Successful Lawyers are more Likely to Suffer from Depression?

Recent studies reveal that highly successful lawyers are more likely to suffer from depression. Why?

The higher the status of a lawyer in a large firm, the more likely he is to suffer from depression. If a lawyer is based in the United States, he is also more likely to risk suffering from a health problem (the impact on health is neutral in Canada). These correlations are “exacerbated” when salary is taken into account.

This is the conclusion of Canadian researchers Ronit Dinovitzer and Jonathan Koltai, of the University of Toronto, after comparing two studies of two cohorts of lawyers from the same school year in the United States (5,000 graduates followed between 2000 and 2010) and in Canada (1,100 graduates followed from 2010).

The researchers identified two main stress factors: work overload and work-family conflicts. “These factors are more prevalent in the private sector and increase with the size of the firm,” the study reports.

The results of their research were published last March in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour.

This study undermines the idea that workers’ health improves with professional status. It also takes into account the context in which the professional climb takes place which is also important.

Are small firms the solution?

Mylène is a paralegal. She worked in a large firm in downtown Montreal, then in a small one. She finds that it’s like day and night. “In the large firms, total commitment is expected,” she says. “It’s as if you are married to your work. Overtime hours are not counted, and they are not generally paid. There is enormous pressure to produce. It’s like a factory. Smaller firms often have more family values; they favour a work-family balance.”

This testimony is an excellent illustration of one of the discoveries of the University of Toronto researchers. They observed that lawyers leaving prestigious schools had a higher rate of dissatisfaction with their profession than their colleagues graduating from more modest schools. The explanation is that the former are under tremendous pressure in the large international firms, while the latter are more directed to smaller firms and the civil service.

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