Thursday, June 13, 2013
Lawyer Suicides Reach Epidemic Levels
Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal (6-3-13): ‘Studies have shown that attorneys are six times more likely to commit suicide than the general public.’ Why would that be?
I’ve spent the bulk of my career working for and with lawyers who practice in almost every aspect of the law profession. I have some thoughts on those experiences with lawyers that some of you might find interesting, even concerning.
There are many specialties in the practice of law, and the following generalities / opinions do not pertain to all lawyers; but I would say a majority of them.
Attorneys, by nature or training, look at life through a prism in which they perceive that almost everything in life is relative, negotiable, and transitory. Often very intelligent and egocentric, a lawyer’s fluctuating moral compass takes them wherever and whenever money beckons. Now, to be clear, I am principally speaking of ‘trial lawyers,’ criminal and civil.
Of the ones that I have worked with, some I liked and some I didn’t. As their investigator, some expected me to shade my investigation to benefit their client or legal position. Not lie, you understand; but, if possible, accentuate the positive. If not that, at least to look hardest in the areas that might benefit the client. That’s the nature of the game; and it holds true whether you are working for a prosecutor or a defense attorney, or a civil attorney representing either the plaintiff or the defendant. Some might say, what’s wrong with that? After all, it is the client who is responsible for the tab one way or another. Yes, I suppose there is some validity to that. However, we are attempting to examine some of the stresses, issues, and conflicting moral questions that attorneys deal with on an almost daily basis. You should understand that the court room is generally not about unmitigated truth and justice. Fortunately, justice is often, even usually, an incidental outcome of the proceeding. But, for attorneys it is principally about winning.
In that most of you are probably the most familiar with the work of criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors, I will discuss them first.
Criminal Defense: This must be in the running for the worst job in the law profession. The work is relatively easy to find in that most criminal defense attorneys take ‘court-appointed’ or indigent cases. Said cases don’t pay well, but they are readily available and a good training vehicle for those attorneys interested in that type of work. Court appointed cases constitute an inexhaustible stream of clients representing, almost always, the dregs of humanity. Conservatively speaking, 95% of those who fall within the criminal justice system are guilty as charged. Maybe 4% of this group has been somewhat, let’s call it ‘over-charged,’ being guilty of a lesser charge under the same or similar statutes. So, 99% of those who find themselves standing before a judge have broken the law. Furthermore, the majority of those individuals have committed many other despicable acts for which they were never prosecuted: assault, child abuse, wife abuse, rape, illegal drugs, theft, burglary – you name it. Yet a criminal defense attorney has to attempt, with all his or her ability, to exonerate their client from the latest misdeed; even though they know their client is guilty. How would you like to face that day-in and day-out? How would you like to spend a preponderance of your working life socializing and thinking about people who, under normal circumstances, you would avoid? What if, by chance, your work set a rapist free to offend again? Would the thought ever cross your mind that you are accomplishing nothing of any real importance to society? Would your law professor’s pep talk about the nobleness of your profession sustain you? Could you hang on to the belief that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law? Would the money be worth it? What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? Is there a god? And, why am I doing a job that I cannot candidly and happily describe to my children, my grandchildren? Or would you decide that a bullet to the brain is a faster and more sensible resolution to your doubts?
To be continued…