Biglaw is an incredibly demanding workplace environment, and associates continue to struggle with mental health issues due in large part to all of that stress. This is the reality in Biglaw firms across the globe, and according to a recently published study, the characteristics that define the perfect associate — those who bill around the clock and seek perfection in their work — tend to be predictors of suicidal ideation.
The study (available here), sponsored by the California Lawyers Association and the D.C. Bar, was based on a survey of almost 2,000 lawyers in California and Washington, D.C., and conducted by Krill Strategies and the University of Minnesota Department of Psychiatry in 2020. The study is the first of its kind, drawing data-backed connections between the legal profession’s stressors and thoughts of suicide among lawyers (including those who work at firms, in-house at corporate legal departments, within government agencies, and more).
Here are some of the study’s findings, as noted in the American Lawyer:
[L]awyers who reported high stress levels were 22 times more likely to experience thoughts of suicide than lawyers with low stress, while lawyers with moderate stress were more than five times as likely. Lawyers who were highly “overcommitted” to their work—characterized by researchers as an all-encompassing level of devotion, a sentiment reflected in recent American Lawyer surveys of partners and associates—were more than twice as likely to consider suicide than those who maintained boundaries with their work.
On aggregate, 8.5% of lawyers surveyed reported suicidal thoughts, compared to 4.2% of the U.S. population age 18 and over. Junior associates, young attorneys, and attorneys working more than 60 hours per week were particularly at risk, and suicidal ideation was more common among racial and ethic minorities than among white attorneys. Bucking a broader societal trend, men in the legal profession were slightly more likely to experience suicidal ideation than women.
Patrick Krill, the law firm mental health consultant who co-authored the study, said, “We need to understand the full scope of consequences that can accompany the high stress of the profession and take it more seriously, because we know the strong association with suicidality.”
What are the leaders of these firms doing about these problems? Do they even care, so long as productivity expectations are met? While Biglaw firms have recommitted themselves to health and wellness in the wake of the pandemic, Krill suggests that they incorporate “boundary audits” into their programming, to ensure that associates aren’t overwhelmed with their workloads. Rather than simply assisting attorneys with the resultant stress that goes hand in hand with the intensity of their work, Krill believes it needs to be a two-way street. Biglaw firms must try to “reduce the amount of unnecessary inbound stress while giving lawyers access to more resources and tools to be healthy,” he said.
If you or someone you know is depressed and in need of help, please call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (988) or a lawyer assistance program in your state. You can also get in touch with someone at the Lawyers Depression Project. Remember that you are loved, so please reach out if you need assistance.
Highly Stressed Lawyers 22 Times More Likely to Consider Suicide, Study Finds [American Lawyer]
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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