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Vice Article About Lawyers...thoughts?

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It certainly bears no relation to my experience, either as a lawyer generally or in a Bay St. firm.

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It certainly bears no relation to my experience, either as a lawyer generally or in a Bay St. firm.

Yeah, I WISH that bore some relationship to my experience. 

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More seriously, some of the issues identified in the article are real.  Work/life balance is an issue in the profession, both on and off Bay Street (though it's probably an issue for anyone running a small business, which is the nature of most legal practices), although most people manage to find a balance that works for them.  Most people who start on Bay Street leave, but that shouldn't be understood to be a bad thing (at least, not for them, it's a bummer for the firms).  Of my class of 20-odd articling students, there are maybe 3 or 4 still working on Bay Street a decade later.  The rest have gone in-house, or to smaller firms, or to government, or into business.  All are very successful and have fulfilling jobs. 

 

I can't speak to issues around mental health.  I've seen the statistics for suicide, but I've also seen conflicting evidence on the point.  It is fair to say that the practice of law is stressful and requires a fair degree of mental and emotional resillience.  It's not for everyone.  SImilarly, I'll happy to concede that lawyers drink like fish - there is a particular alcohol culture amongst litigators - though it's easy to overstate it.  I'm not so sure about the prevalence of drug abuse, but I may just hang out with the wrong (or right, depending on how you see it) crowd. 

 

I think the reality is that most (by no means all) lawyers manage to make reasonably happy careers for themselves.  Lawyers are (generally) smart, talented people, if they were all miserable, they would be doing something else. That some people can't find a formulation that works for them, doesn't mean that you won't. 

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The only two universals there are the law school experience and the client management experience. The rest of it seems to be the scourge of working in a high-pressure internal environment, or in working in litigation. (I do a fair bit of litigation, but fortunately I don't generally have to deal with too many shitty personality types in opposing counsel.)

 

Law school trains you to look at worst-case scenarios, but your education and practical training teach you how to avoid those same problems. If you're a compulsive worrier, you'll do well, but you wind up with more things to worry about. I chalk that one up as just life.

 

It's often said that the practice of law would be great if it weren't for the clients, and it's true. You do a lot of work, put your best foot forward in making a case, and you can still lose. Client hates you for losing. You send out a bill, client's angry at you because you charge too much. Or the sad ones -- client needs help but can't afford to keep paying you/pay a retainer; or client loses at trial and loses custody/freedom/house/life savings. You wind up doubting yourself and your capabilities, whether something you said or did caused this outcome or could have prevented this outcome. Realizing that you're carrying people's lives in your hands with your work is inherently stressful. The high stakes of the legal profession to individual clients will bear down on you from time to time. Some people deal with it better than others. It's just something inherent in the job.

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I think I find the number one irritant to be the pointless conflict. I have no issues with good, strong advocacy on behalf of a client. But the stupid conflict drives me nuts. Taking pointless positions, being unnecessarily obstreperous, not granting simple or everyday concessions whether it's adjournments or accomodating scheduling etc. At the end of the day, if anything drives me out of the profession (age, health, law society aside) it will be this.

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At the risk of being accused of rash insensitivity, my knee-jerk reaction to addiction is attributing it to us making ourselves (intentionally or not) prone to it from the beginning with the ever-present "drink like a lawyer" culture of law school. From what I hear, activities and events encouraging the consumption of alcohol are fostered and maintained throughout law programs. I don't understand; isn't alcohol a long-term depressant? It seems as though this "adapt or die" philosophy spurred in socializing or client schmoozing is self-destructive. 

The author of the article even hints, unintentionally, at cannabis addiction getting fewer status points than dependence to harder harder drugs. I realize my question is about an issue much broader than law school and that it can pass as sanctimonious. But I think it may expose one of the root causes of the disproportionately high rates of substance abuse among lawyers (and sometimes students). Easy for me to say, I hear you type away--I don't drink and I don't smoke. 

