This article resonated with me: The Lawyer, the Addict. It’s about the author’s ex-husband, a lawyer, who died of an accidental drug overdose. Before I left law, I never once spoke candidly to another attorney about their drug use. It was almost always an account of how another attorney was clearly on something.
Once, a support staff member recalled how an attorney they worked with in a different firm often needed cocaine in the morning to get started. That attorney allegedly offered that staff member to take a hit themselves.
“Do you want some?”
I considered some of the aspects of the profession that drives many of its members to abuse substances (substance abuse is such an issue in the profession that continuing education requires an hour or two on the topic – its efficacy is dubious). Insane work ethic is highly prized, as is status and prestige. The adversarial nature is something else to note. In litigation, opposing counsel is constantly trying to sabotage your every move.
Being a surgeon is stressful, for instance — but not in the same way. It would be like having another surgeon across the table from you trying to undo your operation. In law, you are financially rewarded for being hostile.
In software development, this would be as if Uber is allowed to code review every commit from Lyft for a feature they’re trying to release. The users and the shareholders would question the developer’s competence, demanding an answer for why it’s not already done.
In one of my first orientations in law school, one dean stressed how studying law rewires your brain. You start looking at issues differently, and you become capable of working through complex legal problems. But, it seems that your brain changes in other ways as well. As noted in the article:
Some research shows that before they start law school, law students are actually healthier than the general population, both physically and mentally… “There’s good data showing that,” said Andy Benjamin, a psychologist and lawyer who teaches law and psychology at the University of Washington. “They drink less than other young people, use less substances, have less depression and are less hostile.”
In addition, he said, law students generally start school with their sense of self and their values intact. But, in his research, he said, he has found that the formal structure of law school starts to change that.
Rather than hew to their internal self, students begin to focus on external values, he said, like status, comparative worth and competition. “We have seven very strong studies that show this twists people’s psyches and they come out of law school significantly impaired, with depression, anxiety and hostility,” he said.
The article is certainly worth a read, as it may provide some insight and warning signs for friends and family.