Thursday, January 12, 2012

Depression and denial

At the urging of a commenter, I've spent time reviewing some of the literature on law students, lawyers, and depression.  It makes for harrowing reading.

General points:

(1) Law students are no more prone to depression than anyone else before starting law school.  In the course of law school they develop both clinical and sub-clinical depression at extraordinarily high rates, so that by the time they are 3Ls they are roughly ten times more likely to be in these categories than they were prior to entering law school.

(2) Rates of depression among practicing attorneys are also very high.  For instance, a 1990 Johns Hopkins study looked at depression in 104 occupational groups.  Lawyers ranked first.

(3) These findings are remarkably consistent across studies, and have remained so for several decades.

(4)  Although there is as of yet little work on what effect recent changes in the legal profession are having on these outcomes, the primary environmental cause of depression appears to be stress, which suggests an already serious problem is likely to be getting worse.

Why are law students and lawyers so prone to develop depression?  The literature suggests numerous causes, most of which have something to do with the effects of an intensely hierarchical, competitive, emotionally cold, and high-stress environment, in which people are socialized to obsess on external status markers and to minimize or ignore things such as learning for its own sake, doing intrinsically valuable work, and maintaining healthy personal relationships.

Consider what a 0L is supposed to consider most important about legal education:

(1) Getting into a top law school

(2) Getting top grades

(3) Getting a job at a top firm

There are two problems with these goals.  First, the vast majority of law students will fail to achieve them, and will as a result be saddled with heavy educational debt and bad job prospects -- an inherently depressing combination.  Second, and most interestingly, the few "winners" in this game appear to be just as prone to depression as the losers.  Hierarchical and economic success in law has little correlation with increased happiness.  Lawyers in Big Law are just as miserable as those outside it, although for somewhat different reasons.

The other consistent finding in this literature is that the one subgroup of lawyers who seem to do significantly better than average in regard to these issues are so-called "cause" lawyers: people who do the work they've taken on primarily for reasons other than money and status.  (Naturally this finding leads law professors to implore their students to turn their backs on worldly things -- something that both the current financial structure of legal education and the changing economics of legal practice are making increasingly impossible for the great majority of law graduates).

Another striking thing about this literature is the legal academy's reaction to it.  That reaction tends to be one of, in the words of Lawrence Krieger, one of "individual and institutional avoidance."  Krieger is, as the subtitle of one of the articles he's published on this topic affirms, dedicated to "breaking the silence" about the relationship between legal education, the practice of law, and depression.  If all this sounds familiar, so will the reactions Krieger has encountered from other legal academics, which include "it's just as bad in other professional education programs, people come to us that way, it's always been like this, it's the nature of the business, it's not as bad as you say, this requires further study before we do anything, I'm not trained to deal with this, it's somebody else's responsibility, and shut up already."

It's a cliche that crisis creates opportunity, but cliches exist because they embody important truths.  The truth is that the employment and debt crisis which has been building for many years now among law graduates is creating an opportunity to re-examine and restructure a profession which in many ways needs to change from the ground up, if  it is to stop becoming an increasingly efficient machine for producing human misery on a vast scale.


  1. This definitely fits with my experience. I was one of the winners (T-14, BigLaw, paid off debt etc.), but had worked for five years prior to Law School. I left BigLaw last year because it seemed to me that the legal profession basically makes a large majority of people (myself included) miserable. I even referred to BigLaw as a 'misery factory'. I was fortunate to have prior work experience that gave me an exit option as well as an awareness that other professions simply aren't as terrible as BigLaw. But most people don't have those options, even if they 'win' spots in BigLaw. Both Law school and the legal industry seemed to me to be perfectly designed to make people insecure, status-obsessed, workaholics. I don't think there are easy answers in how to change Biglaw, or even Law schools - economics are what they are - but people considering law school should know that law school and the legal industry are a great way to ruin your life.

  2. I have a similar experience as well. On my own young, at 17, I am pretty tough mentally and worked labor all the way up to law school. After the bar, jobless and 145,000 in debt, I took a job with my skilled labor family. I was power-washing the siding of a house, standing on a roof in September and saw the first colored leaves of fall on a large tree. The enormity of my failure hit me hard.

    In the five years since, I've been working a white collar non-legal job and paying down my debt pretty well. I look like a success. However, I've been fighting depression since, and have had regular panic related episodes that require medication.

    You wouldn't believe it if you knew me. I haven't missed a day of work.

    1. I graduated from law school 2 years ago and I haven't found a law-related job yet. I work as a bellhop in a hotel carting bags around and parking cars. I think we need to get the word out and shut down as many law schools as we can. That way we can prevent other from getting scammed and save the taxpayers a lot of money in the future.

    2. I'm a 2nd year law student studying in the UK, and all I can say is that law students all over the world face the same problems, with dwindling employment prospects and insurmountable levels of stress.

      Many of my seniors are actually actively considering not entering the legal profession after graduating, as it's simple clear that whatever misery we suffered in law school, it'll only continue once we enter the industry.

      Please, don't say that you're a failure. It may be a blessing in disguise.

  3. What should law professors do to stop depression in law graduates? I do not think there is silence on this point. Every law student takes professional responsibility, and the casebooks in the field cover this subject. We talked about it when I was in law school--along with the related topics of the rates of alcoholism and substance abuse.

  4. Why start that conversation, knowing that it will end in some variation on "You mean I probably won't be able to find any job in law to repay all this"?