 

Tangentially, as crazy would have it, I read the piece yesterday before going to bed and another piece, this morning, referencing the After the J.D. project (which I suspect many of the established lawyers here have already read). In the AJD study, a national sample (3000<n<5000) of lawyers was surveyed as to their career satisfaction and ~80% declared that they were "moderately" or "extremely" satisfied. Further to the point, there was no evidence in the data of "any pervasive unhappiness in the profession."

 

In light of the many conflicting findings relating to the overall satisfaction of lawyers, I am as confused as the next 0L as to how much stock to put on these conclusions. Even more so when I tried finding evidence of career unhappiness in the medical profession for example. Some of "them," as some of "us," think that the grass is greener for other professions and that their careers (and the expectations imposed by those) are emotionally taxing, leaving little to no room for "aspirational" rewards such as good W-L balance. 

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At the risk of being accused of rash insensitivity, my knee-jerk reaction to addiction is attributing it to us making ourselves (intentionally or not) prone to it from the beginning with the ever-present "drink like a lawyer" culture of law school. 

Is the law student drinking culture much different from the general university drinking culture?

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Is the law student drinking culture much different from the general university drinking culture?

 

Better selection of scotch/whiskey. Oh, and one sponsored event served Grey Goose instead of cheap vodka.

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this is pretty bad though from the article (assuming it was a proper study):

 

A key study supporting Seligman's sad verdict is John Hopkins University research showing that lawyers have the highest rate of depression among all occupations, suffering from depression at a rate of 3.6 times higher than non-lawyers.

 

I dunno, drinking culture in law school is kind dumb cuz its too many dorky "i was never popular in high school and now have to make up for it" type people but also a lot of chill sociable bros having a good time. I enjoy going out but dont get shitfaced cuz its lame. But it does seem that there is too much focus on drinking in law school. Instead of regular college, i wonder what drinking in lol skool is like compared to med or MBA or graduate programs. I've partied with med students, I was 10X cooler then them but they'll make more money than me so fuck em. Drinking doesn;t seem as big of a thing in other "law level" faculties but maybe those degenerates hide it better. 

Edited by DSman
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As someone relatively new into the profession, this article is scary to read. Is it really this horrible compared to other career choices?

http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/an-inside-look-at-the-depressed-substance-abusing-world-of-law

I would not worry too much about it. My dad is a dentist (which has the highest suicide rate of any profession) yet I have never met anyone who loves their job more than he does. He can talk about teeth for hours. Long story short, if you love what you do those statistics really mean nothing. 

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Anecdotally, it likely is higher. Think about it, we live and work in a big stress pool. Conflict is very stressful. And I don't mean conflict = outright yelling arguments. But you are, day in day out, constantly negotiating and debating points with other people. It's stressful. About the only other occupation I can think of that is possibly worse is a telephone adjuster or someone who works in a complaints call centre.

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Is the law student drinking culture much different from the general university drinking culture?

 

A good point you're making and one I can't provide, as a 0L, any definite answer to. What I can do is talk about my own experience in undergrad and hope that you'll pull something of use from it. 

 

Simply put, bar the occasional student-organized activity (e.g. pub crawl), I have never once seen, heard of, or attended any event directly related to my faculty and/or discipline in which alcohol consumption was either overtly, implicitly or optionally suggested. Institutionalized structures and habits didn't exist. It may be too that my program didn't really offer many occasions for gatherings and socializing the same way I have heard law school does or used to do (e.g. coffee house, with one row for beer and one row for wine at McGill). Of course, while the drink of choice is usually coffee (with token cookies) in seminars, colloquia and conferences, you may see cans of beer among other drinks lying around. That's not really a problem. 

 

Then again, I am quite introverted so it stands to reason that I wouldn't be the type to seek out these types of events in the first place. 

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A good point you're making and one I can't provide, as a 0L, any definite answer to. What I can do is talk about my own experience in undergrad and hope that you'll pull something of use from it. 

