"Law school may be the first time many of these students confront the stressophilia environment, but unfortunately it's not going to be the last if they stay in the profession." Joe Patrice, "If You're In Law School, You're Probably Depressed," in Abovethelaw.com, January 15, 2015. Here is the article.
A recent survey of Yale Law School students found that 70% of those responding indicated facing mental-health issues while in law school. At Abovethelaw.com, Joe Patrice, a trained lawyer, first questions the study's methodology.
But then, he moves on to where we want his analysis to be. That's on the reality that both research and anecdotal evidence have pointed to an unusually high rate of mental illness, as well as substance abuse and suicide, among lawyers. What the Yale survey indicates is that this pattern seems to begin in law school. Or, as Patrice notes, perhaps even before.
Patrice lists all the usual supsects for the mental illness. They include the pressure-cooker competitive environment, the persona of being stressed is expected, personality traits of an overachiever, and the broken clerkship process.
But the takeaway Patrice provides and that we notice is his observation that, hey, this kind of extreme stress will be typical post-graduation. The demands don't ease up. They may stay the same. Or they may get worse.
Those who have looked into lawyer mental illness, substance abuse and suicide cite factors such as:
- Lots of responsibility but little control. Partners, judges, juries, the law itself, opposing counsel, clients and limited resources tend to call many of the shots.
- Perfectionistic or over-achieving personalities. A useful read on the syndrome and tips for managing the compulsion is "Better than Perfect" by Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo.
- The adversarial nature of the law. That makes for winners and losers. The growth of mediation might lessen that.
- Being continually exposed to the dark side of human nature. Shakespeare's comedies are followed by tragedies. That's because the bard was keenly aware that mankind is "cankered in the grain."
Given that the pressures of a life in the law aren't, as Patrice explictly says, going to let up, law students can frame those three years as a grand experiment. There they can do a/b/c/d and so on testing on what can center them. In my own search I have found mindfulness effective. It actually can reconfigure brain wiring (neuroplasticity). That's why Silicon Valley players are embracing it. Here is the coverage on that in Wired.