    This is why transparency reform is so threatening to schools. Maybe there will always be a lemming to fill a seat, but most of the lemmings of the last five years might have made a very different decision no later than the end of 1L if they knew that a third of them wouldn't get any job in law.

  5. What exactly qualifies as "Biglaw?" My take on it is that it involves doing the bidding of soulless corporations. That, or working for Bain Capital or some other vulture capitalist organization that completely lacks empathy.

  6. @7:34 a.m.:

    Biglaw is the employer that pays what you thought the average graduate of your class would be making, when you started law school four or five years ago.

    Google "AmLaw 100" for an idea of which employers qualify.

  7. @Anon 6:45 AM
    Don't know if you will read this or if it will help, but it seems to me that you are not a failure. Let me say that again, you are not a failure. Not at all.

    The failure is this society we live in that is almost pathologically committed to systematically reducing opportunity for everyone who isn't already extremely wealthy. The failure is a law school system that claims to offer a path to success for people who will work hard, but in reality is fleecing most of its participants. The failure is a social structure that claims that sifting through papers in a cubicle to help rich people get richer or settle petty status disputes, never seeing daylight, is somehow more valuable or important or more worthy of status than helping to improve and maintain people's homes while working in the open air with a view of fall colors. (Okay, I'm romanticizing a bit, but I hope you see my point).

    In short, it is our culture which has failed, by throwing away a generation of young people with drive and determination, and by disrespecting, undervaluing, and ultimately discarding their labor.

    You are not a failure. We all are.

    1. This is a well-worded post that deserves a reply.

      We are taught that hard work and discipline will pay off in the long run. All we have to do is play by the rules, get an education, get a degree and all is good.

      This is a lie.

  8. I've noticed this problem recently with my significant other as she attends a top 20 law school. I graduated from another top school just as she started, and I did quite well, and landed a firm job that will (hopefully) pay off my debt in 4 years. I was unfortunately overly interested in getting good grades, and she has internalized that and measures herself against how I did. She has not done poorly, and is currently around the 50th percentile in her class, but she has not yet found a job. Whenever grades come out, she becomes depressed when her grades are not high enough. To be honest I have no idea what to do for her other than comfort her and try and give her more confidence, and maybe try my best to help her do better. From what I can tell, her problem is largely the result of her feeling like she is dumb or worthless because she is not at the top of the law school pile.

    Most people outside of the profession, or even outside of certain parts of law school culture, don't seem to understand how the hierarchy and competitiveness work in law school. Its not like "Legally Blonde" where students backstab each other. People in my experience were always willing to help each other in study groups, discuss questions, or lend notes to others. The competiveness comes from the constant pressure everyone feels to be at the top, even though this is by definition impossible. These schools are full of people who have never received anything lower than a B+, and suddenly they learn that even a 3.0 average means they are in the lower half, destined for crummy jobs or unemployment and debt slavery. This message is reaffirmed numerous times throughout the law school experience: first with grades, then with getting on moot court or mock trial teams, then getting 1L summer jobs, then with getting on the best law journals, or getting the best firm jobs, or getting any job, etc etc. Then its the best clinics, the best clerkships, the best assignments. Sadly, it continues somewhat into firm life (get on the best cases in the best departments), but less so.

    Nearly everyone internalizes their place in this hierarchy as if it were true and objective. For many this is an incredibly disheartening, basically a trampling of one's self esteem.

    I do my best to convey to my significant other whenever she has a crisis is that its ridiculous to base one's self esteem on one's place in the arbitrary hierarchy. Law school exams are tests of the ability to type quickly and regurgitate declarative sentences.Though it has some value in testing knowledge, it is hardly definitive of one's of intelligence, worth or potential. The competitions for getting on journals or moot court are even more arbitrary. In law school its difficult to get that perspective.

    This seems important for solving the mental health crisis. I know of no other profession that values hierarchy as much as ours. Getting rid of grades seems unlikely for all but the highest ranks schools. Law profs talking about depression seems relatively unhelpful - my professors spent the first day of second semester 1L year consoling those of us who would be getting poor grades, but it was of little help. Perhaps every class should read and critically discuss Duncan Kennedy's article on Hierarchy in Law Schools, which at least helps some people recognize the absurdity of it all. All I know is that mental health problems and law school hierarchy are closely related, and that their is no obvious solution to this problem problem

  9. "The other consistent finding in this literature is that the one subgroup of lawyers who seem to do significantly better than average in regard to these issues are so-called "cause" lawyers: people who do the work they've taken on primarily for reasons other than money and status."

    I'm in that group. I'm a 3L going to law school just to learn the law. I am gainfully employed during the day and I'm in no hurry to find any law firm job. In fact, I don't think I want any kind of BigLaw job because of the abject misery that seems to engender. If I don't get a firm job, I'd be content practicing on the side for some extra cash. I've enjoyed law school and I don't care much how anyone around me is doing. I'm an older student (in my early 30's) and I feel surrounded by "kids" who just want to party. Not my scene.

    Of course, exams are horribly stressful and draining, but overall the experience has been a positive one for me.

  10. The fact is that statistically many of your colleagues have to be depressed. Here was one fellow brave and decent enough to talk about it to help others, and he's a biglaw partner.

  11. "Second, and most interestingly, the few "winners" in this game appear to be just as prone to depression as the losers."

    This is what's strange, is that the depression hits just as badly at places like Harvard as it does at places like Cooley.

