Lawyers Health; Unstated Issues in an Iconic Profession

When you think “lawyer” what do you think? Big car? Fancy Suit? Money? Ask yourself where did you get such ideas? I suggest the source is media, and not first hand experience.

Now let’s think about how that man achieved the title. First there is a great deal of investment to just achieve the license. Four years of college, three years of law school, then a bar exam. One may have thought in terms of art and beauty before law school, but afterward one thinks solely of crime and civil remedies. The study doesn’t really stop there because any lawyer with anything to sell makes the study of law part of the pattern of his life.

Next lets consider the practice. People come in, often with complex fact patterns and are either being sued, suing or worried about both. The conflict most of the time involves another individual who has gone to his own lawyer with his complex version of the facts. Each side “lawyer’s up” to use a vernacular term I heard this week, and the contest is on.

For most of my career I have wondered about the long-term impacts on the individual who takes on this job. What does it mean to the psyche to daily handle human conflict and misery day in and day out? We joined the profession to try to help people, at least most of us have. The steady stream of people needing help often without adequate funding adds to the stress. When the lawyer has to pay the staff at the end of the month it ultimately is the lawyer who pays for the legal needs of those of limited means who nonetheless have complex fact patterns. In a word what does this all mean?

Stress. That is what it means, and the manner in which the individual copes with that stress lays the groundwork for how long he remains alive. In our town we lose a judge or a lawyer on average about once a year. Causation is often cancer or heart disease. The habits to deal with stress vary, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that a steady diet of stress followed by cigarettes and booze shorten life.

Some die early because they have that genetic marker that means they will. One lawyer was a healthy Himalayan climber. He got cancer and died anyway. Most however are not so destined; they are overweight because the demands of the practice require a remarkable number of hours for study, review, and preparation for hearings. We make about 40 important decisions a week and are often disappointed by results of trials.  It is easier to have a scotch at the end of each day than to go for a walk.

Next time the term “lawyer” comes to mind try not to think about the iconic suit or car. Think of it as a dangerous profession.  Think of lawyers as people who have run the risks to really understand the secret knowledge. They do it for you.

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