REGARDING LAWYER WELL-BEING
By H. Dickson Burton, J.
One of my early senior colleagues in an east coast law firm bragged about working so hard he rarely had time to go home to his family, even on weekends. And he often did not go home. Pretty much every single day he paused his grueling and (by some measures) successful practice, taking time only to go across the street to the same restaurant and have the very same prime rib and vodka martini meal. For both lunch and dinner. His apparent success in the office was held up by many as a standard to be emulated. But at what cost? Over time, his victories at work seemed pyrrhic as his physical health and his family fell apart.
My colleague’s story and pattern are not unique, and all of us have either lived similar patterns or observed them in others close to us, whether the addictions or vices include excessive work, excessive martinis, excessive video games, or any variety of alternative unhealthy escapes. Indeed, many of us began working as lawyers during a time when working excessive hours, followed by equally unhealthy eating, drinking, etc. was not only routine, it was held up as the objective. In many offices that may still be the case. Other attorneys suffer serious cases of anxiety, stress, and depression not just from lifestyle choices but also from various forces known and unknown.
In the bar’s September eBulletin, I wrote briefly about the challenges we face in our profession relating to our well-being and that of our colleagues. I noted recent studies showing a much higher rate of depression, problem drinking, job dissatisfaction, and other related difficulties among attorneys as opposed to the general population. The response I have received since that message was published is both surprising and encouraging. Many have reached out thanking me for even raising the issue, as brief as my comments were. Others have contacted me expressing a willingness to help and in some cases to share their own stories with others. Thanks to all for your positive response and desire to help.
The response from members of the bar to my eBulletin message also confirms the need to talk about these issues and to face and address them head-on as a profession. It has been said that to be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy...