school. Organized, poised, well spoken and
resourceful, she will be the youngest
associate ever offered partnership in her
firm. The daughter of a retired judge, she
has avoided the heavy drinking for which
her father was well known. Janet never
drinks at lunch or after work. One glass of
wine at the firm Christmas party reveals that
she is not rigid about alcohol.
Unknown to her colleagues, her family and
her clients, Janet drinks a bottle of white
wine, every night alone in her fashionable
high rise condo. An alcoholic from her first
taste of alcohol at age 13, she has been a
daily drinker since her first year of law
school. If Janet continues to drink at this
rate, she will be dead by age 37 from
massive haemorrhaging of the oesophagus
and the stomach. If she survives the
hemorrhages, her liver damage will kill her
within 2 years after that.
Like many secret drinkers, Janet is too
terrified to seek help. Someone like Janet
can be found in virtually every high rise
condominium building. A single female
without spouse or children, Janet’s chances,
prognosis and recovery are statistically the
worst of any group.
Example Two: Sam has practised law in
Smallville, for 30 years. Formerly a beer
drinker after late night hockey with the boys,
and a normal social drinker, his
consumption has slowly increased over the
years. He drinks daily, often needing a
morning hit before he can face the office. He
has more and more complaints from clients
about tardy performance, shoddy
workmanship and procrastination: failing to
report out real estate deals, delaying the
setting down of law suits for trial, cancelling
appointments and discoveries at the last
Reduced billings have put him under
increasing financial pressure. He has started
borrowing against trust monies knowing that
he will do the work eventually so that his
clients will not be cheated. Three letters of
inquiry respecting client complaints have
not been answered to the Law Society.
No one who knows him would describe him
as an alcoholic even though he has been one
for over 6 years. Everyone in his life knows
that his drinking is damaging Sam, his
performance and his relationships. His wife,
his children, his employees, his clients, the
court clerks all have no idea how Sam’s
drinking is affecting every other aspect of
his life. If anyone knew the whole picture,
they would know that Sam is on the verge of
Over the next 3 years, Sam will eat up
$250,000.00 of clients’ trust monies from
litigation retainers and estates. Eventually,
Sam will be charged with criminal breach of
trust and he will be disbarred by the Law
Society with substantial claims for
defalcation as well as claims for losses
arising from his professional negligence. His
province has scores of women and men like
Sam. So do every other province and state
across North America.
It’s not a pretty picture, but hey, somebody has to do it. I close with two “sobering” statistics :
Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than individuals in 28 other professions, researchers concluded in a 1990 Johns Hopkins Medical study.
The National Institute for Safety and Health reports that male lawyers ages 20-64 are more than twice as likely to die from suicide as men in other careers.
Brianna S. Clark
The Addict Writes