The Mentality and Attitudes of Lawyers

Bread and Circuses

I keep reading about mental health issues in the legal profession. Too many lawyers are terminally unhappy. The problem appears to be impossible to fix. Even The Washington Post just ran an article titled, “Want to be happy? Then don’t be a lawyer.”

I am willing to bet that it is only impossible for lawyers to fix the problems in the legal profession because they have been ignoring Albert Einstein’s advice. He said that, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.”

Back when I was practicing law, I was a pretty good strategist. My method was simple. I would size up a situation, determine the client’s goals, consider the available options, and figure out how to get the client from where they were to where they wanted to be in the straightest possible line with the least possible risk.

Now that I have been retired for almost three years, I have applied my brilliance to fixing the problem of mental health in the legal profession, and low and behold, I have discovered that the problem is not impossible to solve after all. Actually, it is very simple.  See if you can follow my logic here, and please let me know if I have it wrong:

  1. Lawyers suffer from mental health issues largely because they work under too much stress.
  2. If lawyers had fewer demands on their time, their stress levels would decrease.
  3. If law firms had more well-trained and well-mentored lawyers available to complete the work, each of them would have fewer demands on their time.
  4. In order to have more well-trained and well-mentored lawyers available to complete the work, law firms would have to spend more money on training, mentoring, and salaries.
  5. If law firms spend more money, partners may earn less money.

There you have it. Solving this seemingly unsolvable problem simply requires that law firm partners become willing to reduce their income.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this solution (which by the way is the only solution which is actually ever going to fix the problem) has been rejected by the vast majority of all large and medium sized law firms. Time and again, the judgment is made that partners would prefer to have an income of $1,500,000 than $1,000,000, or $800,000 than $600,000, or $600,000 than $300,000, rather than live longer, healthier, and happier lives, and they certainly would rather have those larger incomes than have their Associates live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Rather than follow Einstein’s advice, law firms are more likely to follow the path described by the ancient Roman poet Juvenal who coined the phrase “bread and circuses” to describe how politicians maintained public approval through distraction. In the context of law firms, look for a whole bunch of ‘mental health initiatives,’ none of which will involve having lawyers work less billable hours.

 This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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