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An Autopsy Can’t Say What Caused Skadden Associate’s Death Puts Rumors to Rest

On June 20, when 32-year-old Lisa Johnstone was found dead in her Redondo Beach, California condominium after failing to arrive at work, her law firm death was the one that was heard around the internet.

The fact that the Los Angeles Country coroner’s department couldn’t immediately say what killed Jonstone, who is a sixth-year corporate associate in Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher &Flom’s Los Angeles office, didn’t stop the speculation — especially once legal blog Above the Law used Jonstone’s death as the peg for one of their June 30 posts reflecting on the rugged working conditions endured by associates at large law firms.

While acknowledging that the official autopsy results were not yet available and that ”we can’t be sure of what happened to Lisa Johnstone,” the kind of thoughtful post by blogger Elie Mystal nonetheless helped fuel the fire of the rumor mill.

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Mystal’s post stated that, among other things, ”reports indicate that [Johnstone] died while doing legal work from her home office on a Sunday,” that she had been ”pulling 100-hour weeks and was under intense pressure,” that ”she was suffering from hair loss,” and even that–in a thinly veiled reference to drug use–she had ”turned to ‘the lawyer-version of performance enhancers’ just to stay awake.”

Other blogs–from Practicing Law Sucks and University of Cincinnati College of Law professor Paul Caron’s TaxProf Blog to Law and More and former Kirkland & Ellis partner (and regular Am Law Daily contributor) Steven Harper’s The Belly of the Beast–soon picked up on the trend, by either republishing or linking to the Above the Law post or by even using it as a jumping-off point for additional commentary about the brutal nature of a life as an associate at a big law firm.

But was it really the rigors of working at Skadden that actually contributed to what killed Lisa Johnstone? Almost five months later, the official cause of her death remains a mystery. A full autopsy and a toxicology report, that was prepared by the Los Angeles Country coroner’s office because of Johnstone’s relative youth and the lack of clear cause of death, suggests possible causes without arriving at a definite conclusion. Still, the 18-pae report, that was released in September, shed a little light on the circumstance surrounding her death–and dispels some of the Wed-fueled rumors that sprang up after just one post.

Lisa Johnstone, who was born in Scotland on September 6, 1978 to John and Julie Johnstone, she moved to San Diego area with her family during grade school. She stayed in Southern California for her college years, and then attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where she joined the Kappa Delta sorority and graduated manga cum laude in 2000 with a degree in history. After her 2004 graduation of Northwestern University School of Law, she began her legal career at Sidley Austin in New York before returning to California to join Skadden in 2007.

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