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The following discussion thread excerpt is from a recent law.com online seminar, “Stress, Depression & Substance Abuse: Is This Where Our Legal Community Is Heading?,” moderated by Michael Cohen, Director of Florida’s Lawyer Assistance Inc. Mr. Cohen will moderate a follow-up seminar, “Stress, Substance Abuse and the Legal Community” on January 8-12, 2001. For more information on these programs and other law.com seminar offerings please visit http://www.law.com/seminars. MICHAEL COHEN, DIRECTOR OF FLORIDA’S LAWYER ASSISTANCE INC, FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. What are the forces in the legal profession which cause some members to succumb to depression, stress, burnout, and addiction? BONNIE WATERS, LAWYERS CONCERNED FOR LAWYERS, BOSTON, MASS. Most of us, and certainly those who are practicing law today, are all too familiar with the forces that contribute to depression, burn-out and addiction. The pace of practicing law today is rapid, uncompromising and demanding. There is literally nowhere you can go to get away from your office. With lap tops, cell phones, beepers, and fax machines clients expect immediate response and if they don’t get it, they will threaten to take their business elsewhere because it is interpreted that the lawyer really doesn’t care. As a managing partner said to me the other day, cases that took three months a number of years ago are expected to take three weeks today. Billable hours, strong competition — more lawyers competing for the same amount of business — and the pressures of client demands … a culture that says in order to be a successful lawyer you must choose between your practice and your family; there is little room for both. An article in yesterday’s Boston Globe talked about the job of law firm summer recruits. Not too heavy a work load, lots of perks, social activities and $2,400 a week. Not a realistic picture of what it is really like to practice law today except for the pay. More work, more pay, more service compared to less free time, less family time and little or no quiet time. Not a great formula for a healthy profession. All of the issues discussed center around an individual’s self-control and self-discipline. I am a partner who manages a satellite office. My attorneys and staff are expected to bill/complete work per unwritten guidelines. However, I also allow them an opportunity to vent their stress/frustrations, etc. They take time off from the day, we go for a long lunch once in a while, even catch an hour of fishing while on the road. Most of us are married, and I would expect the family duties to take priority over the business (but not by much). It is up to individuals and their significant others to cope with the day-to-day job stresses and to seek out the good things in life for which we must all be thankful. I think it goes without saying that it is the individual’s obligation to seek out mechanisms to cope with stress and depression. At the same time (and hearkening back to yesterday’s conversation), as lawyers we tend to view stress as a good thing and depression as a weakness, instead of recognizing that both are symptoms of a life out of balance. The billable hour system, in particular, creates the monster that if you take time off for yourself, or go to the gym at lunch, or work out before you come to the office, you have “lost” valuable billable time that you have to make up sometime before the end of the year. MICHAEL COHEN Thanks, Michael and Katrina. I think Bonnie has done an excellent job of listing some of the aspects of practicing today which lend themselves to the creation of stressed out, addicted lawyers. I also think Katrina’s point that this is not a profession that rewards requests for help is important. However, I take some hope in Larry Krieger’s message of yesterday that he is beginning to see the slightest crack in the law school ethic of “don’t show weakness”, as well as Michael McDonald’s post that his firm encourages some quality-of-life activities within the context of the firm. I think this goes right to the heart of this week’s question about where the profession is heading. Are we really seeing a systemic change or are “we” (LAP/quality of life/holistic/this seminar, etc.) still the fringe element? Any ideas? LAWRENCE KRIEGER, DIRECTOR OF CLINICAL EXTERNSHIP PROGRAMS, FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LAW, TALLAHASSEE, FLA. I agree with the earlier comment about not much to say here because it’s pretty depressing — the institutionalized obstacles to balance are formidable these days, particularly in the large firms. People more and more treat lawyers like machines or commodities to gain the most from — and this includes some managing partners as well as many clients. And, of course, sad to say, many lawyers look at clients more as funding sources than as people with real problems, and at themselves as well as production centers of sorts. The bright spots are many as well, though — the many partners like the one we’ve heard from; the large segment of lawyers in public and corporate settings that have generally lower stress levels; and the many lawyers who take a principled stance when they have to in the face of firm pressure, by either working to change firm practices or moving on. This is a high price to pay (and stressful as well!), but, as a friend says, “If nothing changes, nothing changes”. My immediate concern is that students and new lawyers be given a clear picture of the different career choices, and their attendant costs vs. benefits. Pretty much, as the salary goes up, the demands go up (makes sense!). So people have to be supported to get really clear on their personal definition of “success”, and then run their lives as if they really believe that matters. There’s hard research, by the way, showing that the American Dream (lots of money and visibility) as one’s primary goal and motivation is a failed principle — high income simply does not correlate in any particular way with the experience of well-being. The same finding has held true for studies of lawyers. On the last point Mike raised, though, change I believe will be quite slow, and the movements for change are still “fringelings,” partly because many folks at the “top” of the profession, in a variety of roles, are vested in the status quo (not necessarily a bad thing), and because there are many, many shock troopers coming out of law schools waiting to work big hours for big dollars whenever someone decides they’ve had enough. So change, as is generally the case, will be very slow. Any of us who work with the profession toward these ends is probably aware of the resistance; I know I am, and I understand it as a component of human nature. MICHAEL MCDONALD My father still practices law after 42 years. He started in the “good old days” where courts were closed during the summer, opposing attorneys would regularly meet after hours for drinks, discussion, cards, etc. — no fax machines, no portable computers, no word processors, no cellular phones and no pagers for the office to interrupt one’s thoughts, activities, etc. During vacations, he would call in to the office, once in a while — but rarely. On my last “vacation,” I was regularly in touch with my office by cell phone and computer. I also spoke with clients and e-mailed them. I even received a phone call while my family and I visited the Holocaust Museum. Of course, I could have turned off my cell phone, but I chose not to do so at that time. My point is, we can escape and we should, if we believe we need the time. During my father’s time, he and his colleagues did not have the interruptions we now have. But he and his colleagues also chose to work many hours, come home late and not have dinner with the kids. Today, if we choose to stay late at the office, we feel pressure to be with the family and have dinner with them. We can escape, if we choose to do so. The system of hourly billing has not changed, but the pace has. Individuals must figure out how to pace themselves, work more efficiently and stay sane. ANONYMOUS The problem of finding balance is like so much else in life — your creativity and determination are essential to solving it, and there are plenty of ways to fix the problems if you are determined. I am a 44-year-old female partner in a high-stress trial practice in one of those large law firms, and I have been able to balance work and family through cooperation of my partners and associates and flexibility on my own part. PHILIP LYON, JACK, LYON & JONES, NASHVILLE, TENN. Law firms are slow to learn, but they do every once in a while. Just as affirmative action did not work until it was included as part of business goals, balance-of-life issues will not be considered important until they are part of the evaluation/bonus program. I would much prefer a lawyer to stay around for many years rather than lead the pack in billable hours for a few years and then crash and burn. Many times they bring down the house as well as themselves with malpractice claims and/or lost clients. I use, and have used for years, an approach to convince myself of my non-importance. When it looks bleak as all get-out, I get up and walk out of my office for the day. I am always surprised that the office is still there the next day, and usually things are much easier and clearer. It is hard to admit that we are just a passing fancy in this life and do not make any earth-shattering revelations very often, if ever. It is only when we learn to take ourselves non-seriously that we can make any real contributions to our clients and partners.

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