Grand Traverse-Leelanau-Antrim Bar Association

The Depression Epidemic in the Legal Industry

Last month was suicide awareness month, and while I wish I had thought to pen this for the September newsletter, it is better late that never.  Nothing is more jarring than to receive an email that a colleague, maybe one I did not even know personally, but a fellow attorney and industry professional nonetheless, has taken their own life.

I think this brings about a poignant time to discuss the very real pressures we as attorneys face in this industry on a daily basis, and the higher rate of depression amongst lawyers than society in general… some statistics report 3 to 4 times more.

The truth is that in most of our practices, clients are not coming to us on the happiest days of their lives.  Clients come to us when they are faced with a problem that they think is insurmountable, one they cannot fix on their own.  This is what we are, problem solvers.  This is true even in transactional type practices, as we help our clients pre-plan (such as with estate planning or contract drafting) for every permutation of what could go wrong.  So, on a daily basis, we are dealing with the worst of the worst and dooms day scenarios; people worried about losing their families, their money, their careers, and more.

If you add to the mix the long hours that are often the status quo in this industry, and then the acrimonious nature of litigation where we have to fight with the other side, the other attorney and sometimes even our own client, this is a perfect storm.  Some days it feels like all eyes are looking at you to solve all the problems of the world.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of my profession, and feel honored that I have the skill set, education and experience to help people who are at their worst time and place in life to find a way out.  We are charged with the duty of promoting justice and that is an awesome responsibility.  That is probably why we see a serious upturn as compared to society in general in depression.  We are in an adversarial career that is focused on winning and working at an almost inhuman rate to do that.  All too often the wins we achieve, even though they may have a profound affect not only on one person’s life, but sometimes creating and clarifying laws that could affect millions of lives, these wins are often short-lived and overshadowed as almost the next minute we have to turn to fighting the next fire.

With this in mind, I would urge everyone to take a pause, watch the sun set or the tree tops dance in the wind, and look to your fellow colleague and ask if they are ok.  When our colleagues say they are too busy to get lunch or coffee, offer a helping hand or a listening ear that could be a silent cry for help.  It is all of our duty to look out for our own mental wellness and remember to take time for ourselves, but it is also our responsibility to look out for each other and help where we can.  

This article by the ABA, published last January makes some very relevant points.

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About the author:  Lori B. Schmeltzer is the owner of Schmeltzer Law PLLC, Traverse City's Divorce Lawyer (  Lori practices primarily in family law, and has a background in business management and marketing, having earned her Bachelor's in Business Administration from Walsh College in Troy before attending law school.   She has served on the GTLA board for two years, is an active member and committee chair with the Traverse Area Chamber of Commerce's FUSE (formerly Young Professionals) organization, and is a proud Rotarian. 

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