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March 31, 2014

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Haskell Murray

Brian, this is an important topic and should be discussed more often. Thanks for sharing.

terry malloy

This is an important topic, especially for young lawyers.

40mg/day of citalopram is all that keeps me on my feet. Before the medication, I was dragging my corpse through one day after another, with panic attack adrenalin boiling though my veins periodically.

I've been extremely lucky to have maintained relatively high-paying jobs sufficient to pay the 143,000 in debt I racked up at law school.

That said, my mind gets in a rut thinking how 200 years from now no-one will know my name, and I spent my prime years shoveling coal in the boiler to pay loans instead of starting a family or doing anything redeeming from a human perspective.

In general, the law pre-selects for intelligence and critical thinking that often evolves into cynicism. Add non-dischargable debt to that mix, and you've got an extremely high depression risk.

Michelle Meyer

Thank you for sharing, Brian. This is, as Haskell says, important. It is also, unfortunately, a brave thing to do in our society in general and in the legal academy in particular. You and others might be interested in Mark Joyella's (a journalist and anchor) coming out story (OCD), which he shared a few days ago at medium dot com (sharing URLs seems to get me banished to the spam folder on TFL), as well as the Twitter hashtag he started, #ScrewStigma, which collects similar stories.

VAP

I find that the best defense against the onset of depression is large doses of physical exercise. At least 60 minutes a day, but often 4 or 5 hour jaunts on my bicycle, is what I need. This is tough to do as a very busy corporate lawyer. "Work/life balance" isn't just about spending more time with your kids in the short-term, but--to me--it's about keeping myself sane.

Kim Krawiec

This is a great post and an important topic, Brian. And I agree that it is brave of you to share personally in this way, given the frequent tenor of anonymous comments here. But I also think that readers will appreciate your honesty. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to the remaining posts.

Bill Turnier

Brian, thanks for creating a discussion on this important topic. It is unfortunate that our society can easily understand why people come down with a host of physical disorders but place psychiatric disorders in a separate category. This at a time when medical science is coming to understand that many such problems are bio-chemical in nature.

NRapoport

Brian, I came out to my law students about my depression several years ago. I applaud you.

Jojo

Brian,

I know too many lawyers who struggle with depression. Too many people go to law school expecting the practice of law to be something that it is not. Law is adversarial, and too few people who think about joining the profession think about what that means.

It means:
1. In litigation, in order to win, someone else must lose. That's also true in athletics, but in law it is different. Unlike in sports, here you're fighting over something that means a great deal to one or more litigants.

Someone loses a personal injury lawsuit and now has no money and faces a broken life where they are poor, hurt, and desperate. They blame you. Your carrier loses a personal injury lawsuit, they pay the judgment and they now fire your firm. Your criminal client accepted your advice, went to trial, lost and now is imprisoned for longer than he would have been. As a D.A., you refused to offer a good plea deal to a criminal defendant, and he beat the rap and walked scot free. You can't reign in your divorce client, and you get sucked into their personal life where you burn through what little money might otherwise existed litigating stupid fights. You advise your commercial client that they have a solid defense, you blow off the mediation, and then you lose on summary judgment, ruining the small business that hired you. These stresses take their toll on lawyers.

2. Law is a constant deadline. You always have clients calling, deadlines to meet, extensions to beg. There really is little "down time" for a busy practitioner.

3. There are too many lawyers, so competition is fierce. You struggle to make a living and to get clients. You struggle to make enough money to be able to give your clients competent representation. You always worry about losing clients, and this can have ethical consequence. I know of several areas of litigation dominated by one or two big clients (think one or two insurers dominate the field, or only a few corporations in your area engage in this type of specialty work). You are put into an ethical bind by your clients, who have little understanding, patience, or tolerance of your conflicts or ethical questioning. (E.G., "Mr. Lawyer, I'm telling you our policy is not to fight the disclosure of such documents, and I don't see the relevance or how they're discoverable. You're our lawyer, but I don't want you disclosing those things.") You can tell your client or insurer to fly a kite, but you can't feed your family or pay your mortgage with your conscience alone.


