Recent studies and statistics provide evidence of the problems Florida lawyers are facing. Just a fraction of the available data shows these issues can no longer be the elephant in the room. Lawyers lead the nation with the highest incidence of depression. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than nonlawyers.1 The suicide rate of lawyers is double that of the general population.2 The ABA estimates 18 percent of all U.S. lawyers suffer from problem drinking (which is double the national average).3 Plain and simple, our profession is suffering; too many lawyers are generally unhappy. Within our Florida Bar membership alone (pursuant to the most recent membership survey in 2015):
33 percent believe high stress is a significant challenge within the profession.
32 percent believe balancing family and work is a significant challenge within the profession.
79 percent believe the legal profession is becoming a less desirable career.
36 percent have considered/are considering a different career.
92 percent experience stress.
43 percent experience a great deal of stress.
67 percent report taking two weeks or less of vacation per year.
38 percent report taking one week or less of vacation per year.
How Did This Happen? We are a profession of “fixers” and problem solvers, and with that comes an inherent amount of stress and anxiety. We deal with high emotions from our clients and co‐workers. Law is adversarial by nature, and the results of our professional efforts are often beyond our control. Clients rarely, if ever, call us to share a good day; instead, we are generally the first line of defense in dealing with their problems and crises. These elements are further exacerbated by personality traits that dominate our profession, such as our “warrior mentality,” self‐reliance, and perfectionism. Commencing in law school, we are taught to use words and trial skills to frame our arguments and defend our positions. This warrior mentality persists in law firm cultures, which often rewards a win‐at‐all‐costs philosophy. This provides attorneys with the unique ability to deny we have any problems and successfully convince others of the same. We must change this philosophy from the ground up.
Attorneys are trained to anticipate everything that can go wrong. This forward‐looking, but often pessimistic, outlook is a component of what our profession deems prudent. In fact, the legal profession is unique in that pessimists out‐perform optimists. However, it’s hard to turn off this pessimistic outlook in our everyday life, and what makes for a good lawyer does not necessarily make for a happy human being.
Even worse is that the individualistic nature of our profession seems to cause a reluctance to seek help for depression and mental‐health issues due to concerns of stigma or appearing weak.
This is where The Florida Bar comes in. It is time to start tackling these issues head‐on by openly discussing and thinking more holistically about mental illness in the legal profession. The statistical evidence cited above underscores a need for the expansion of attorney‐specific prevention and treatment interventions. Without the right resources, coping strategies, and aid for our physical and mental health, this crisis will not improve. That is why The Florida Bar is focused on giving much‐needed aid to our lawyers.
Our speakers will each give a dynamic 15‐20‐minute TED‐style talk on one area of mental or physical health to offer solutions that our members can incorporate into their lives to begin to improve their mental health and wellbeing.
Dori Foster-MoralesThe Most Important Conversation
Justice C. Alan LawsonTechniques to Live a Healthier, Happier Life, and be a More Effective and Efficient Practitioner
Ronald P. Ponzoli, Jr., J.D.Happiness for Attorneys Guaranteed or Your Misery Back
Mark Eiglarsh, J.D.The Yoga Remedy: How Mindfulness and Yoga Will Change Your Law Practice
Christine Duignan, J.D.Mind Over Matter: Understanding the neuroscience of ‘Stressed out’ and 5 techniques to Shift to a state of ‘Wellbeing'
Ellen B. Cohen, J.D.What Makes Lawyers Happy
Lawrence S. Krieger, J.D.Mindfulness: An Evidence‐Based Approach to Reducing Stress, Improving Your Practice, and Living Your Life
Stacey Dougan, Associate Professional Counselor, JD, LLM, MS, APC, NCCClosing Remarks