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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

CNN: Why Are Lawyers Killing Themselves?

CNN, Why Are Lawyers Killing Themselves?:

Unhappy lawyerOne by one, state by state, bar associations say the tally is rising: Lawyers are killing themselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided CNN with the latest available data on suicide deaths by profession. Lawyers ranked fourth when the proportion of suicides in that profession is compared to suicides in all other occupations in the study population (adjusted for age).They come right behind dentists, pharmacists and physicians.

Lawyers are also prone to depression, which the American Psychological Association, among others, identified as the most likely trigger for suicide. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers. ...

CNN's review of 50 state bar associations found eight associations so concerned about suicides that they took measures to stop the deadly pattern. California, Montana, Iowa, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina added a "mental health" component to mandatory legal continuing education. Kentucky starts its annual conference on continuing education with a presentation on behaviors that increase the risk of suicide. So far, Kentucky has reached 7,000 lawyers.

"There are a lot of high stress professions," said Yvette Hourigan, who runs the Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program. "Being a physician has stress. However, when the surgeon goes into the surgical suite to perform his surgery, they don't send another physician in to try to kill the patient. You know, they're all on the same team trying to do one job. In the legal profession, adversity is the nature of our game." ...

The problem starts as early as law school. Dr. Andy Benjamin of the University of Washingtonconducted a study of law students that estimated 40% suffered from depression by the time they graduated.After law school comes the high stress process of admission to the bar, when Lukasik said lawyers fear reporting treatment for any type of depression or mental illness because they risk not meeting the "character and fitness" requirements. "They could shut down their career," he said. Most state bars make subjective decisions as to whether mental illness or depression, treated or untreated, are barriers to a candidate's certification to practice law.

Then there is the career itself. The public perception is often that lawyers are rich and powerful, but reality can be grim for some attorneys. After the economic downturn, many big law firms lowered pay and laid people off.The National Law Journalreported in May 2009 that even prestigious firms like Kilpatrick Stockton, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and King & Spalding lost an attorney each to suicide after being laid off.

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