  12. "Another striking thing about this literature is the legal academy's reaction to it. That reaction tends to be one of, in the words of Lawrence Krieger, one of "individual and institutional avoidance.""


    This is a HUGE problem. One of the things about mental illness, is that it either disappears or its effect markedly decreases once you are aware that you may have it.

    People who know they're depressed, and who know they hate their lives, and who actively seek joy and optimism are actually much better off than those in complete denial.

    The latter is the group more likely, for example, to randomly lash out in bizarre ways that make their coworkers or family uncomfortable. You see this so much in the law - and it's due simply to the fact that the person is suffering and in denial.

    So to the person at 645 who is aware, please know that you're far better off for it.

  13. FYI

  14. Perhaps my own fault for having a hard time not wanting to "keep up with the Joneses", but one of the contributing factors to my depression has been the introduction to a much clearer view of the upper class. During, and now after law school, I now get to see how much easier it is for those in law school and out that are included in a community that seems to be able to succeed financially so much more easily. While of course, they have their own problems, the burden of this debt in conjunction with a government lawyer salary, makes it tough to see friends who get to experience the "finer" things in life, while I struggle with the same negatives as they in relation to this industry, without any of the positives. I may just be a whiner.

  15. 8:42, That can't be the real reason behind your depression because no one in law - other than the mega-earning partner - gets to experience finer things. If you do the math, you'll see that $160,000 per year is about on par with a $30/hour biglaw PARALEGAL'S salary after taxes, and factoring in that the paralegal gets time and a half overtime.

    Don't get me wrong, the partner making $500k to $4 million per year is doing well financially, and not really doing that much work, but the associates . . . not so much. Taxes kill, absolutely kill the $100,000 to $250,000 earning crowd (some of which goes to pay IBR, lol). In fact, you're probably much happier in a government job as supposedly you people work less and have far less stress, and more job security.

  16. And it doesn't stop. Law professors are among the most status obsessed people I've ever met (and yes, I include myself in that - 'though I'm only a lecturer, which, see - the fact that I had to say "only"...). I think this is what bothers me the most about legal scholarship. (Separate and apart from how/whether/when we should fund scholarship.) There are scholars whose work I respect tremendously. Some of it is practical, most of it is theoretical. All of it is engaged in an ongoing and difficult conversation of the sort that I think academics exist to engage in. But WAY too much of legal scholarship (and maybe other fields, too - I just don't know other fields) is about maintaining the hierarchy. Profs, like my 11 year old, get two grades. One for effort - how many pieces do they publish a year. And one for status:did they place in Stanford L Rev? Or Cooley Journal of Municipal Law? For far too many law profs (it seems especially true at schools outside the top tier) scholarship is about racking up these points and not about expanding knowledge, engaging in tough and interesting and provoking conversations. And it makes me sad.

  17. 8:48 - 8:42 here: I said it was "one of the contributing factors". And no, I'm not talking about the "self-made" kids who started out in my position and are now working big-law to try to catch up to the Jones family. I'm talking about the sizeable portion of my class that was already in the Jones family. But again, I know that is shallow and could easily be declared whining...I'm just saying that when my car broke down recently and I had to think about how much that $330 bill would set me back for the next couple months, that those who surround me from the position I describe, inevitably add some to my depressive state.

  18. Exactly 8:56, and I think the reason it leads to depression is that all of this is "faux" status. Law review articles are the joke of academia, for a number of reasons. So on the one hand you're in an environment where you have to measure up to something, and on the other hand deep down you know that something is complete bullshit.

    To give an analogy, NFL players wanting to win the superbowl and that is status seeking. On the other hand, the superbowl is a real accomplishment. It's not like law review, where a bunch of college football players sit around deciding who wins, and in which the award is so nonsensical that all other sports fields laugh at it.

  19. What do law review articles have to do with clinical depression among lawyers?

  20. So what you're saying, 9:01, is that law reviews are the BCS of the academy?

  21. 9:05 - good question. Mostly it has nothing to do with it. EXCEPT the fact that law profs have bought into the same hierarchy bs (hook, line, and sinker) means that they not only have little incentive to make the kind of change that would lessen students depression, they probably add to it considerably.

  22. 8:56,

    Once again, as a law professor, you show your near psychotic inability to empathize.

    Depression is more than being "sad" because your law review article wasn't accepted by Harvard. Don't ever again compare the disappointment you feel when your article doesn't get accepted to a high ranking law review, to what your students are going through, you scumbag thieving douche piece of shit.

    Holy shit law professors are assholes.

  23. 9:05, BCS is not decided by college students. BCS would be like a law review run by the most elite legal minds and thinkers.

  24. I don't believe that law school depression is due to status seeking, or heirarchy or grades. Such characterizations trivialize the problem, and implicitly blame the victim.

    Status seeking exists in all fields, in literally all fields, yet not all fields are depressed like law students and lawyers.

    Legal depression is about something else.

  25. I'll throw this in: Law school undoubtedly made me depressed. I'm not even sure I'm over it yet. (I guess if you're not sure, you're not over it.) The challenge and learning was all good and fine, but the arbitrariness of it all was exhausting. I was reminded of those studies where a rat is randomly shocked with electric current and hilarity ensues. Well, not so much hilarity, I was making a joke. More like the onset of abnormal psychology.

    One such study a quick google search came up with: "Effects of inescapable shock and shock-produced conflict on self selection of alcohol in rats."

    To that point, my wife never drank until law school and practice. I'm not saying she has a "problem" or we're alarmed by her behavior or anything like that. Just that, as a personal anecdote, it the study linked above seems to ring true.

    God knows I saw a lot of people get turned inside out while I was in school. Even that guy I look at in the mirror each morning.

  26. Law student: "Professor, I don't know what to do. I'm in $170,000 of debt and there are no jobs anywhere. I feel like I've ruined my life."

    Professor: (after putting away his or her $6,500 biweekly paycheck) "I know I know, my law review article got rejected by Penn and now I'll have to publish in Georgia State. *cries*"

  27. I went to school in the Eastern U.S. I practice in the interior Mountain West. Heierarchy is far less important here than it is in the East, which is part of why I chose to practice here. Respect among my colleague practitioners is earned through your work product and congeniality. No one gives a rats ass where you went to school or whether you were on law review. Among my opposing counsel, the most competent attorney went to a Thomas Toilet School of Law and the most absurdly incompetent went to a T14. I have more respect for the former than the latter.

  28. Excellent post Crux of the Law. As a science undergrad I never felt down when I got a grade back, because if I got something wrong it was crystal clear why it was wrong. Getting a bad grade was actually a fun little moment, because it was a learning experience.

    In law school, though, with asshole professors spending 5-10 minutes on each 10 page exam where they grade it almost randomly, the grades did not often make sense. I could get the highest grade in the class without studying much, or I could become an expert in the course and get a C. (Both of which literally happened to me!) At the end of it you realize your professors don't know what the f*ck they're talking about, or doing, and that's depressing as hell when you look at your tuition.

  29. Oh, god. I'm so sorry. I in no way meant to equate professional disappointment - or even sadness - with clinical depression. I meant only that if an empty hierarchy is part of the reason for the depression, it's no surprise that people so deeply embedded in it (your professors) have a hard time seeing what's going on. But still. It was a derail, and I apologize.

  30. Nothing worthwhile in life ever comes easy.
    Have you read the statistics on depression among housewives raising children? Even though that was their goal in life, many women find themselves terribly depressed and turn to alcohol or prescription meds in order to live up to the standard of being "the perfect mother and wife."

    Point being, nothing in life comes easy.

    Should we all stock shelves at Walmart?
    Or live in communes and have opium-induced orgies?
    Settle for less because we're afraid of failure and success?

    Again, what is the solution to this great dilemma oh wise ivory-tower professor.

  31. Some Blogger accounts aren't even taking comments. This one seems to work.

  32. With anything as complicated as depression, there are clearly many inputs that must be evaluated to tell the full story. The original post mentioned that law schools often dismiss claims of student depression as "they came to us that way." While I doubt that is the case, the comments from D drive the point home: law students come primed to fall into the depths of depression. For this generation of law students especially, their entire lives have been dictated by the results of tests and placement. For most, they did exceedingly well in this process, and the realization that hard work and a degree is not enough is a crushing experience.
    I recently dropped out after finishing my first semester (I've tried using euphemisms i.e. withdrew, "left on my own cognizance" but drop out is truly the best way to phrase it, as if I was dumping a toxic asset before it sunk me) and in discussing my decision with former classmates it was clear that they understood the pressures, even admired the courage. However, one overriding question remained, "If not law, then what?" This sense that a career in law is the only option available for anyone trying to better themselves contributes to much of what this blog rightly criticizes: preying on unfounded and unrealistic hopes of scores of young college graduates.

  33. Victoria -- Your comments disprove your position. Depression, alcohol and prescription drug abuse are not inevitable in life. They are symptoms of an illness. Illness is the point of this posting. Are you paying attention, are you a troll, or are you depressed?

  34. Being an attorney means you are a part of competitive, status worshiping profession. That's a recipe for depression.

    Competition can be bad for your health. Part of the USA's lower life expectancy has been blamed on the amount of income inequality.

    But none of this is new - this is the profession. Most prospective law students will see themselves as winners.

    If you are dead set on law school, just walk away after 1L if you are not going to "win" this game. Don't play a losing hand.

  35. Settle for less because we're afraid of failure and success?

    Clearly the answer is to saddle ourselves with over 100,000 of non-dischargable debt based on the quasi-fraudulent job placement statistics of middling law schools.

  36. Much of this profession-centric depression occurs because lawyers routinely define their identities by their careers. “Thinking like a lawyer” begins the indoctrination that segregates us from the rest of humanity and the practice reinforces the notion that we must have been born w/ the lawyer-gene. The truth is that many go into this profession without any meaningful purpose and it's only after being ensconced in either law school or practice that the individual looks around and exclaims, "who the hell am I?”

  37. 8:31: I'm starting to think I may be depressed and just don't know it. Being surrounded all day by friends who are going to be making $3K/week in a few short months, or close to 100K at a government job, and constantly ruminating about how I managed to screw up an opportunity to do the same (as well as having no plan to pay off 110K in debt or even keep living on my own past graduation in May) is causing more and more aggressive behavior, as well as missing deadlines and general lethargy.

    If it wasn't for the generous curve and high % of LLMs in my classes I'd have failed out long ago.