 

Simply put, bar the occasional student-organized activity (e.g. pub crawl), I have never once seen, heard of, or attended any event directly related to my faculty and/or discipline in which alcohol consumption was either overtly, implicitly or optionally suggested. Institutionalized structures and habits didn't exist. It may be too that my program didn't really offer many occasions for gatherings and socializing the same way I have heard law school does or used to do (e.g. coffee house, with one row for beer and one row for wine at McGill). Of course, while the drink of choice is usually coffee (with token cookies) in seminars, colloquia and conferences, you may see cans of beer among other drinks lying around. That's not really a problem. 

 

Then again, I am quite introverted so it stands to reason that I wouldn't be the type to seek out these types of events in the first place. 

 

Is the law student drinking culture much different from the general university drinking culture?

 

I'll chime in on this as I'm a few years post-call. Yes, the atmosphere is different than undergrad - or at least in Calgary (in my opinion). Law school itself is for the most part similar, but I have noticed the biggest difference in practice. I can't think of a client/networking event I've been too that hasn't had a major focus on drinking - other than a women's group meeting or two. I've never had so many people bother me about not drinking and attempt to peer pressure me. It's sort of a culture where if you don't participate (and usually over-participate), then you aren't accepted the same and you won't get the work. Yes, there are exceptions to this so take everything with a grain of salt. I will say though, that when one of the big firms found out I didn't drink, I was promptly not offered a position (when I would say the prior indication was the opposite). Even at smaller firms, there does seem to be the idea that you can't be having fun if you aren't drinking. As a non-drinker, it takes a toll on my enjoyment at these events, and I can see it take a toll on the bodies of my friends who are. 

 

I'm not sure I agree with how terrible this article makes things sound - but I can already see a lot of my friends and colleagues debating whether they want to stay in law (both small, mid, large firms) and it has only been a few years. This is mostly due to the work-life balance, and just the general depression of arguing all day as others have mentioned. The pay is good, and the work can be interesting, but it definitely takes a toll on you regardless of practice area. 

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I do not drink except for at work related events. Really not a fan of alcohol, but it is the way to bond with other lawyers and some potential client referral sources. Went to a poker night with accountants and lawyers that turned into a 3am gong show, and I now receive quite a lot of work from those accountants. If I had left early, I don't think the same bond would have formed. 

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If i was elected PM i would ban alcohol. Society is becoming too immoral these days. We're moving away from God.

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I certainly agree with the article with respect to its comments about clients being your worst enemies. I've had meetings with clients that roughly went like:

 

Client:"...and I hate him/her for those reasons and that's why I want sole custody of our children."

 

Me: "Look, in our pleadings we can ask for sole custody but there is no way a court is going to make that order in your favour. S/he's been the primary caregiver of your children for the past five years. You have outstanding domestic assault charges in provincial court and can't attend your house where s/he is living with your children. You have no support network for the care of your children. The court is going to presume joint custody. It's just not going to happen.

 

I understand that s/he's been denying you access to your children and that's certainly something we can address. 

 

Also, I note that we have no money in trust from you right now. To just to file your pleadings, correspond with opposing counsel, correspond with you, and make appearances on the docket I'll need $1,000 in trust. In the event that this goes to a hearing, which it very likely well based on what you've told me, you will have to provide an additional sum to us so that we can act for you at the hearing."

 

Client: "WHAT!!!! This is outrageous! You're a terrible lawyer! A good lawyer would get me an order of sole custody and an award of costs to pay your bill. I'll take my business elsewhere!"

 

Me: "Please do."

 

One hour later:

 

Senior partner: "You had a client meeting an hour ago. Did you take that file on? No? That's unacceptable. You need to take on more files. Also, stop taking on files when you don't get money in trust. Those files just end up getting sent to collections and create more unbillable work for the firm."

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lol, I love it when Diplock gets all working class. You can't tell him to get off his high horse because he's riding a mule. Check your privilege!

 

Seriously though, I'm in broad agreement.

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VICE is garbage journalism that exists solely to get clicks on Facebook with outrageous headlines paired with questionably researched/accurate content. I wouldn't put any stock in it. 

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