In this profession, one thing stands true: we’re obligated to follow the evidence. In doing so, you’ll conclude that lawyers are terrible at achieving work-life balance. Big deal, right? The concept has been the subject of many publications (including this one). Some take the time to define the phrase, but we already know what it means. We just don’t care much about it, but we should.
We’re logicians. We understand that the “perfect” balance between work life and home life is a utopian dream. After all, we owe clients a duty to set that dream aside to protect their best interests, and much of our financial success is directly related to the number of hours that we work. We’ve come to believe that we’re conditioned to withstand what others cannot. Along the way, hopes of a perfect work-life balance are lost in attempts to dominate the opponent or meet billable-hour targets. As a result, the legal profession is killing us.
Recently, the Dave Nee Foundation reported that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers. According to a 2016 study reported in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, 28 percent of licensed employed lawyers suffer from depression (compared with 8 percent for the general population), 19 percent suffer from anxiety, and 21 percent are problem drinkers. As pointed out by Jeena Cho in her article entitled “Attorney Suicide: What Every Lawyer Needs to Know” (published in the January 2019 issue of the ABA Journal), the industry has the 11th highest incidence of suicide among professions. These results are staggering.
Attorneys have been analyzing the “why” behind these disheartening figures, and legal institutions and grassroots organizations have committed to finding optimal solutions. But maybe lawyers are the problem. Maybe the solution is as simple as maximizing our time with non-lawyers and expanding our horizons to include conversations and activities that have nothing to do with the law. Think about it: most of us spend much of our free time with other lawyers; we even tend to marry other lawyers. We need to get away from each other. In our minimal free time, we should escape not only our employer but also the law itself.
We are duty-bound to be levelheaded and fierce for the benefit of the people we represent. But to do that, and to do that the right way, we must make sure our own affairs are in order. We need to step away from ourselves—play golf (with non-lawyers), rock climb, read a novel, cook a nice meal, or go fly a kite. We must separate ourselves from our profession when possible because, evidently, we’ve been doing this to ourselves.