  38. 8:42/8:48: I'm a BigLaw escapee who is now a government lawyer. I definitely sympathize with 8:42's view of the financial disparities between government work and upper class/private sector lawyers. (I also think that 8:48's comment is absolutely ridiculous: as an associate at a big firm, I absolutely experienced nice things even while paying off student loan debt - lavish meals out, the ability to purchase whatever retail items I wanted, long international vacations, etc. And had I stayed longer, I would have been able to purchase a great condo in my very expensive coastal city, even as an associate. Even when I was in BigLaw and especially now, I've had it with big firm associates whining about how far their salaries (don't) go. Honestly. Y'all (assuming 8:48 is an actual BigLaw person, and isn't just whining on their behalf) make a hell of a lot of money, no matter how it's measured. And yes, I know firsthand that you work hard for it, but you're not so hard up, and your whining is both irritating and privileged.)

    As for 8:48's comment: "In fact, you're probably much happier in a government job as supposedly you people work less and have far less stress, and more job security." - LOL forever. On Mon-Weds this week, I worked until 11:45 PM, midnight, and 11 PM, respectively (with normal arrival time between 9-9:15 AM). My government job is more stressful (because of its intense, high-emotion subject matter) than anything I did in the private sector. And I get paid 40 percent as much. Now I made this choice for my own reasons and I don't regret leaving BigLaw ... but we seriously need to lose the myth that government litigators are cruising along in relaxing, stress-free jobs with low hours. The term "public servant" fits: most of us are making voluntary choices to serve the public by working exceptionally hard for a fraction of our private sector worth.

    8:42, I also wanted to add - if you see any purpose in what you're doing as a government lawyer, you do probably have it better than BigLaw associates in that sense. They may be making a lot of money, but most of what they do has no social/societal value whatsoever ... and the more conscientious among them realize it.

  39. Anything about daily or weekly thoughts of suicide because of Student Loan Debt with no consumer bankruptcy protections or any risk whatsoever to the schools and the lenders?

  40. I just dropped out midway through 2L year. I should have done it after 1L, but I was naive and thought things would get better. Since I was on scholarship for 1L, I'll be about 35-40 K in the hole for my 3 semesters. Having that kind of debt with nothing to show for it certainly isn't ideal, but I thought it was best to cut my losses now instead of spending roughly 50K more to finish the degree, plus bar fees, and plus opportunity cost. I know people with great grades at my school (a T2) who are coming up empty-handed for gigs this summer. Considering I was nowhere near the top of the class and no longer had any desire to practice, I decided to cut my losses.

    I wish I would have never gone to law school. It has turned me into a very depressed individual. I deserve a good chunk of the blame though as I should have done better due diligence before enrolling. Oh well. Hopefully I made the best decision by cutting my losses and not deciding to take out tens of thousands of more loans. I have a solid undergrad degree so if I can just find a decent job soon then I'll ultimately be alright. But for the time being, I'm pretty depressed to say the least.

    Meanwhile, most of my friends who I went to college with took jobs with modest starting salaries after graduation. They have little if any debt from undergrad and some of them have been promoted over the past year and a half and are now making 40-50K. That's a pretty solid salary for someone in their mid 20's who has no debt or dependents. I could have gone that route but no, I just had to be prestigious and go to law school and take on a bunch of debt. Worst decision ever.

  41. For those law students and lawyers out there who are suffering from depression and who cannot pay for counseling, I highly recommend the Lawyers helping Lawyers support groups which are organized by state.

    Here is a link to the one for Colorado.

    And yes, I'm a participant.

  42. "Being an attorney means you are a part of competitive, status worshiping profession. That's a recipe for depression."


    Please stop trying to trivialize, blame the victim or otherwise characterize the fact that law school creates severe mental illness as some sort of "status seeker's" problem.

    Just stop.

  43. "Clearly the answer is to saddle ourselves with over 100,000 of non-dischargable debt based on the quasi-fraudulent job placement statistics of middling law schools."


  44. 10:24, what government job works until midnight every night? Are you a security guard at the Pentagon?

  45. 10:39 - government litigators who are (a) in trial; or (b) preparing major court filings (among other things) work until midnight routinely. Never been to the Pentagon, sorry to disappoint.

    - 10:24

  46. For pity's sake, 10:36, have you ever been in law school? And if you have, were you a nudnik while you were there? D at 8:10 is right on when he speaks of arbitrariness. A lab rat put through the kind of arbitrary maze you find in law school would come out addled. Why should a 24-year-old be much different. What the heck is your point? If you've made it in this thread, I've missed it. Depression and mental illness, where they exist, are symptoms, and if there is documentation showing that mental illness increases while in law school then it's reasonable to think that the primary lesion is law school.

  47. Jesus 10:46 that sucks ass. Do all government litigators have to work that much? or are you perhaps just working more than your peers?

  48. 10:48, I agree that law school causes mental illness. That's indisputable. But it's not the competition or status seeking of law school that does it. Competition and status seeking is part of American life, but usually it decreases depression because the chase itself is invigorating. There's something else about law school that causes depression, and those who pin the blame on "status seeking" and "competition" are just trying to marginalize the depressed as those who have no one but their "status" obsessed egos to blame.

  49. 10:46,

    Do you have paralegals and assistants working with you until midnight every night? If so, do they get overtime at time and a half? Very seriously, they might make more than you!

  50. Let me give you another example of how "status seeking" and "heirarchy" do not cause depression. In every online video game, you have intense versions of these things. Yet people PAY to play these games, FOR FUN.

    The depression of law school and the law has absolutely nothing to do with this competitive heirarchy. It's something else. Getting a job at Wachtell from Princeton Law will in no way immunize you.

  51. 10:48 here. I agree with you, 10:52. The race in the non-legal world goes to the swift and the strong.

