US: Half of lawyers experiencing depression and anxiety

US: Half of lawyers experiencing depression and anxiety

Half of practising lawyers are experiencing depression and anxiety, according to a study by the California Lawyers Association (CLA) and the D.C. Bar.

The findings come from a research project into the personal and workplace risk factors for mental health problems, substance use, and attrition among practising attorneys. 

In 2020, the CLA and the D.C. Bar announced their participation in the project, which has now yielded the first of several forthcoming papers. 

Entitled Stress, Drink, Leave: An Examination of Gender-Specific Risk Factors for Mental Health Problems and Attrition Among Licensed Attorneys, the research was published in the peer-reviewed, scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Roughly half of practising attorneys are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, with approximately 30 per cent of those falling in the mild range and nearly 20 per cent falling in the moderate-severe range.
  • Over half of the attorneys screened positive for risky drinking, and 30 per cent screened for high-risk hazardous drinking (which is interpreted as alcohol abuse or possible dependence).
  • Women are experiencing meaningfully worse mental health than men and are drinking more hazardously.
  • Considering the higher rates of mental health distress experienced by female attorneys, 25 per cent of women are contemplating leaving the legal profession due to mental health problems, burnout, or stress. Seventeen per cent of male attorneys report the same thoughts.

The research project was led by attorney mental health and well-being expert Patrick Krill, who collaborated on the work with Dr Justin Anker from the University of Minnesota.

“The legal profession continues to have significant work ahead of it to improve mental health and gender disparities among practicing attorneys. Our hope is that this essential research will be a useful tool for performing that work in a timely and effective manner,” said Mr Krill.

Their research found that mental health problems and hazardous drinking are exceedingly high among currently employed attorneys.

Notably, a significant gender disparity was revealed, with female attorneys experiencing more mental distress, greater levels of overcommitment and work-family conflict, and lower prospects of promotion than their male counterparts.

Additionally, the findings raise concerns about the stress levels of both male and female attorneys, and the possible impact of that stress on the delivery of effective legal services.

CLA’s CEO and executive director Ona Alston Dosunmu said: “We at CLA are so grateful to have this rigorous, data-based analysis to back up what we have all known intuitively. This study will enable us to develop targeted, effective programs to enhance the well-being of our members—particularly women.”

D.C. Bar CEO Robert Spagnoletti said: “The D.C. Bar deeply appreciates the study’s authors and our participating members, without whom this critical work would not have been possible.

“These insights will enable us to better serve our members and help drive awareness about the severity of mental health issues and gender disparities in the legal profession.”

Share icon
Share this article: