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Depression in the Legal Profession — Changing Norms and Concerns

Depression in the Legal Profession — Changing Norms and Concerns

As an attorney, you’re not alone in feeling down — or more accurately, depressed — given the demands of the job.  Numerous industry observers and organizations (such as the American Bar Association) have recognized the severity of the depression issue among working attorneys, particularly those in high-stakes, stressful positions, such as those typical of the Biglaw workplace environment.


Though some early attempts at correcting the problem have begun, there is still significant room for improvement.  Unfortunately, many organizations continue to ignore the depression issue, leaving attorneys in need feeling isolated and unsure of how to move forward with their career despite having to shoulder the burden of so much negative emotion.


It’s not surprising that the legal industry has failed many of its brightest minds.  After all, the pressures imposed by billable hours requirements and hyper-competitive workplace culture can dull even the most enthusiastic attorneys, and increasingly, attorneys have been expected to be on-call at all times of the day thanks to their availability over cell phone networks.  Mental energy is not unlimited, and attorneys often find that they are driven to substance abuse (or into developing a harsh and detached personality) in order to operate under such demanding conditions.  These “survival” choices can put the attorney in an odd position, wherein they are forced to develop into a person that they don’t even recognize as themselves — a person that is not in-line with who they want to be in the future.  This separation — between what they have and what they thought they would have — can lead to a depressive state.  


Here at Garb Jaffe & Associates, our legal recruiters are well aware of the psychological pressures faced by attorneys in today’s industry, and our committed to helping attorneys make smarter choices for their career — choices that not only reflect a consideration of the standard factors relevant to job hunting, such as compensation, but that also of the various mental and emotional factors that could influence their happiness over the long-term.


Feeling concerned about your mental health (or that of your colleagues)?  Let’s take a closer look at the depression issue afflicting our industry.


What Contributes to Depression in the Legal Profession?


There are a variety of factors that contribute to the rather high incidence of depression (and self-medication in the form of substances abuse) in the legal profession.  These include the following.


Attorney Self-Selection

The practice of law tends to attractive driven, competitive individuals.  As such, attorneys who practice unhealthy psychological habits may be particularly vulnerable to becoming depressed by virtue of such habits.


Hyper-Competitive Work Environments

The dirty little secret of the legal industry — the hyper-competitive, overwhelming workplace culture — isn’t quite a secret anymore.  Though today’s attorneys are at least vaguely aware of the sort of workplace culture that they’re signing up for thanks to various information resources both online and offline (recruiters), the extent to which a given workplace is psychologically damaging can still come as a surprise — whether in Biglaw, high-end corporate legal departments, or prominent boutique firms.  If the reality is out-of-comport with attorney expectations, depression is likely to follow.


Unmitigated Exposure to Client Demands and/or Opposing Counsel

The always-on nature of technology serves as a leash for attorneys who might otherwise have been able to avoid a last-minute client-related issue.  Spontaneous requests are a regular part of life for high-end attorneys, and those who prefer a clear split between work and home are likely to find the murky divide unsettling. 


Mental Health Awareness, Initiatives, and Healthy Choices


The first step in resolving — or at the very least, managing — one’s depression (or related mental health problems) is to recognize that there is an issue and to thereafter take steps to treat it and minimize its impact.


Attorneys who have identified that they are suffering from depression can make use of a number of different resources (provided by local, state, and federal bar associations as well as more general public agencies), from mental health counseling to professional substance abuse assistance.  Formal help can be invaluable, but is often ignored by attorneys who have grown used to “fending for themselves.”  It’s critical that you engage fully with whatever resources are at your disposal.


In today’s legal industry, firms and in-house legal departments have increasingly started to setup mental health initiatives and to provide confidential assistance to attorneys who are struggling with balancing their personal life and work life, and who may be suffering from depression as a result.  This organizational assistance may be even more beneficial than the alternatives, as the assistance is likely to be attuned to the particularities of the position (i.e., its unique stresses).


Contact Garb Jaffe & Associates for Recruitment Assistance


Here at Garb Jaffe & Associates, our team of experienced San Francisco Bay Area legal recruiters has spent decades working with attorney-candidates, helping them to secure truly ideal, best-fit positions throughout the state of California.  We are committed to providing a client-oriented experience from beginning-to-end — attorney-candidates appreciate just how comprehensive our recruitment services are, and benefit a great deal from our keen industry analysis and organizational insight, resumé crafting services, interview practice sessions, and follow-through career guidance.


Many attorney-candidates shy away from recruitment services, having mistakenly assumed that legal recruitment assistance will be costly — in truth, however, we offer our services at no cost to attorney-candidates.  Instead, we are paid by organizations (firms and in-house legal departments) to find skilled candidates and match them with the right position.


If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you make the transition to a new and exciting legal position, then we encourage you to contact Garb Jaffe at your earliest convenience.  Call us at 310-207-0727 or complete an intake form through our website to schedule a meeting with a member of our team.


We look forward to speaking with you.

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