Why Are Lawyers So Blue?

David Lat, founder of Above the Law, recently surveyed working attorneys on their happiness levels. He has a few ideas for why the age-old cliché holds true.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: Why are lawyers known as some of the most depressed professionals?

David Lat: I do think that law tends to be a profession that can give rise to depression and other forms of mental illness and other difficulties and stress-related illness. We did a survey recently on the site where we asked our readers to mention which various stress-related, work-related illnesses they had. And the results were really shocking. I can't remember the exact numbers, but a very high percentage of the people had suffered from depression, had suffered from insomnia, had suffered from various ailments. I think it's true; it is a demanding profession. You are constantly on call. We recently posted an email from a partner at a law firm that was sent around to all the people at the law firm saying, "You need to be checking your email constantly." I think the partner said something like, "Unless you are asleep or in a tunnel, you should be reading your email." There's this expectation that you're going to be available 24/7. And that takes a toll.

The other thing about the law – and I think one of the things that I don't miss about it – is you are essentially paid to worry about other people's problems. You are paid to almost be a stress ball. People are going through something horrible, whether it is a contractual dispute or a divorce or being accused of a crime. And they give their problems to you so they don't have to worry about them. And so there's this thinking of well, my lawyer is handling that. And it can be very stressful because you are think well, how I do on this particular project could determine whether or not my client goes to jail for many years, or whether or not my client gets enough money from this divorce settlement, or whether or not my client/company ends up on the receiving end of a multibillion dollar judgment. So it's a very stressful profession. So between the stress and the long hours and the fact that you're often dealing with people who are in a state of conflict, it all adds up.

Recorded on November 6, 2009