    In law school, from what people write here about law practice, the race is through a sadistic maze. Do people who read and comment on this blog notice the terrible things that lawyers do in practice? When the general press reports on the law and lawyers, too often it shows an endless parade of perp walks.

  52. 10:48 again. Should have read: "In law school and, from what people write...sadistic maze."

  53. Law students are no more prone to depression than anyone else before starting law school. In the course of law school they develop both clinical and sub-clinical depression at extraordinarily high rates, so that by the time they are 3Ls they are roughly ten times more likely to be in these categories than they were prior to entering law school.


    For proof of this statement, compare the tone on pre-law boards like TLS or LSD, to post law school boards like xoxohth, this blog, jdu et al.

  54. 10:52: The point is that law school *causes* unhealthily high levels of status and hierarchical obsession, and related competitive behavior, and then exacerbates the bad effects of this via arbitrary evaluation policies and deeply misleading messages about probable outcomes. That is in no way a victim-blaming analysis.

  55. I read the Krieger article and he doesn't mention law students might be so stressed out not because they want to place in the top 10% because they are status obsessed, but because they want to place in the top 10% so they can get good jobs and pay off their student loans. The former implies that they are seeking top 10% to finish first in the rat race, and that they could be happy in lower-status, lower-paying careers if law school didn't make them so prestige-obsessed. The second accepts that they need to get that high-status job because it is the only one that will allow them financial stability and a decent loan repayment schedule.

    This distinction is important. The "status-seeking" explanation implies that the stress could be reduced by micro efforts on the part of law faculty to make law school and law curriculum a kinder and gentler experience. This was my experience as a 1L, and it didn't have a measurable effect on stress levels, even at a school where 80% got summer associate jobs through OCI. Despite the exhortations of our professors that we'd all be fine, people still worked themselves to death (almost literally in one case) to avoid being in that unlucky 20%.

    Law students are not stupid. We knew that no matter how light the reading, how generous the curve, how friendly professors conduct their socratic, and how many anecdotes we hear about "so and so professor got a B in the class they are now a renowned scholar in!" there will still be X% of us left holding the bag at the end of it all. There will always be students who are angry that they "only" got a job at a V50 when some of their friends are working at a V5, or "only" got a flyover district clerkship when others are clerking for COAs. But I get the feeling that these students aren't the ones entering law school with a happy, fulfilling life and leaving depressed and miserable.

    The "massive debt" explanation implies that only a macro-level reduction in student debt or a reduction in the supply of graduates (thereby increasing employment rates and entry-level salaries) can reduce stress. Obviously, this is very scary for law professors, because it means lower salaries, fewer professors, and less perks. However, I see no other way this could be accomplished.

  56. B3L, keep in mind that article is ten years old, and the employment and debt situation has gotten much worse since (although it was hardly good then). The intensification of the employment and debt crisis clearly exacerbates all the things Krieger is talking about, but these things were strongly present at the elite school I went to 25 years ago, at a time when almost literally everyone who wanted one was getting a starting job that would allow them to comfortably service their (far more modest) debt load.

  57. Don't forget the concomitant substance abuse problem that the profession is especially susceptible to...

  58. Law school is a depressing experience for many people because it is the first time in their lives they have felt they could not control what happens to them. Many, not all, people who go to law school are used to being at the very top of their classes throughout their educational careers. In law school they meet people--other students- who are as smart or way, way smarter than they. They hit a wall, or "success" as measured by grades, becomes markedly more difficult. And grading is anonymous. So, good looks, charm, making friends with the teacher, do not help. I know people who did well and have great careers who have never gotten over the humbling they received during law school.

  59. @Lucia Lamprey, you said:

    "I did not want to add to the comments today, but this part of your comment can't go unaddressed. It's shocking that you feel no empathy for those around you, especially the young."

    I'm the OP that you responded to. I didn't intend to say that I have no empathy. I intended to say that I feel disconnected from the "rat race" of law school, mostly because I'm older than nearly everyone in my classes. I work hard and get good grades, but I don't see that in everyone. Many are there just because they think that law school is the easy ticket to high pay. Working in the private sector, I see that this sort of attitude is ridiculous, but many people think that just three years of school makes you qualified to be instantly valuable and well-compensated.

    I think that this problem would be much better if law school required maybe five or ten years of real world, post-university work experience before enrolling. In law school I see a large number of 23 year olds who haven't grown up yet.

  60. 11:07(first) - Princeton doesn't have a law school. William Ockham

  61. "Many, not all, people who go to law school are used to being at the very top of their classes throughout their educational careers."


    1. Law students are IN NO WAY used to being at the top of the class. If they were used to that level of success, they probably wouldn't be going to law school.

    2. Law students were IN NO WAY masters of the universe before law school. Again, if they were, they probably wouldn't be going to law school.

    Ego, desire for status, desire for success very likely have little to do with depression in law school, which exists in the most "successful" of law students, and you professors need to stop inventing ways to blame the students for things that you and your institutions are doing.

  62. So any tidbits about how to "dumb" down my resume and take any reference to my legal education/ experience so I can get some sort of decent paying non legal job? I've had my JD for 5 years so.. I know its gonna be hard to do. Sure would help with this depression of mine.

  63. Anonymous (*sigh*) at 10:06 - "Victoria -- Your comments disprove your position. Depression, alcohol and prescription drug abuse are not inevitable in life. They are symptoms of an illness. Illness is the point of this posting. Are you paying attention, are you a troll, or are you depressed?"

