The statistics are our profession’s dirty little secret, mentioned only in passing and often used to describe what may be happening at “other” firms. Yet depression and suicide strike members of the bar at an alarming rate: The Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death among lawyers, two to six times higher than the general population. Other studies report that among the professions, lawyers have the highest incidence of depression. As many as one in five lawyers suffers from alcohol or substance abuse. A North Carolina study reported 11 percent of attorneys had contemplated suicide in the last month and 26 percent exhibited signs of clinical depression.
If suicide prevention is to be successful, leaders from law firms, practice groups, and bar associations must be willing to transform our professional culture. In recent years, another profession—the military, the profession of arms—also has confronted an alarming rate of suicides. Recognizing that depression can be treated and suicides prevented, the military implemented a large-scale, ambitious suicide prevention program. A critical lesson emerged from the military’s experience: leadership matters. Lawyers can apply the same lesson to fight depression and prevent suicide among the members of our own profession.