Solo and Small Firm

The Practitioner VOLUME 29, ISSUE 1, SPRING 2023


Megan Meadows,* Lexlee Overton,** & Demetria Mantalis***

How many articles and books have you read about the difficulties of life as a lawyer? Do they all confirm that yes, life as a lawyer can, in fact, be a grind? About how hard it can be to have a profession that demands our attention, our time, continued learning, and requires many of us to live our lives in small increments of time (which is just simply unnatural)? So, what’s the point of reading just to confirm this experience unless you learn something that can improve it? We’ll remind you of some of the important statistics about life as a lawyer, why it manifests in substance abuse, the risks attendant with those lifestyle choices, and actual proven real-life ways to be and feel better.

Lawyers are governed by a high ethical duty and a desire to serve—we even have an ethics hotline.1 We operate in an adversarial world; we can be blamed for results as opposed to quality of work; and we work in a system where we lack control over results, deadlines, timing, and the rules of the game. However, ultimately, we are judged by the outcome and results rather than the quality of the work we provide. Meanwhile, we seek out the best results for our clients and the stakes of these results are often extremely high. The outcomes of our decisions can determine whether a client’s life turns sideways logistically, emotionally, or financially. Even worse; despite our efforts, our care, our attention, and our time, the systems we work and live in have their own rules where the scales are tipped, leading to unjust outcomes we cannot always control.2

Here’s the part where we acknowledge that lawyers experience higher-than-average rates of depression, stress, anxiety, overwhelm, and burnout. A joint study by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation3 revealed staggering statistics about just how many lawyers and judges are experiencing emotionally negative impacts because of their careers.4 The destabilizing trifecta of alcoholism, depression, and anxiety are common in our profession. The rates of lawyers suffering from problematic alcohol use, depression, anxiety, and stress are significantly higher than other populations, even when compared with other highly educated and stress-associated career workers like surgeons and physicians. Among these respondents, those who also reported problematic use of alcohol also reported higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

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