Boston, We Have A Problem: The Data On Mental Health And Practicing Is In
Massachusetts has a lot going for it. Harvard is there, for one. They also have…
Massachusetts has a lot going for it. Harvard is there, for one. They also have that funny little way of pronouncing the word “yard” like they’re throwing it from their mouths. And uhm… I’m sure there’s something else, right? That third thing may be just what it takes to make practicing in New England a bit more bearable. Because folks are having a hard time logging those billables at the moment. From Reuters:
Massachusetts lawyers are burned out and experiencing elevated rates of anxiety and depression, according to a study released Wednesday that adds to a growing body of research documenting mental health problems within the legal profession.
Researchers with the Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and NORC at the University of Chicago surveyed 4,450 Massachusetts attorneys last year for the latest study. Across the state, 77% reported feeling burned out, 26% reported high rates of anxiety, 21% reported depression and 7% reported suicidal thoughts — all higher than average for U.S. adults.
The survey also found high rates of alcohol consumption, with 42% of respondents reporting unhealthy or hazardous use.
Now, barring they didn’t make an methodological error and only got the opinions of people who were basically crying out for help — say lawyers looking to go see Pagliacci or Adult Swifties™, for example, that’s a healthy sample size of people to be that down bad. And while lawyers have had disproportionately high rates of drinking for a while now, a 42% self-reported rate of unhealthy or hazardous use is too close to comfort to half.
One outlier may have colored the data: COVID-19. That said, the results are likely still worth heeding.
“Almost half indicated they considered leaving their legal employer, and 40% reported considering leaving the legal profession entirely in the last three years due to burnout or stress,” according to the study, Lawyer Well-Being in Massachusetts.
The timing of the survey, which was conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, likely contributed to higher rates of reported burnout and anxiety, the authors said. But it was consistent with earlier findings that lawyers have higher rates of substance abuse and mental health problems than the general population and other professions.
This gleams some advice even non-Massachusetts based firms may want to keep in mind: it may be in their own best interests to chill on strict return-to-office policies. Who really wants to add gossiping into the depressive brew at this point? Burning through associates may have been a viable economic tactic at one point, but with burnout rates like these, your bottom dollar could get singed too.
Burnout, anxiety and depression was especially high among minority groups, the new Massachusetts study found. The burnout rate among Black and Hispanic lawyers was 86% and 88%, respectively, compared to 77% among white lawyers. Attorneys with childcare responsibilities also reported higher rates of burnout.
The survey found that nearly half of the lawyers who screened positive for depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts did not seek mental health care. The researchers attributed that to stigma surrounding mental health issues, as well as time constraints and fear of professional reprisals.
The fear of professional reprisal is palpable — remember the guy who wanted to get a woman canned for “sitting on her ass” during maternity leave? The partner is dead, long live the firm mentality is, oddly enough, great for the firm and very hard on partners and associates. They’re the ones in the oak box, after all. Thankfully, the study ends on a pragmatic note.
Lawyers who reported having a supportive work environment where they are treated with kindness and respect, given flexibility and have access to mentorship had higher satisfaction with life and lower rates of burnout, anxiety and depression, the study found.
So, Boston lawyers and whoever else the shoe fits for, you work all those hours for the firm, why not work on yourself a little? Take a day or two off, talk to a therapist — maybe even find one online. And hey, if that means lateraling to a firm that treats you like an actual person, so be it.
Burnout. Depression. Red Flags Abound In Massachusetts Lawyer Study [Reuters]
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and by tweet at @WritesForRent.