    Exactly, these things are not inevitable in life, they occur everywhere, in any profession, not just the legal.

    The point of this posting is not illness, so I believe you are the one not paying attention.
    The point of this post is to highlight how the legal field is permeated with high statistical numbers of depression.

    So is any profession, be it stay-at-home mothers, medical doctors, dentists, accountants, the list goes on.
    Anyone who is working in high-stress environments, and who strive for excellency are more prone to suffer from these illnesses.
    Big shocker!

    My question, however, remains unanswered: what is Professor Campos solution to his unimpressive exposé?

  64. Law student: "Professor, I don't know what to do. I'm in $170,000 of debt and there are no jobs anywhere. I feel like I've ruined my life."

    Professor: "Listen, I know you were used to being the best. You were used to having a 2.5 GPA and 148 LSAT. But now you're at Cooley where you're competing with the best of the best, and that you're now depressed because the status and success you previously enjoyed eludes you. But the solution is to stop judging yourself by your numbers and rank."

    Student: "wtf?"

  65. 11:49 -- I see what you mean now, and to a great degree I agree with you. I didn't see partiers, but I did see a student or two during class browsing online looking at Ferraris. I too felt disconnected because of my age and life experience. Students who didn't know who Lee Marvin was, much less the palimony case law. I don't want to interfere in the point of the thread by going on, but I now see that we have more in common than I first thought. Lucia

  66. @11:56-- Contrary to what you think, most (not all by any means) law students are smart people who know what it is to be judged as good students. Sure, there are bad students who get into law school. I do not think that describes most of them. No on said anything about being "master of the universe". That's your terminology, and it is meaningless in this context. The discussion was about sources of depression. As someone pointed out, there is no one cause of depression. There are many causes of clinical depression,which is what we are talking about, and many triggers. I offered as a possible trigger, and I think I'm right, the hyper-intense competition that is made concrete in the system of grading that most schools follow. Law school is the first time that most students encounter this.

  67. I disagree that "most" law students who "know what it is to be judged as good students."

    Maybe students at the top schools, but by no means all law students.

  68. And again, no one is forcing you (despite the fraudulent advertisement of law schools) to take on six-figure loans.

    Such a financial commitment should only be taken on if you are striving for excellency, are willing to work extremely hard, can handle competition, and have realistic expectations of the job market.

    My husband, mind you, has a JD and was six-figures in debt upon graduation. He attended a first tier school, but decided law was not for him when it was already too late. He went bankrupt back in the 90s.

    He does not blame "the system." He has his JD, he has an excellent career in a different field, and as much as he hates his student loans, he knows that HE was the one taking them on.

  69. Hahaha Princeton Law. I wish I went there.

  70. @12:03-- Kind of funny. Not really. You've done that one before, right? Anyway, your scenario does not explain the depression that 1Ls feel while still in school--which is what the discussion was originally about-- what aspects of the law school experience itself contributes to depression?

  71. aspects contribute...

  72. Depression comes from the arbitrariness, low job prospects, the fact that a BigLaw salary (for the hours worked) is a 22 year old's starting salary, plus the fact that the practice of law is absurdly boring, mundane and not engaging - it's filing papers and reading countless run-on and poorly crafted sentences of boring and pointless contracts and statutes. Add it all up, and it's f*ing depressing for anyone.

  73. I recently read Scott Turrow's 1L. It was supposed to present this hellish experience but I couldn't help but envy his law school experience, as his main worry seemed to be about outlines. outlines! I can get 20 of those off the internet or from friends in about an hour.

    I don't think you could write the modern version of 1L, as the horrors of the modern law school experience are best left unsaid.

  74. "My husband, mind you, has a JD and was six-figures in debt upon graduation. He attended a first tier school, but decided law was not for him when it was already too late. He went bankrupt back in the 90s."

    What did your husband wind up doing Vicky?

  75. Victoria, your husband went bankrupt back in the 90s , when student loans were dischargable in bankruptcy, provided he was making payments for seven years prior to declaring bankruptcy.

    Your advice is colored by experience in a world that no longer exists. And you advice was horrendous even then.

    Such a financial commitment should only be taken on if you are striving for excellency, are willing to work extremely hard, can handle competition, and have realistic expectations of the job market.

    All that. . . that is a load of Horatio Alger bullshit.

    Here in the real world, the wheel of fortune determines who wins and loses in law school. And even winners become losers in the end. Unless you were born rich, then you never lose.

  76. 12:22 -- The horrors of modern law school are better sung at the top of the lungs. Tragic opera.

  77. At 12:33 - Law school has not gotten worse.
    The Socratic Method used to be sheer abuse. Professors would make students cry right in front of them in class. Women were mocked by male professors for not belonging.

    What has changed is the mindset of the average person.
    Many people these days walk around with a belief that someone owes them something, and if something does not go their way, it is always someone else's fault. Be it the government, the universities, ones parents, ones horrible childhood, etc.

    This entitlement mentality has got to go.

  78. Victoria, You dumb bitch. Any person whose emotional state is so fragile that they would cry because of something a professor said to them would likely kill themselves by 2L in today's law school. You are a real f'ing idiot.

  79. Terry Malloy

    Yes, bankruptcy was easier back then, but his student loans remained (still remains).
    My husband was born lower middle class with many siblings, worked his way through undergrad, and had no help during law school.

    Same with me. I was born lower class, my parents never went to college. I do not belong to some elite group. Neither do I despise "old money."

