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The Legal Market Tears Lawyers Down, But They Can Survive
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Summary: Lawyers that make small adjustments to how they connect with their job will be able to get through the constant psychological beat down by the industry.

The sad truth is that too many lawyers end up taking their lives after being beaten down by their career. In “Another Lawyer Suicide: How the Psychology of Being a Big Firm Lawyer Can Tear You Down,” Harrison Barnes explains that lawyers can prepare themselves and beat the psychological tear down that often comes with the legal industry by avoiding the external factors that they feel the constant need to measure up to.


The American Psychological Association reports that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers. Lawyers, especially those at large law firms, put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed. Always succeeding is not possible, there is going to be a failure at some point for even the most successful lawyers.

The “lawyer psychology” is strongest in large firms and markets where the law is extremely competitive. The work lawyers produce is expected to be perfect and done at the highest billing rate possible. To be able to do this, lawyers must have top qualifications and be the best at what they do. They must be billing the most hours, be completely committed to the job and law firm, and able to do this on your own. Lawyers cannot rely on others to help them because all lawyers are out to further their own career, and do not feel bad about walking all over someone else to get there.

Too often, lawyers end up thinking their value and worth is from their achievements. When their achievements don’t measure up to their expectations, they become depressed and search for gratification elsewhere. Putting all our value in how we appear to others will never lead to inner happiness. Barnes explains how the legal field is fueled by external factors like:

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  • Law school
  • Grades in law school
  • Law school honors
  • Current law firm
  • Previous law firms
  • Clerkships
  • Amount of billing hours
  • Bonus/salary
  • Law firm title
  • Clients
  • Billing rate
  • House/neighborhood
  • Club memberships
  • Cars
  • Children/where they go to school
  • Overall social standing
  • Vacations
  • Charitable giving
  • Bank account
  • Law firm’s success
  • Any allies

This list could go on. All of the things are external ways of showing your value but have nothing to actually do with feeling happy, loved, valued, respected, etc.

The type of work lawyers do also requires them to examine products carefully, looking for small errors so this work translates into their everyday life of examining everyone around them, including themselves. When they find a mistake they have made, they will quickly fix it in hopes that no one else has noticed it yet and will call them out on it. This constant fear of making a mistake and someone at the firm finding it eats at a lawyer’s confidence.

Lawyers that want to truly succeed and last in their career have to find a way to compete without becoming consumed by the job. Enjoying the job and not getting caught up in the competitiveness is the only way lawyers can survive. They need to get to know their fellow colleagues, bill the necessary hours but don’t go overboard, exercise, and foster an overall healthy, friendly relationship with others.

Do you think lawyers should undergo psychological testing before entering the profession? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about how miserable a career as a lawyer can be compared to others, read these articles:




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