🤦 Yep, law firm life is very stressful, according to new study

If you’re a general counsel or entrepreneurial lawyer wondering whether the grass is greener on the firm side, you may want to think again. Attorneys at law firms are more depressed and anxious than average Americans and have little hope anything will change, according to a survey of 3,800 lawyers by ALM

  • Inside the numbers: Of the 3,800 respondents, 31 percent reported being depressed; 64 percent said they have anxiety. In the general U.S. population, only about 8 percent of adults say they suffer from depression, and about 20 percent of adults have anxiety disorders.     

  • The usual suspect: The lawyers pointed to a common reason for the stress and depression: the billable hours that make them feel like they have to work all the time. One respondent said: “It seems that is really driving a lot of the lack of health. I met my requirement last year but was told in my review that I ‘left money on the table’—[in other words,] I should’ve billed more, which was frustrating.”  

  • Unforgiving clients: Outside of billable hours, clients were the second-most common source of frustration. Lawyers felt firm leadership would cave in to the demands of high-paying clients and force associates to work for free or on weekends and vacations. 

Can it get better?

Many respondents said law firms have emphasized being aware of mental health issues in recent years but they haven’t changed any policies to promote mental health. How could they do that? For one thing, the respondents said by getting rid of the billable hour system

The Verdict

This survey was taken before coronavirus disrupted the country, sending lawyers home and piercing firms’ bottom lines. Perhaps law firms -- and all legal departments -- can permanently learn from the way mental health is being stressed now among the legal community.