In a country where the depression rate is ten times higher today than it was in 1960, lawyers sit at the unenviable zenith of depressed professionals. Of all professionals in the United States, lawyers suffer from the highest rate of depression after adjusting for socio-demographic factors, and they are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from major depressive disorder than the rest of the employed population. Lawyers are also at a greater risk for heart disease, alcoholism and drug use than the general population. In one sample of practicing lawyers, researchers found that 70% were likely to develop alcohol-related problems over the course of their lifetime, compared to just 13.7% of the general population; of these same lawyers, 20% to 35% were "clinically distressed," as opposed to only 2% of the general population. With such disproportionate levels of unhappiness, it is not surprising that the profession itself is suffering. Alcoholism or chemical dependency is the cause of the majority of lawyer discipline cases in the United States, and a growing disaffection with the practice of law pushes 40,000 lawyers to leaxve the profession every year.
Unfortunately, these problems afflict not only practicing lawyers, but law students as well. While there has been less research on law students than on lawyers, a growing body of literature shows that they too exhibit signs of psychological distress, including elevated levels of depression, stress, and anxiety. One study found that 44% of law students meet the criteria for clinically significant levels of psychological distress. Law students also report significantly higher levels of alcohol and drug use than college and high school graduates of the same age, and their alcohol use increases between their second and third year of law school. Moreover, these problems seem unique to law students and are not generalizable to other overworked populations of graduate students. For instance, one study showed that compared to medical students in a similarly demanding academic situation, law students have significantly higher levels of stress, stress symptoms, and alcohol abuse.
Todd D. Peterson & Elizabeth W. Peterson,
Stemming the Tide of Law Student Depression: What Law Schools Need To Learn from the Science of Positive Psychology,
Yale J. Health Pol'y L. & Ethics
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjhple/vol9/iss2/2