Underage And Binge Drinking: Where is the Outrage?

Officer is Charged with Murder of a Black Man Shot in the Back.” This was the headline from The New York Times on April 8, 2015. A white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina was caught on video shooting and killing an unarmed black man while he was running away. This was the lead story on “The Today Show” the same day. On April 9, Matt Lauer interviewed the young man who captured the video. The entire nation is engaged in a fierce debate over the appropriate use of deadly force by law enforcement. The White House created a task force, which is recommending changes to police policies. The Attorney General is visiting cities all across the country, soothing the tensions between the police and minority neighborhoods. This South Carolina incident reminds everyone of the recent use of lethal force by police in New York, Cleveland, and Ferguson, Missouri. We are outraged!

Coroner: USC Student…Died of ‘Toxic’ Blood Alcohol Level”. This was the headline from The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina on April 8, 2015. The University of South Carolina freshman was found dead last month at a house commonly used by a USC fraternity. According to The State, he “had a blood alcohol level more than four times the legal driving limit at the time of his death.” A toxicology report showed that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.375 percent; the coroner said this was a toxic level, which “ultimately” caused the student’s death. The coroner further commented that “There is no way to tell whether that amount of alcohol was ingested voluntarily or by force.” The coroner called the death “tragic and totally preventable.”

The coroner went on to say: “It is something that I think we see too often. Everybody’s drinking and having a good time, and somebody says, ‘Well, my friend passed out. We’ll let him sleep it off.’” Watts said, “They’re not going to sleep it off. They’re going to die. Some type of medical intervention needs to take place in a lot of these cases, and it didn’t.” The coroner concluded that a blood alcohol level that high would often be the result of binging or chugging.

Where is the outrage over this young man’s tragic death? Where is the outrage over underage drinking? Where is the outrage over binge drinking on college campuses?
There was no headline in The New York Times. There was no lead story on “The Today Show.” Matt Lauer did not interview anyone about the incident. The White House did not create a task force to study the problem of underage drinking, binge drinking on college campuses, or our collective casual attitude toward alcohol abuse. The Attorney General has not visited our state or the USC campus to express his concern.

Where is the outrage?

Where is the outrage over the fact that four out of five college students drink alcohol with about half consuming alcohol through binge drinking? Where is the outrage over the thousands of college student deaths between the ages of 18 and 24 each year from alcohol-related injuries? Where is the outrage over the students between the ages of 18 and 24 who are assaulted by another student who has been drinking? What about the students between the ages of 18 and 24 who are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape? Where is the outrage?

Where is the outrage over the fact that 34 percent of eighth-graders reported drinking in the past year? Where is the outrage that 64 percent of eighth-graders say that alcohol is easy to get?

Medical research on alcohol and the brain is clear. First, the earlier a young person starts to drink, the more likely they are to have a drinking problem later in life. Second, research shows that a teen’s brain is not fully developed until well into the twenties. Indeed, as with other teens, my 14-year-old’s brain does not have a “stop button.” The teen brain simply does not have the wiring necessary to tell them when to stop. As a result, teens act impulsively and often seek out dangerous situations, including drinking alcohol.

While college students commonly binge drink, 70 percent of binge drinking episodes involve adults age 26 years and older. Where is the outrage? Where is the outrage over the fact that about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinking? Binge drinking is more common among those with household incomes of $75,000 or more than among those with lower incomes. Where is the outrage? Binge drinking costs everyone; where is the outrage over the fact that it costs the United States $223.5 billion from losses in productivity, health care, crime and other expenses?

Where is the outrage over our failure to implement evidence-based interventions to prevent binge drinking? Where is our outrage over the failure to hold alcohol retailers responsible for the harm caused by their under-age customers? Where is the outrage over our failure to consistently enforce laws against under-age drinking and alcohol-impaired driving? Where is our outrage at our failure to screen and counsel for alcohol misuse?

As with most things, it begins at home. We can make a difference by talking to our kids about alcohol. We can start by talking to our kids about alcohol facts, reasons not to drink and ways to avoid drinking in difficult situations. We can help by knowing whether our kids are at high risk for a drinking problem, knowing the warning signs of a teen drinking problem and acting promptly to get help for our kids.

