LAWYERS: stressing themselves out of a profession

Research from the Sydney-based Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI) found law students’ psychological distress was caused by the “competitive, isolating and adversarial learning environment” of law schools.

Similar findings have been revealed in American research where students reported law school as competitive, alienating and a place where they lost their self-confidence, motivation and passion for learning.

Senior law lecturer Rachael Field, who took just four months practising law as a junior solicitor for a medium-sized firm to realise she didn’t want it to be her career, hopes a $100,000 teaching fellowship she was recently granted will help find ways to reduce stress levels for future generations of legal minds.

Recent research also shows that  psychological distress starts at university with 35 per cent of law students suffering high to very high stress levels – 17 per cent higher than medical students and more than 20 per cent higher than the general population.

Now a Queensland University of Technology lecturer, Field says

When law students start at uni their mental health is the same as in the general population but by the end of the first year they are going downhill, they are becoming depressed. The reality is that law is not all adversarial and competitive and vicious and nasty. While case law is fundamental, litigation lawyers spend much of their time trying to keep their clients out of courts and engaging in negotiation and alternative dispute resolution processes.

According to Queensland Legal Services Commissioner John Briton, things don’t get any better once lawyers move into practice. He says

The prevalence of emotional distress among lawyers is one of the greatest ethical challenges facing the profession

BMRI research found lawyers were four times more likely to suffer clinical depression than other professionals and one in three of them was likely to manage their symptoms with drugs and alcohol.

Briton says 2400 lawyers were involved in the BMRI research, with one in three solicitors and one in five barristers reporting depression.

He says more than one third of the 1000 complaints he receives each year relate to lawyers who are struggling to cope.  He goes on to say

There’s lots of people who are stressed out, things are not terrific at home and there’s too much work to do and they can’t have a holiday or get a locum, and their clients are complaining about them

Although I personally have great respect for the profession, I’ve also had too many occassions when I’ve needed their help. I’ve experienced the best and the worst of them, and I’ve come to the conclusion that they are, in the most basic form, university trained liars and wordsmiths. No doubt good training for politics should they decided to go down that path.

Perhaps the stress can be blamed on their consciences? One thing is for certain; Never confuse Justice with the Law. The Law should be a constant, but Justice depends on how much you can afford to pay, and how good the lawyer you employ can manipulate the jurors thoughts and views.

We’d be lost without them though.


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