It is a tough profession, and there is zero screening of 0Ls so that they understand the day-to-day life of a lawyer. It should not be a surprise to see that the unprepared struggle when they are thrown into the pressure cooker.

Wanita

You said..."exhibited symptoms of clinical depression"... what are the symptoms? (so we lawyers may recognize them in ourselves and others)

Brian Clarke

Thanks for all the comments, folks. To address the comments from terry malloy and JoJo, you are absolutely right that practicing law is very hard and emotionally taxing and that too many students come to law school with stars or dollar signs in their eyes and without any thought to the realities of being a lawyer. While they could certainly find that information fairly easily online, too many people have a way of avoiding information that is contrary to their desired viewpoint. That is a big reason that I talk about my depression and how it came to be with my first years, a topic I will discuss in more depth in the third post in this series.

Wanita, as far as symptoms go, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, as in Ms. Frisby and the Rats of . . . ), symptoms of depression may include the following:

(1) Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
(2) Fatigue and decreased energy
(3) Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
(4) Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
(5) Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
(6) Irritability, restlessness
(7) Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
(8) Overeating or appetite loss
(9) Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
(10) Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
(11) Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

As you can see, this is a wide range of sometimes contradictory symptoms. As I discuss in Part 2 of my story (which should go up Wednesday morning), for me the biggest symptoms were (a) avoidance behaviors [i.e., not returning phone calls or emails, not going in to work on time, avoiding coming home in the evening, etc.]; (b) irritability; (c) decreased energy; (d) random pains; (e) a very flat affect; and (e) above all else, feelings of guilt. But, individual experiences vary widely.

Colin Picker

An important post - thanks. I will repost at out blog down here in Australia (lawschoolvibe.com). I am sure it is the same with our students. This issue needs addressed more forcefully - with the first step being widespread recognition of the issue.

Brian Clarke

And Michelle, thanks for the link to Mark Joyella's post [https://medium.com/journalism-deliberated/6809e83f355e], which is fantastic. And, even though I generally disdain hashtags, #ScrewStigma is one I can use with pride (that is a major reason I am doing this after all).

TS

I am glad that you have posted on this topic. It's about time the topic of depression in legal education is addressed openly. It was tragic and sad when a well-respected legal scholar like Richard Nagareda committed suicide. The profession (including the Wall Street Journal's obit), however, didn't utter the "d" word in explaining what had happened. I understand not mentioning suicide out of respect for Richard's family, but there is a sense in which it really does a huge disservice for those who continue to live with a stigmatized condition like depression and could benefit from a focused inquiry on what went wrong. Talented and generous teachers and scholars like Professor Nagareda deserve better than to have to struggle with depression in secret, on their own.

Nancy Leong

Brian, I just wanted to add my thanks for posting on this topic. Writing about an experience with mental illness is very brave. I will look forward to the rest of your series.

Nancy Leong

(Also, just a quick correction -- Lisa McElroy actually teaches at Drexel, not at Drake. We are very happy to have her visiting with us at the University of Denver this academic year.)

Kendall Isaac

Excellent post Brian and a much needed dose of reality for our profession. Knowledge is the first step towards fixing a prevailing problem. This is especially important for students not only worried about passing class, the Bar, and finding gainful remunerative employment, but also about mounting debt. I admire your courage, and now I am even more happy to have briefly met you at the Wagner Competition and witnessed first-hand the success you are creating for law students at Charlotte. You are an inspiration.

Christine Hurt

I'm glad that you wrote this post, and I look forward to your other posts as well!

Lisa McElroy

Brian, So very glad you are posting. I wish I had seen this earlier today so that I could have given you a call in your office to speak with you directly. You are a rock star, and I hope to meet you soon.

I want you to know that I have received nothing but support since I "came out" almost a year ago. I feel like a new person. I feel like people really know me. I hope the same will be true for you. If you ever need an ear, I am here.

Keep the faith and know that your five kids are lucky to have you as a father. You are a model of strength and candor.

Chris Osbirn

Bravo, Brian. This is the exact kind of thing we need to be talking about, for the sake of our students and ourselves (not to mention the oodles of practicing attorneys who could benefit from the resources available to help). I am grateful and proud to be your colleague.

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