Until then, where is the outrage?

One Shining Moment

On Monday evening, April 6, 2015, two teams will take the floor in Indianapolis for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. As the winning team cuts down the nets, CBS Sports will play highlights from the tournament, set to the song, “One Shining Moment”, written by David Barrett. Versions of this song by Teddy Pendergrass and Jennifer Hudson have been used in the past; the most recent rendition is by the late Luther Vandross.

One shining moment, it’s all on the line

One shining moment, there frozen in time

One shining moment, you reached deep inside

One shining moment, you knew you were alive

The highlights will likely include the thrill of victory with upsets by UAB and GA State. There will also be the agony of defeat as top seeded Villanova failed to make the Final Four. We will see the bright faces of the winners and the teary eyes of the losers. Each of these, in their own way, had “one shining moment”.

We have previously written how lawyers are potentially vulnerable to depression, suicide and substance abuse. Perhaps one way to avoid the negative thinking that sometimes pervades our profession is to focus on the shining moments we have had in our personal and professional careers. Maybe we have never hit the winning shot in the last seconds of the championship game, but we all have had our own shining moments. Maybe you met a personal goal after much hard work. Or, perhaps, you won a particularly difficult and hard fought case. Whatever it is, take a few minutes today to remember “One Shining Moment” in your life and career.

Gallivan, White, & Boyd, P.A. – A History

As we recently noted, GWB now has an office in Charleston, South Carolina. With our growth over the last five years, we thought our readers might enjoy a bit of the firm’s history. Gallivan, White, & Boyd, P.A. was founded in Greenville, South Carolina in 1948. The firm practiced general law during this time period and served as the statewide division counsel for Southern Railway Company and general counsel for Woodside Bank. The firm continued as general counsel when a merger created the state’s largest bank known as South Carolina National Bank. Southern Railway Company changed its name to Norfolk Southern Corporation in 1982 and remains a client of the firm today.

In the 1950’s, the small law firm began to grow in number and reputation. The firm expanded to four attorneys and relocated to 128 Boadus Avenue in Greenville in 1958. Greenville mirrored the firm in its growth, becoming known as the textile capital of the world in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

During the 1970’s, the firm continued its steady expansion with the addition of H. Mills Gallivan and Daniel B. White in 1976 and W. Howard Boyd, Jr. in 1977. Mills, Danny, and Howard were the firm’s 7th, 8th, and 9th attorneys. With their arrival, the firm began focusing its practice on business and corporate litigation, trial work, and mass tort litigation, including the defense of personal injury cases arising from exposure to toxic substances, including asbestos.

The firm continued its successes in the 1980’s and 1990’s by steadily increasing its reputation as a leading litigation law firm as well as increasing the firm’s number of attorneys and practice areas. The firm moved its practice to 330 East Coffee Street in Greenville in 1983 and grew to 17 attorneys by 1988. Just a few years later, the firm outgrew its Coffee Street location with its growth to 27 attorneys in 1998. In the early 1990’s, the firm served as lead South Carolina counsel for a chemical manufacturer in the first case multidistricted in South Carolina by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.

At the turn of the century, the firm officially became known as Gallivan, White, & Boyd, P.A., and in 2003, it moved to its current location at Liberty Plaza overlooking downtown Greenville. In 2005, members of GWB’s Commercial Transportation Group served as lead counsel in the emergency response, post-accident investigation, and claims handling for a major railroad company after a train derailment and toxic chlorine release resulted in more than 9 deaths and over 1,000 claims in South Carolina.

Then, GWB represented a Fortune 500 client in class actions brought against it by physicians. GWB was also retained in 2008 to represent this client again in a purported class action of its more than 13,000 policyholders seeking distribution of dividends.

GWB experienced continued growth during this decade, opening its first offices outside of Greenville. While continuing its emphasis on litigation, the firm has also expanded its corporate and commercial transaction practice. GWB grew from 27 attorneys in 1998 to 47 attorneys in 2010, to 61 attorneys in 2015. The firm is one of the Southeast’s leading business and commercial law firms with five offices in the Carolinas located in Greenville, Columbia, Anderson, and Charleston, South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina.

