Sunday, 6 March 2011

Lawyer Stress - Part 2

This is a follow up to my January 26 post below regarding health issues facing lawyers and the stress lawyers face in their work. This followed the death of the second lawyer in Whitby Ontario that month with the first from a heart attack and the second being from a brain aneurysm. Some of the comments to that post (not all were published) seem to indicate that there is not much understanding from people in general about what it is like to be a lawyer or have a private law practice. The suggestion is that lawyers who may charge $300 or more for an hour of their time have little to worry about compared to the average working person.
The reality is that running a small law firm is like running a small business with very high overhead. What is grossed in income is a lot more than the net income and most lawyers who are not on salary are struggling week to week to pay their bills. My point is not to make people feel sorry for "the poor lawyers" but to get a sense of the stresses we face. There is constant financial pressure on lawyers to meet their payrolls, rent, insurance charges, equipment lease charges, tax obligations and many other expenses. Lawyers also feel pressure to live up to an image of success and try to appear successful with nice cars, homes, clothes,providing for their families, etc. Many lawyers live beyond their means and while this may be fun sometimes, it increases the stress and financial pressure on the lawyer.
The financial stress combined with the stress of the work is far more than most businesses and occupations. Lawyers who work for clients have to deal with their clients' problems and generally try to take the stress away from the client in their efforts to solve client problems. It is easy to feel the stress of the many clients which compounds the personal stress of their own lives and problems. Lawyers often feel overburdened by the time requirements of serving clients and if they go to court that itself can be very stressful and in time lead to burnout.
Lawyers have higher rates of addiction, mental health problems, suicide and other problems compared to the general population. There are services for lawyers in Canada and in Ontario there is the Ontario Lawyer Assistance Program (OLAP) Unfortunately, lawyers, like most people are generally afraid to admit that they need help and to seek it when it is needed. Lawyers feel they can solve their own problems just like they solve their clients' problems but generally they can not. Lawyers tend to feel shame and embarrassment in seeking help believing that they are supposed to be perfect and not need it.
I have taken steps in my life and in the organization of my law firm to reduce stress and to stay healthy and I encourage everyone, not just lawyers to do the same in their lives. Exercise is a key part of that and I joined the new Trent University Athletics facility to increase my own physical activity level. I have been too busy to go there enough but I am trying. I have a long way to go in my efforts to stay alive and well. I do find a great deal of satisfaction in my 30 year career (so far) as a lawyer and I hope to continue for some time.


Anonymous said...

Lawyers also feel pressure to live up to an image of success and try to appear successful with nice cars, homes, clothes,providing for their families,
That was enough for me not to feel sympathy...

While I don't discount lawyer stress, this also sounds like whining from your part.

Murray H. Miskin said...

What may not be clear enough from what I said is that lawyers have problems, in part, because they are under pressure to always appear successful and show no weakness. This causes many to go into debt beyond their means to keep up an image to society and even to their family. The need to fit the success image also keeps them from seeking help when help is needed. That is why I encourage lawyers to contact OLAP which provides confidential assistance.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you concerning the premise of your post, but in saying that, all occupations are stressful now, the keep up with the Jones aspect with dual income families, black berries for kids, top universities, cars, homes, that effects us all.