Lawyers: The Stress and Death Of It All

Lawyers: The Stress and Death Of It All

Life & Death in the Fast Lane – Stress & Billing Practices

I recently shared a section of the book I have in the works, “Fire the Lawyer.” The post, “Stop Being Ripped Off by Lawyers” reveals the background of client over-billing and how the big firms demands so much of their young associates.

Law firms have a culture of keeping things under ground, a conspiracy of silence.

But what I did not share is the devastation to those young lawyers, to their families and others emanating from the big firms’ demands of 2,000 or 2,100, or as much as 3,000 billable hours from their associates, per year. The practice remains unspoken, even denied. Why? It’s all about the money.

In this past Sunday, the New York Times Eilene Zimmerman wrote a powerful piece addressing the failed health of her husband, a lawyer who succumbed to drug use. It cost him his life. His final phone call, while dying, was a work-related conference call. He died before he could bill his time.

Here are some relevant quotes from Eilene Zimmerman, now a single mom whose kids lost their hero, their dad.

The quotes below are from the New York Times, Sunday Business, July 16, 2017, The Lawyer, The Addict, by Eilene Zimmerman

“Professional stress also plays a role, said Dr. Daniel Angres, an associate professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Law firms have a culture of keeping things under ground, a conspiracy of silence,” he said. “There is a desire not to embarrass people, and as long as they are performing, it’s easier to just avoid it.”

“When [Peter] graduated from law school, the starting salary of his first job in law was five times what he had earned as a chemist. But our lives were not suddenly easy. Although we had enough money, Peter’s work schedule gave him little time to enjoy the fruits of his labor.”

“One Christmas Day early in his career, Peter’s boss phoned from a ski lift in Aspen, Colo., to make sure Peter was going to finish a brief by that evening. He did, skipping dinner.”

“”I can’t do this forever,” Peter often told me. “I can’t keep going like this for the next 20 years.”

“Yet for almost a decade as an associate at various law firms, Peter displayed no photos of his children or me in his office. When I asked him why – particularly when other lawyers seemed to have photos in theirs – Peter told me he didn’t want the partners to see him as “distracted by my family.”

They are the canaries in the coal mine.

“Some research shows that before they start law school, law students are actually healthier than the general population, both physically and mentally.”

“In addition, he said, law students generally start school with their sense of self and their values intact. But in his research, he said, he has found that the formal structure of law school starts to change that.”

“Rather than hew to their internal self, students begin to focus on external values, he said, like status, comparative worth and competition.”

“Academics often study law students because students are considered a bellwether for the profession. “They are the canaries in the coal mine,” Dr. Benjamin said.”

“Will Miller, the lawyer and former methamphetamine addict, said that in his experience, law school encouraged students to take emotion out of their decisions. “When you start reinforcing that with grades and money, you aren’t just suppressing your emotions,” he said. “You’re fundamentally changing who you are.”

“Students also shed some of their idealism. Within the first year of law school, students’ motivation for studying law and becoming lawyers shifted from “helping and community-oriented values to extrinsic, rewards-based values”.”

Gordon’s Final Thoughts

Is your lawyer one of the canaries in the coal mine?

Just remember, it’s all about The Write Choices.

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