The firm operates within four major groups—litigation, business and commercial law, insurance practice and workplace practices. Each group is further organized into practice area teams of lawyers who stay informed of the latest developments that impact their specific clients and the particular industries served.

GWB’s success and longevity are intertwined with its reputation for providing wise legal counsel and first-class client service. The values that have come to define Gallivan, White, & Boyd, P.A. to its clients and the community are the compass that guide the firm into the future.

Attorney As Counselor At Law

“The practice of law is more than a mere trade or business, and those who engage in it are the guardians of ideals and traditions to which it is right that they should from time to time dedicate themselves anew.”

 –Scottish lawyer Hugh Patterson McMillan, Ethics of Advocacy, 1916

A friend recently suggested that since I was a good listener that I would make a good counselor. My response? I am a counselor!  A counselor at law.  That’s a description for lawyers that is often underappreciated. But I do think of myself of a counselor of sorts, guiding clients through the minefield of risk management with the goal of avoiding the bad things that can happen to an individual or business. I also advise clients on how to escape a legal mess once something bad does happen.

The terms “attorney at law” and “counselor at law” are often used interchangeably. However, they describe different roles for the lawyer. The counselor at law advises and counsels a client on particular matters.  By contrast, the attorney at law acts as the client’s agent, speaking and acting on the client’s behalf, with third parties or in court.

As I reflect upon my 27 year career as a lawyer, I have enjoyed both roles but particularly that of trusted advisor. Sometimes I wonder if lawyers jump too quickly into the attorney role before working their way through the counselor role. Certainly, counseling our clients, focusing on good advice, and working through a solution, can avoid future problems. Sometimes you must move beyond the counselor role, but as lawyers, we would do well to focus on that role and only move into the attorney role when we make a conscious decision to do so.

Remembering the role of counselor can help build trust and strong, long-term client relationships. We can use our experience to educate our clients and teach them ways to avoid unnecessary conflict and minimize risk. If litigation occurs, a lawyer may continue in the counselor role in addition to their role as attorney, wearing both hats at once.

How do you decide which role is appropriate? Do you draw a distinction at all? Let us know what you think!

LinkedIn For Lawyers – Beyond The Basics

I was at a deposition recently when the subject of LinkedIn arose in conversation. After seeing a post I had made on the site, another lawyer said he did not see the benefit of LinkedIn for lawyers. That gave me an opening to share with him why LinkedIn is a part of my marketing tool box. I am certain that this lawyer knew the basics of LinkedIn, as described in hundreds of articles and books. Perhaps you have read some of that material, which includes the following suggestions:

  • Complete your profile, including information on your education and business
  • Use key words in the “background” and “experience” sections to optimize the search results
  • Make sure your “headline” describes what you do
  • Customize your links to websites and blogs
  • Build your network by making connections
  • Regularly share updates
  • Join different “groups” and participate in group discussions

Here are a few suggestions, beyond the basics, illustrating how LinkedIn has enhanced my professional networking.

In advance of a meeting or conference, I may have a list of attendees. It is helpful to search for these individuals on LinkedIn. I can learn about their background, the nature of their business, their hobbies, and personal interests. When I return to the office from such a meeting or conference, I can send them a personalized invitation to connect on LinkedIn.

Several years ago, our firm was planning an event in a particular city. Prior to the event, I performed a LinkedIn search on people in that city within a particular industry. What did I find? An individual with whom our firm had a business relationship many years before but with whom we had lost track as he had moved to a different company. I sent him an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, reminded him of our prior relationship, and invited him to our firm’s event. Following his attendance at the event, and other opportunities to reconnect, he is once again a client of our firm.

LinkedIn also provides me with the opportunity to follow individuals from job to job. When a person changes jobs, LinkedIn will notify me. I can then follow up again with “congratulations” on their new position. On more than one occasion, this approach has allowed me to maintain a business relationship when individuals move to a new company.

