The numbers are sobering. As many as one in four lawyers suffers from stress, which is likely to manifest itself as depression, substance abuse or addiction. In fact, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to have depression during their careers than any other profession, according to a Johns Hopkins University survey. The combination of stress and absence of work-life balance puts the attrition rate for lawyers at 19 percent, according to 2005 figures.
Additionally, only slightly more than half or 56 percent of lawyers expect to be with their same firm in five years and only 44 percent of lawyers would recommend the law as a profession to young people, according to the 2006 Pulse of the Legal Profession research from the American Bar Association.
Stress and the lack of balance between work and home life take a toll. On a professional level, the cost to law firms for unhappy lawyers can run as much as $300,000 to $400,000 each to train replacements for the ones who depart because of what is seen as undue pressure. With an attrition rate at nearly 20 percent, the cost for the profession zooms skyward. Beyond the cost in dollars and cents, the Opt-In Project Report: Making the Case for Balance notes that high attrition in the first five years can be a drain on the morale of a firm.
A study by Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, the lawyer assistance program in Massachusetts, points to several reasons for depression among lawyers:
- The conflict-driven nature of the profession that conditions lawyers to be aggressive, analytical and emotionally withdrawn
- Professional training that prompts lawyers to look at the negative in situations
- The personality type of individuals drawn to the law generally high achievers and perfectionists
- A culture that imposes arduous billable hour requirements leaving little personal time
While the number of lawyers with depression and anxiety have surpassed those with alcohol and drug problems, the numbers are close. Some studies estimate that 26 percent of lawyers seek assistance for depression and anxiety and 21 percent seek help for alcohol and drug problems.
To head off possible problems, some firms are starting to address these issues by providing separate career tracks for lawyers men and women who prefer to have more time for their families or themselves. In fact, The Legal Balance, a blog associated with Forbes.com, has noted that 90 percent of recruiters say work-life balance is more important now than it was five years ago.
The Legal Balance blog calls change in work-life balance a trickle-up trend. As such, work-life balance may take a while to reach the top.
In the meantime, the legal profession has Lawyer Assistance Programs to help handle challenges. Although the program does help lawyers who are struggling with depression or addiction issues, it also can help with work-life balance concerns, anxiety, stress, financial problems, career and practice management concerns, and marital and family issues, as well as retirement, career transition and other age-related concerns.