Justifiable Paranoia – Nothing New Under the Sun

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By Murray Gottheil | June 13, 2023

All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again Battlestar Galactica, Peter Pan, and Ecclesiastes 1:9

It is not often that I quote the Bible, but when both Peter Pan and Battlestar Galactica validate the quote, it has to be right.

In 1994, which may as well be back before the beginning of recorded history as far as people entering law school now are concerned, the Los Angeles Times published an article by Amiram Elwork called Justifiable Paranoia Afflicts Lawyers.

The article is about a law school professor who taught a course about what working in the legal profession was really like, and helped students plot a healthy course through the profession. It is worth reading, but you can get the general idea from the following excerpt:

He told them about several studies that found attorneys suffer from depression and substance abuse at twice the national average. He told them associates often work 60-hour weeks to fulfill their billing requirements.

They will work in a politically charged, bottom line-oriented environment that will not leave time for the intellectual musing they enjoy in law school, he said. Their mistakes would be considered monumental.

He talked about the burnout, the disillusionment, the dissatisfaction, the lack of vacations and society’s general dislike of lawyers.

So apparently this was general knowledge almost thirty years ago, and both the law schools and the profession have had more than enough time to work on fixing things. They haven’t.

So where are we today? I think that can be summed up by a cartoon that I came across the other day and which I would reproduce here if I were not justifiably paranoid about liability for copyright infringement. It featured a young man speaking to his parents and was captioned, “The plan…”.  The text says, “I’ve decided to go to law school, become a lawyer, then quickly realized it wasn’t what I wanted.”

In short, when it comes to lawyers being happy and healthy, we are not any further ahead than they were in 1994. Money still talks and sells an unrealistic dream to people entering law school. Many law school lemmings still follow the crowd and pursue the almighty dollar without much thought as to what the traditional path is doing to their physical and mental health. And the world goes on.

A young lawyer reached out to me recently and described himself as “being new to the profession and already disillusioned.” I was glad to hear that, because it means that he is thinking about what he wants to do and who he wants to be. There is hope for him.

I have less hope for those of you who think that it is fine to allow the profession to sweep you along traditional paths towards overwork and more money than you need, because physical and mental illness only happen to other people.

Murray is a happily retired lawyer who lives in the country, drives a pick-up truck, writes, teaches and mentors. You can reach him at [email protected] or see what he is up to at lawanddisorderinc.com.


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