Finally, sometimes, I just go on there and look around. If I am interested in a particular company, I can check on its corporate profile and see the list of individuals connected to that company. I might cruise through the groups which are relevant to my practice area to see if there is someone there I might know or would like to know. Have fun with it.

LinkedIn can be a powerful tool to help develop and maintain professional relationships. Once you have established the basics, you are limited only by your imagination.

Suicide Can Be Prevented If We Learn To Recognize The Signs

Like many, we here at Abnormal Use were saddened to learn of the recent death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. The tragic suicide of Williams provides us an opportunity to discuss mental illness, especially clinical depression.  Fifteen percent of those suffering from clinical depression commit suicideSubstance abusers are 10 times as likely to commit suicide than the general population.  Women attempt suicide at least two times more often than men, but men are “successful” four times more than women.  Although most people suffering from depression are not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed. These are very troubling statistics, and we must be aware of them. Just as important: we must learn how to distinguish depression and ordinary sadness, as they are not the same. Treating them as such is dangerous.

While some suicides occur without any outward warning, most do not.  Thus, we can prevent suicides by learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of someone at risk, taking those signs seriously, and knowing how to respond to them.  What are those signs?  Serious depression (low mood, pessimism, hopelessness, desperation, anxiety, inner tension, withdrawal, sleep problems), increased drug or alcohol use, recent impulsiveness, taking unnecessary risks, threatening suicide, making a plan (sudden giving away of possessions, purchase of firearm), and unexpected rage or anger. What to do if you recognize these symptoms in someone or fear someone you know may take his or her life?  Take it seriously. Seek professional help.  A person contemplating suicide may not believe her or she can be helped.  You may have to do more—go with them to the ER or a doctor.  If the person is an attorney, call your state bar’s lawyer assistance program.  Call your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  Call the local office of Mental Health America or National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).

The national suicide prevention number is 800-273-TALK.

Finally, here is a link to a good article on this subject.  Yes, Williams made a choice to end his life.  But it was a choice made out desperation and pain, symptoms we must learn to recognize to prevent suicide in the future.

20 Hour Record: Receiving File, Trying Case, Closing File

We here at Abnormal Use are pleased to report on the trial of one of our contributors, Nick Farr.  Earlier this year, GWB lawyer, Rob Corney, set the modern (the 1970’s is not modern) firm record for the least amount of time elapsed between the firm’s retention in a case to the trial of that case at just over 30 days.  That’s now old news. Farr took the record after opening a file, trying the case, and closing said file all in a mind-boggling 20 hours.  And he secured a defense verdict to boot!

How you might ask?  GWB partner David Rheney received a call at 4:00 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon from a client with a new case pending in magistrate’s court.  Apparently, the complaint had been filed in October, served in November, and answered by the defendant in December.  The defendant remembered to tell the insurer that very Tuesday afternoon.  Once Rheney confirmed that there had been no default, we determined that we could amend the answer since we were within the 15 day period. All good things.

However, we then learned that the case was up for trial the very next day! Farr responded that he was up for the task. Armed with nothing more than two grainy black and white photographs , he appeared in court on Wednesday, obtaining a defense verdict in a non-jury trial.  Case closed.  He was pleased to report, as an added bonus, that the plaintiff’s daughter slammed the door in his face on the way out the courtroom.

Joe DiMaggio’s record 56 game hitting streak and Byron Nelson’s record of 11 straight PGA tour victories will be nothing more than ashes on the dust heap of history long before anyone approaches Farr’s record 20-hour Open-Try-Close.

The Lawyers’ Epidemic: Putting A Face On Depression

Singer-songwriter, James Taylor once wrote a song called “Down in the Hole.”  Here are some of its lyrics:

Welcome down underground, hunker down a spell.
Gets to feel like home to me though I know it looks like hell.
Down in the hole, Lord, it’s deep and the sides are steep.
And the nights are long and cold, down in the hole.
Light and love and the world above mean nothing to the mole.
Down in the hole.

