Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) of Massachusetts, like the lawyer assistance programs in all 50 states, is in many ways based on the model of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which grew out of the early growth of the AA movement and initially focused almost entirely on alcoholism. The first official EAP seems to have been developed by the Kemper insurance company in 1962. Over the years, employee and lawyer assistance programs have greatly expanded their scope to include a wide range of human issues including emotional, family, and occupational sources of distress, and in many cases have been credited with saving the careers of people who would otherwise have lost their jobs.
Malcolm Gladwell’s new podcast, Revisionist History, debuted with an episode entitled The Lady Vanishes. One of the major themes of the episode is the perplexing notion of moral self-licensing. This occurs when a person exhibits progress in some issue of social or moral importance only to result in an increase in contradictory behaviors. In other words, when we do something good, we feel good about what we have done, this leads to feeling an increase in our moral standing (a moral surplus so to speak), which then leads to a feeling of freedom to act in ways that contradict that standing (moral deficit). It’s the “I gave at the office so I can now ignore those in need” mentality. Almost like earning enough good will to spend it on immoral actions. This can be seen in small ways each day (“I feel good about having a salad for lunch so I’ll go ahead and splurge on dinner and dessert tonight.”) or in larger, systemic ways (the firm hires its first female partner but an internal sexist environment intensifies).
Getting regular, quality sleep is one of the most important factors in good physical and mental health. Our bodies need sleep in order to repair and refuel our energy. While many of us use caffeine and sugar to replace the energy we should have gotten from a good night’s sleep, nothing can replace the benefit of a night of quality sleep. And while it seems simple, regularly getting quality sleep is difficult to do. Any parent can tell you that a full night’s sleep is more of a fantasy than a reality. However, there are some practical tips (generally called Sleep Hygiene) that can help you improve your sleep experience.
A new study published this month in the Journal of Addiction Medicine confirms that lawyers have higher than average rates of alcohol abuse, depression and stress. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) collaborated in a survey of over 12,000 attorneys in 19 states (not including Massachusetts). We know that the legal profession is a stressful profession with prior studies showing higher rates of alcohol abuse and depression than the general population, but find it gravely concerning that the levels of substance abuse, depression and stress remain so high, particularly among younger attorneys.
Let’s be honest, everyone would like to be perfect at what they do. After all, if you were perfect, no one could ever criticize you for anything. And let the honesty continue, we all hate being criticized and judged. It just doesn’t feel good. But I assure you, you too can survive criticism (even harsh criticism). The first place to start is to reject the idea that you need to be perfect. You don’t. You’re not. No one is. And somehow we all find a way to go on surviving despite lacking perfection.
The statistics are, well, depressing when it comes to the rates of depression among law students and attorneys. While law students do not differ from the general population in terms of depression prior to starting law school (about 7%), approximately 32% of law students experience depression by the end of their first year in law school. This trend continues through law school to the point of 40% of students experiencing depression by the end of the third year. After law school and the bar exam, rates of depression go down a bit but generally stay at over twice the rate of the general population. Lawyers in all areas of law are faced with various stressors (financial, pressure, long hours, unemployment, etc.) that contribute to their impaired well-being.
As I write this blog entry, I am thinking about what words to use next in order to express my intended message in the most succinct way possible. When I feel that my choice of words is successful, I feel good. I then want to write more with the hopes of repeating that experience. However, when I stumble over the words or it seems like I am hitting a barrier, I feel discomfort. My first tendency is to stop writing (to end the discomfort) and shift my attention to something else, something more pleasurable (email, coffee, the next thing on my to-do list, staring at the ceiling, etc.). This, by the way, is the recipe for procrastination.