depressing news…

A friend, who is law school, sent this to me. Below is an excerpt taken from a link to a paper published by Ruth A. McKinney, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Writing and Learning Resources Center at the Universtiy of North Carolina Law School, posted on the American Bar Association website:

“Law student stress and depression are problems that have become national in scope. While students enter law school suffering from clinical stress and depression at a rate that mirrors the national average, this number skyrockets during the first year of law school. Studies have shown that law students suffer from clinical stress and depression at a rate that is three to four times higher than the national average.

These same studies indicate that student stress rises steadily through the third year of law school and then improves only moderately after graduation. At this point, law students show signs of stress that is twice the national average. Unfortunately, this sad story continues after law school. Lawyers are more likely to suffer from clinical depression, marital difficulties, and substance abuse than are any other professionals.”Isn’t that sad? Is it the law, or is it the people that it attracts (or that subscribe) that causes this?

~ by ulterior epicure on April 7, 2005.

5 Responses to “depressing news…”

  1. I think one reason for this might be that law students don’t feel in-control of their lives.

    Sometime a while back I read some news reports about studies showing that depression was highly correlated with a person’s sense of control over their environment, their time, their activities, etc. It wouldn’t surprise me if law students generally scored low on these measures: many of them are in law school because they don’t know what they want; the grading system seems random to them so they don’t feel in control of what academic results they get; their job searches often aren’t self-motivated, etc.

    So, yeah, none of this surprises me. I’m assuming, btw, that “stress” means something like depression here…


  2. carey.

    i think you’re right. i think it all comes down to what one wants to do with their lives. most law school students (or lawyers) i’ve met have all told me that they entered law school/the profession for lack of other viable options. moreover, sadly, most said that they entered law school out of lack of “guts” to pursue their real passions. this is sad – and yes, i can only imagine that the law school atmosphere you describe would only compound those suppressed passions and confusion.

    also, yes, i am also assuming that the author uses “stress” interchangeably, or at least, tightly correlated with “depression.”


  3. u.e.,

    As Carey says, none of this surprises me. I do have some questions, however. For instance, it would be interesting to see a breakdown according to school. Is it worse at schools where rank is published than at schools where rank is unknown? Is it worse at schools with lower employment rates? How does it correlate to motivation for practicing law? And yes, I mean practicing as opposed to studying or teaching, although it would be interesting to look at those correlations as well.

    I have had so many people be so dubious about my desire to go to law school that I have been forced to examine and re-examine my desires and motivations. In so doing, I talked to a number of practicing lawyers and some who quit the field. Without exception, the ones who were happy loved their work, wanted to be lawyers, and didn’t choose it as a last resort but rather as their real love. Those who were most unhappy were those who had chosen it as a job, not an avocation. Anybody would be happier doing a job in a field they love, but in some jobs and for some people I think it is crucial. Love it or leave it takes on a whole new meaning.

    I’m not expecting law school to be fun in a “tip-toe through the tulips” sort of way. I expect I’ll be full of angst and I’ll fret myself into tizzies on a regular basis – why would it be any better than undergrad that way? Yet this I have learned about myself: if I’m working toward a goal I desire with all my heart, I will work through whatever pain I must and after I achieve my goal, the joy and satisfaction far outweigh the agony endured.

    I certainly echo Carey’s remarks on where law students probably feel no control, hence more anxiety, hence more depression.

    Sorry for rambling. I should have posted this on my blog, I s’pose, but here it is.


  4. Well, I’ve made it through most of the first year, and so far no need for Zoloft, Celexa, or Prozac. I think the past commenters have a point – if you get into this field for the love, you’ll find a way to love it, and to do things outside law school so you don’t get sick of it. If you’re in it as a fall-back, or for the money, it will eventually tear you apart.

    Then again, I’ve always thought that happiness is a discipline.

  5. I became very depressed my first year of law school. A friend sent me an e-mail with statistics that were similar to ones you posted. And here I was thinking it was seasonal affective disorder (I’m in Michigan and the depression hit in early November). I guess transferring to UCLA or UT Austin would not be a solution, as I would still be in law school.
    In retrospect, I think SAD did play a role, as I don’t feel nearly as depressed in the spring. Also, I think knowing what you want, and accepting it is important. I know I’m not like most Michigan students in that I don’t measure success in dollars and cents alone. I could be happy with a lower salary than the Big Firms offer, and quality of life is important, as well, and what’s the use of having a ton of money if you never have time to enjoy it.
    I guess that once I realized that I did not need to be peer-pressured into following the Big Firm track, it did wonders for my mental health.

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