James Taylor has called this song his anthem to depression.  He called it that because he has been there: down in the hole.  Taylor knew about the hole, the hole so deep, so dark, sides so steep, with no obvious way out.  He had been there. And, I have been there.  Over 20 years ago, during a time in which I had been feeling down and things had not been going my way at work, I noticed that I was not myself.  I felt down most of the time.  I had lost interest in most activities.  I was more tired and had less energy.  I had trouble thinking and concentrating at work, and I was indecisive.  I would be at work for hours on end and find myself having not accomplished anything at all.  I was more irritable and emotional, particularly at home. I experienced a change in my sleeping patterns that I had never experienced before.  I began to wake up early in the morning around 4:30, and then not be able to go back to sleep.  I thought I was going back to sleep, but I never did – and as a result, I woke up tired.

All of the things that I just mentioned are the warning signs for depression — or being down in the hole, the hole so deep, so dark, so steep, with no obvious way out.

William Styron was an American novelist best known for two controversial novels, the Pulitzer Prize winning The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice.  In 1985, Styron suffered from a serious clinical depression which he would later recall in his popular memoir, Darkness Visible.  In that book, Styron talked about his descent into depression, his attempted suicide, and the triumph of recovery.  Styron described his depression this way:

The decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying – or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity – but moving from pain to pain.  One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.

Styron further described the madness of depression as a storm – a storm of murk.  There are the slowed-down responses, the energy throttled back close to zero.  Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped and drained. What did I do?  I got help.  Ninety percent of those with depression can be successfully treated, and I am a part of that 90 percent.  With the support of my wife and my law firm, and the help of medication, an anti-depressant, I slowly came out of the hole and back into the light.  It was not quick, and it was not easy, but slowly, I climbed out of that hole.  I could not have done it by myself.  No amount of alcohol or vacations or just pulling myself up by my bootstraps would have done it.  I needed help.

My story is not terribly dramatic.  I did not lose my job, and I was never suicidal.  I was never hospitalized, but I was sick.  I got help, and I got better.  At the time I first had the problem, I was an associate at our law firm, Gallivan, White & Boyd, P.A.  About a year after experiencing this problem, and having recovered and climbed out of the hole, I became a partner in our law firm, where I continue to work today. Depression can be treated and you can recover, be successful and productive.

If you remember nothing else from this, remember these three things:

1)         Depression is a medical illness, not a personal weakness;

2)         Depression is a medical problem that can be successfully treated with medication and therapy; and

3)         If you or someone you know has a problem, get help from a medical professional.

Please remember that there is hope, and there is help.  You are not alone.

Revisiting The Lawyers’ Epidemic: How Lawyers Can Avoid The Vulnerability To Depression, Suicide, and Substance Abuse

We have previously reported on the prevalence of depression and substance abuse in the legal profession and why lawyers are vulnerable to these problems.  Let’s turn our focus now to how lawyers can avoid these problems and achieve a balanced life and fulfillment in the practice of law. In 2003, the ABA published a book, Lawyer Life – Finding a Life and a Higher Calling in the Practice of Law, written by the Honorable Carl Horn, III, who at that time was the U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.  Judge Horn later retired from the bench and entered private practice in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Judge Horn’s book addresses the daily problems facing lawyers and the general dissatisfaction many lawyers experience with their profession.  After a thorough examination of the profession and its various problems, including lawyers’ vulnerability to depression and substance abuse, Judge Horn set forth “12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law,” which is based on choices that the individual lawyer can make to enhance professional fulfillment.

1)         Face the Facts

By honestly and openly asking the right questions, we increase our chances toward a balanced, fulfilling professional life.  Do you feel good where you are professionally and personally, and where your life appears to be going?  Let honesty be the rule here.  We must face these facts on a regular basis if our lives are to remain balanced and on-course.  Lawyers who do not ask these kinds of questions, who fail to engage in periodic introspection, are more likely to experience what has been described as “the lingering feeling of emptiness despite material success.”

2)         Establish Clear Priorities

Judge Horn says that if we aim to live balanced lives, lines must be drawn beyond which we are not willing to go, at least not on a regular basis.  He suggests making time with your family a top priority, and to be sure your daily and weekly schedules reflect it.  Clearly, making enough money should be a priority.  However, the proper priority, in a balanced life, that should be given to making enough money, must not be a license for workaholism or what one commentator has called a money-centered world view.  If balance and happiness are among our life goals, we must be vigilant not to allow money to become an end in itself.

