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One Saturday night in July 2002, Ben Kerschberg decided the lawyer’s life was not for him. The 30-year-old went home to his condo in Greenville, S.C., drank nine cans of Miller Genuine Draft, watched some DVDs, went into his bedroom, swallowed 96 Sominex and 100 Klonopin, and went to sleep. Amazingly, he did not die. Since his rescue by three Greenville police officers 44 hours later, the Yale Law School graduate has taken less drastic steps to exit the rat race. He left his associate job at Greenville’s Wyche, Burgess, Freeman & Parham to chronicle his battle with depression. Nine months later, Kerschberg published “Piercing the Veil: To Hell and Back — A Lifetime on the Tightrope of Suicide” (The Writers’ Collective, September 2003). The book began as a therapeutic exercise. But now it is more than that. It has become a tool in his crusade to remove the stigma from depression and encourage young law students and lawyers to explore alternatives to the partnership path. It is a path Kerschberg knows well. Since his undergrad days at the University of Virginia, he has put in time at Sidley & Austin, Clifford Chance, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. Reflecting on his time in the upper tiers of the legal profession, Kerschberg said in a telephone interview that “most law students are lemmings. I was certainly one myself.” When he sees friends working at law firms, “it’s actually rather frightening … . Most are unhappy with what they’re doing.” Only a few of the lawyers he has met are truly doing what they want. One of those was Supreme Court guru Carter Phillips, at the firm now known as Sidley Austin Brown & Wood. After UVA, Kerschberg interned for a summer in Sidley’s Washington, D.C., office. He met Phillips across a volleyball net during a firm picnic in Maryland. Later Kerschberg approached Phillips about working as his legal assistant in the appellate section. Phillips agreed. Nine years later, after reading the book, Phillips, who still exchanges frequent e-mails with Kerschberg, said, “The thing that is most unnerving is that he was here as long as he was and worked as happily as he did while he had these incredibly dark feelings looming over him. … I was clueless.” There were some signs of Kerschberg’s unhappiness. After accepting a summer internship with U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan in D.C., he took off two days into the internship and instead spent the summer driving cross-country. Though his classmates at Yale hailed him as a renegade hero upon his return, Kerschberg knew it would not translate to a resume. He spent his second summer in New York at Clifford Chance, but the Big Apple was not for him. After graduation, he clerked for Circuit Court Judge Gilbert Merritt Jr., in Nashville, then headed west to Silicon Valley. Following a year as an associate in Wilson Sonsini’s corporate practice, he took a position as an industry analyst in the West Coast offices of Fairfax, Va.-based software company webMethods Inc. A year later, Kerschberg returned to his childhood roots in South Carolina and joined Wyche, a 35-lawyer firm where he did everything from contracts to criminal defense work. Then he failed the South Carolina bar exam, and things started to crash. His anxieties and depression became overwhelming, pushing him to binge on pills and beer. After his suicide attempt and hospitalization, Kerschberg returned to Wyche, but found the stigma of suicide too overwhelming. So he left the firm last January and began bartending at a local restaurant, a night job that let him finish transforming the diary he had been keeping since that night in July into “Piercing the Veil.” After years spent pursuing his big-league lawyer dreams, Kerschberg said he loved bartending. Though no longer much of a drinker himself, he found it brought a new professional interest into his life: counseling others who are depressed. He has deferred a two-year fellowship in mental health and the law at Yale to promote the book. Kerschberg plans to donate all royalties to the Marshall I. Pickens Hospital, where he spent two weeks in therapy after his suicide attempt. “It’s really extraordinary what people will tell bartenders.” He added, “I know my own story. I was in here in those same suits, and I wonder what veil they’re wearing.”

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