Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Laid Off Lawyer Says Goodbye-To Life

I've never understood what it is about lawyers that causes them to believe there is no life outside of the law.

I understand BigLaw teaches this philosophy, but it's far from the truth.

When I talk to lawyers facing disbarment due to ethics violations or criminal convictions, I always ask the same question: "Have you thought of doing something else?"

I'm not a big fan of disbarred lawyers "hanging on" in law offices. For the most part, it's a bad idea mentally and practically. For the most part, it's the first thing they think of doing post-practicing lawyer life.

A legal education is beneficial in many non-legal fields. Many successful business owners went to law school and never practiced law, or left practice to go into something else. Although I understand a practicing lawyer believing after a good number of years that there is nothing else they can do, it's more a factor of self-perception than reality.

Today I read that a lawyer who was laid off at a big firm committed suicide at the firm's office. The title of this post links to the story. This was not a young BigLaw with little knowledge of the real world of practicing law.

This was a 59-year-old Yale Law School graduate. He was in charge of the firm's Supreme Court and appellate practice group. Prior to his BigLaw job, he worked in the Department of Justice as a senior political appointee. Everything about his resume indicates he could have found something to do somewhere else. This was a lawyer who argued 16 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He spent five years in the solicitor general's office as a staff lawyer under Justice Samuel Alito Jr. during the Reagan administration.

Apparently he left a note at home, "saying he loved his family and instructing his wife on how to handle finances and other matters." His teenage son found the note.

This was a lawyer who saw no future. He probably had serious political connections, many friends, and most likely would have been picked up by someone, somewhere. Even in this economy, someone would love to have him, as a partner, office mate, professor, advisor.

What was it that made him believe that his forced departure from one BigLaw firm was the end of his career, and he couldn't live another day?

These are the things that scare me about lawyers - the notion that if we are not practicing law, we can't exist. The notion that if we are sent out into the wilderness at any point in our career, we can't function.

While I spend a great deal of time bashing the lack of real lawyer education that is BigLaw, I can't imagine working there and being fired. The associates have no real working knowledge of the business/client side of the practice of law (as BigLaw wants it), the junior partners are tied to golden handcuffs with salaries they cannot make in small or solo practice when they first go out, and long time partners become comfortable to the point that they can go nowhere but to another BigLaw.

But with that being said, there is life outside the law. I just don't know why lawyers of all people don't understand.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit



Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, suicides are not an unusual biproduct of a legal profession that defends the rights of others to seek treatment for mental issues, but does not provide the same rights to its own members.

Yes, the bars have gotten somewhat better by at least providing lip service to destigmatizing mental issues. And there are groups like Lawyers Helping Lawyers in most if not all states. And the Bar claims that it is important that people seek treatment and not fear Bar-based consequences. But is this true?

The majority of bars around the country ask applicants if they have ever received any sort of treatment for mental issues that wasn't situational counseling, such as grief counseling. And if one answers yes, one has to provide the name and address of all doctors involved, the time frame for treatments, and the like, describe the problem, the diagnosis, the treatment, etc. Taking Colorado as a representative example, their form says, "If YES [if a candidate has been diagnosed with, or treated for, any sort of mental issue that impacts a major life function], describe in detail all circumstances, including the nature of the condition, the prescribed treatment, dates, names and addresses of all treatment providers. (If you are uncertain of a diagnosis, it is your responsibility to check with your treatment providers.)"

Beyond the scope of what is demanded of applicants, it usually delays the admission process for these canddiates. These candidates may eventually get in, but it takes longer and it is an intrusive process.

In what other profession is it appropriate to delve into people's mental histories to this degree? Any private employer asking these types of questions would be hit with an unassailable ADA suit so fast, it would make your head spin.

Given that the way the Bar treats new applicants reflects the general attitude of the Bar towards mental issues generally speaking, is it any wonder that lawyers are loathe to seek treatment? Depression is a health problem. It is treatable and managable. But the profession, whatever the disclaimers it might offer, doesn't treat it as such in practice. And so the legal profession have among the highest depression and suicide rates of any other profession.

Anonymous said...

you're bitter and jealous you're not big law

My Law License said...

My anonymous coward friend at 7:13,

I know you like to come here and express your vast intelligence with that comment over and over again, but I have faith that with some thought, you can come up with something more intelligent to say. Now after you show your friends your thoughtful comment here and giggle a bit, come back with something that really evidences your brillance.