3)         Develop and Practice Good Time Management

Whatever time we spend on our work should be arranged for maximum productivity.  Judge Horn suggests that there are at least five areas in which many lawyers could begin to make significant progress simply by paying close attention.  These include better planning; minimizing interruptions by phone or in person; more careful scheduling and planning of meetings; mastering the paper flow; and more thoughtful and efficient delegation.  He suggests that if you live by the rule that the way to get things done right is to do it yourself, get over it.  The time and energy you alone have to give, can and will soon run out.  What you can accomplish by the thoughtful and efficient delegation to others is significantly less limited.  Anything that can be done by others, should be done by them.  Those who learn to delegate effectively, will free up many of their own hours and see their productivity significantly rise.

4)         Implement Healthy Lifestyle Practices

Judge Horn suggests that there is a positive correlation between lawyers who self-reported a sense of subjective well-being and those who engaged in certain habits or practices that are deemed “healthy.”  Those practices include regular exercise, attending religious services, personal prayer, hobbies, engaging in outdoor recreation, pleasure reading, and taking weeks of vacation.

Lawyers with other serious interests, those who successfully resist the “all work and no play” syndrome, also consider themselves the happiest.

5)         Live Beneath Your Means

The focus of Judge Horn’s comments in this section is that unless we actively struggle against it, we will find ourselves engaging in consumer spending that severely limits our ability to choose a healthier, more balanced life.

6)         Don’t Let Technology Control Your Life

How we do this is something each individual must work out.  Some get up early and work, either at home or in their offices, so they can have dinner with their families most evenings.  Others decline to carry cell phones or check email or voicemail much of the time they are away from the office.  Whatever our strategy, the core objective is the same: to establish boundaries that prevent technology from controlling our lives.

7)         Care About Character – And Conduct Yourself Accordingly

Judge Horn exhorts us to vow to do what most of us already know is right: strive to conduct ourselves honorably, which means refusing to lie, cheat or steal, however much pressure we are under, or however profitable the wrong choices may appear to be at that moment.  Do not pad your timesheets; do not tell lies to partners or clients or opposing counsel; do not misrepresent legal authority to judges; do not break your promises.  Do not do anything else that is contrary to the values that you now hold.  If we care about our character, and conduct ourselves accordingly, we will be able to sleep well at night.

8)         “Just Say No” to Some Clients

Judge Horn suggests that we should be scrupulously honest with our clients, including but not limited to, the work we choose to do and how it is billed.  We must be exceedingly careful not to cross the ethical lines and to keep a measure of professional distance, particularly where an objective third party might see our client’s conduct as deceptive.  We should strive to provide wise counsel, which often requires more of a big picture approach to problem solving and conflict resolution.  And sometimes we should “just say no” to some clients.

9)         Stay Emotionally Healthy

Judge Horn suggests that we must seek a healthy balance between our rational, cognitive sides, on the one hand, and our feelings, emotions, heart and imagination on the other.  We must pursue balance not only in how we spend the limited hours of our lives, but also between our outer and inner selves.

10)       Embrace Law as a “High Calling”

If we are to have a realistic hope of regaining professional self-confidence, Judge Horn says we must reaffirm ideals that transcend self-interest, including our individual and profession-wide commitment to the common good.  We must not allow the legal profession to become an amoral, dollar-driven business; indeed, we should not be afraid to make value-based decisions or give advice surrounded in moral conviction.  In short, if we are to find fulfillment in the practice of law, we must embrace law as a high calling.

11)       Be Generous With Your Time and Money

Judge Horn acknowledges that his primary point here is fairly selfish, that being generous with our time and money will make us feel better about our profession and our lives generally.  He notes that those who have been revered for their wisdom and empathy are often people who believed that the very purpose of life is to be of service to others.

