Monday, February 29, 2016

New Study Confirms Widespread Distress Among Lawyers

A new study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs reveals high levels of depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse among lawyers in the United States.  The results of the study were published in February 2016 by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.  12,825 members of the legal profession were included in the study.

Twenty-eight percent of the study participants experienced symptoms of depression and slightly more than twenty percent met the criteria for alcohol abuse.  Nineteen percent of the participants experienced symptoms of anxiety.  These percentages are significantly higher than comparable percentages for the general population, indicating that lawyers in the United States are significantly more likely than the general population to suffer from depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse. 

Those conditions are manifestations of distress, and the data suggest that the level of distress within the legal profession is getting worse.  The rates of depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse among lawyers reported in the new study are somewhat higher than the rates reported in earlier studies based on data collected roughly twenty years ago.   

The results of the new study are broken down demographically by gender and by years in the practice.  Lawyers in the first ten years of their practice were found to have higher rates of depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse than lawyers who have been practicing longer.  This may suggest that the clinical manifestations of distress among lawyers are more likely the result of increasing levels of stress within the profession, and less likely the result of professional burnout.

The factors contributing to widespread distress within the legal profession are described in my book, Transforming the Practice of Law:   Reclaiming the Soul of the Legal Profession.  The book also contains specific suggestions for reforms that will lead the profession to a better future.  We should all be concerned about the current state of affairs since the legal profession is responsible for administering our system of justice, for ensuring that our society is governed by the rule of law, for and safeguarding our constitutional rights. 

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