12)       Pace Yourself for a Marathon

Striving for professional excellence is a good and worthy goal.  In sharp and important contrast, trying to achieve perfection is not.  Allen Dershowitz wrote a brief reflection which he titled “The Perfect is the Enemy of the Excellent,” in which he observed that “every book, painting, symphony or speech could be improved.  The search for perfection is illusory and has no end.”

We would do well to strive for professional excellence but be wary of any tendency we may have toward perfectionism. The challenges set forth by Judge Horn are those with which we can expect to struggle for the rest of our lives.  Thankfully, they are not impossible struggles and if we diligently take these steps, we can realistically expect to move closer to our goal of finding balance, success and fulfillment in the practice of law.

Revisiting The Lawyers’ Epidemic: Why Lawyers Are Vulnerable To Depression, Suicide, and Substance Abuse

As we have previously reported, studies show that lawyers are three times as likely to suffer from depression as members of other professions.  The rate of substance abuse among lawyers is twice that of the general population.  Suicide is the third leading cause of death among attorneys, after cancer and heart disease.  If you believe the research and studies, we must ask why lawyers are vulnerable to these problems. In a recent article at Legal Cheek, the author, WaitroseLaw, asked: “Does the way that lawyers are encouraged to think and work make them vulnerable to depression?”  The author answers the question by starting with the obvious answers which are common to many other professions, including long hours, heavy workload, and less job security.

But as the author points out, there must be something more insidious at work. First, the author reminds us that lawyers are trained, and often temperamentally inclined, to analyze and pick apart the issues.  However, we then turn that instinct inward.  As the author suggests, “while a bit of self-analysis can be healthy, brooding on your mistakes can be profoundly self-destructive.” Further, the author says that the “prevailing culture of 24/7 availability only makes matters worse.”  And then there is the unwritten expectation that lawyers should put their work and firm first.  WaitroseLaw concludes that if we are predisposed to depression anyway or suddenly face extra personal or professional pressures, “the way we’re encouraged to think and work can be a real problem.”

Some psychologists have suggested that lawyers are more prone than other professions to the dangerous disease of depression because of two personality traits: perfectionism and pessimismAs Lynn Johnson suggests, the legal profession attracts perfectionists and rewards perfectionism.  Perfectionism drives us to excel in college, in law school, and on the job.  But, perfectionism can have a dark side which can lead to a chronic feeling that “nothing is good enough.”  When we make the inevitable mistake, perfectionism magnifies the failure.

Dr. Amiram Elwork, in his work Stress Management for Lawyers, agrees that perfectionism is rewarded in both law school and the practice of law.  However, perfectionism can lead to negative thinking such as “if I don’t do it perfectly, I’m no good; it’s no use; I should just give up” or “I have to do it perfectly and I can’t quit until it’s perfect.”  Such thinking can lead to depression.

As Susan Daicoff pointed out in her article in The Complete Lawyer:

Perfectionism can also lead to an overdeveloped sense of control and responsibility so that individuals believe they are responsible for situations over which they actually do not have complete control.  If things do not turn out well, these individuals often blame themselves, they didn’t work hard enough or they weren’t sufficiently prepared or vigilant.  They then either “beat themselves up” or resolve to “work harder” next time, not acknowledging that some things are out of their control.  This erroneous belief causes a great deal of angst, which is then expressed either as depression or irritability and anger, which are really two sides of the same coin.

(See Daicoff, Susan, “Depression is Prevalent Among Lawyers – But Not Inevitable,” The Complete Lawyer, 12/2/08).

In addition to attracting perfectionists, the legal profession also attracts pessimists.  Recent studies have shown that in all graduate school programs in all professional fields except one, optimists outperform pessimists.  The one exception: law school.  Pessimism helps lawyers excel by making us skeptical of what our clients, our witnesses, opposing counsel, and judges tell us.  It helps us anticipate the worst and thus prepare for it.  However, pessimism can be bad for our health, as it can lead to stress and disillusionment, making us vulnerable to depression.

Let us hear from you.  Why do you think lawyers are vulnerable?  Do you agree with the research?  What else may be involved?

For further resources on lawyers and depression, check out www.lawyerswithdepression.com, a website created by Dan Lukasik, a lawyer from Buffalo, New York.