    The fact that someone's grandfather worked hard and that his children and grandchildren are able to profit off of his earnings is reality.

    There is always hard work behind every success story.

  80. The days when the words of a law professor could hurt your feelings are from a genteel era of law school that has long long passed. Today's concerns are infinitely more serious.

  81. Victoria, If you went to law school today you would be crushed, absolutely crushed. You have no idea what the fuck you're talking about.

  82. Re: Victoria:

    This "person" speaks in generalities and absolutes. I think she is an administrator and/or a professor who is looking to troll, nothing else. Has anybody else noticed how she brings up the same arguments over and over again despite repeatedly getting smacked down? Additionally, these arguments are the same ones that the law school establishment uses.

  83. I went to law school four years ago, and no I was not crushed, quite the contrary.

    12:52 - can you please specify what it infinitely more serious about today's law school experience?

  84. What is infinitely more serious today is the debt levels, and decreased job opportunities.

    But a few questions Victoria:

    1. Where (or what range of school) did you attend?

    2. What was the tuition, and who paid for it, and how?

    3. How well did you do, and how much of your success was due to your husband telling you the tricks and games of law school - that he learned the hard way?

    4. What type of job do you have now? You seem to have a lot of time to post on here. Did you hubby get you your job?

  85. Victoria,

    So, if you husband has student debt from the 90s, you're also in serious debt I assume?

    If not, where did the money for law school come from?

  86. Victoria: Do you think the people who took out 150K in loans to attend law school are from privileged backgrounds? No. They are from lower-middle and middle class backgrounds who do not have parents who can pony up $200k for law school. They are the ones who did everything right and trusted the myth that education can lead to a comfortable, middle-class life.

    Law school is not nicer just because the professors don't ask such tough questions. It is much more sinister. Fudged or misleading employment stats. Section-stacking and stipulated scholarships. Average debt of $100,000 or more at TTT schools. Sure, they may smile while they do it, but they're still serving you up a shit sandwich.

    I'd take being "mocked" by a law professor (trust me, I've been subjected to much worse than some witty "insults" from a middle-aged academic) over the 125K of debt I have right now.

  87. I just get all warm and fuzzy inside when the 10% looks downward upon the 90% and says, "Forget you, I got mine." (Insert occupy-whatever joke here.)

    Jeez. There is this old gag I've heard (repeated on this very website even) where the question is whether law school is an asshole magnet or an asshole factory. I think it may be more appropriate to substitute the word "asshole" for "sociopath."

    Law school rewards those that do not care about their fellow classmates in the slightest. How many times have the many valid complaints against the law school machine been dismissed as, "if you did not succeed, you should have tried harder"?

    That line of reasoning fails to take into account that all this planting of a sharp elbow into the chest of your classmate necessarily leaves nine of ten participants out in the cold. When the system doesn't work for the overwhelming majority, the system simply does not work.

  88. "Victoria: Do you think the people who took out 150K in loans to attend law school are from privileged backgrounds? No. "


  89. Big jonny, I can almost guaranty you that Victoria is neither successful or happy. If you saw her in real life you would cower in fear and disgust at the grotesque specimen before you.

  90. As much as "Victoria" is a troll, her writings reflect the actual defense law schools are making. That is sellers said lie and mislead all they want, it is all on the buyers to research and ferret out these lies rather than for the sellers not to lie in the first place.

    With this kind of world, why is Bernie Madoff in jail? I mean, the buyers of his "investments" should have known they were fake and it was all a Ponzi scheme. Its all the buyer's fault and their "entitlement mentality". Right???

  91. That's another problem with law school. The depression and mental stress makes you far more susceptible to trolling.

  92. Law school can be summarized as follows:

    To 0Ls, they say, "Of course you should borrow the money. Look at all the high paying jobs our graduates gets."

    To depressed graduates they say, "You're depressed because you were chasing big money and status. Money is the root of all evil as you have now learned. Try to be humble your avarice and satisfied with a nice $30,000 job, which is actually pretty good for the average American."

  93. Victoria -
    So is any profession, be it stay-at-home mothers, medical doctors, dentists, accountants, the list goes on.
    Anyone who is working in high-stress environments, and who strive for excellency are more prone to suffer from these illnesses.
    Big shocker!

    Did you not read the post? The entire point is that lawyers have a markedly higher rate of depression than those other professions you mention. Why? Well, maybe you'd figure it out if you went back to the beginning of this blog archive and took it from there.

  94. Hey Brian, I mean "Victoria", stop posting as a woman online, put on a wig and pantyhose and step out into the world as what you are.

  95. Law school can be summarized as follows:

    To 0Ls, they say, "Of course you should borrow the money. Look at all the high paying jobs our graduates gets."

    To depressed graduates they say, "You're depressed because you were chasing big money and status. Money is the root of all evil as you have now learned. Try to be humble your avarice and satisfied with a nice $30,000 job, which is actually pretty good for the average American."

    That's good.

  96. I recently dropped out after finishing my first semester (I've tried using euphemisms i.e. withdrew, "left on my own cognizance" but drop out is truly the best way to phrase it, as if I was dumping a toxic asset before it sunk me) and in discussing my decision with former classmates it was clear that they understood the pressures, even admired the courage.

    Good for you. Well done.

    It takes a very high level of self-confidence and rationality to make a smart economic decision, unsullied by the emotional overtone of "failure", to look at something and say, "this isn't worth it, I'm out."

    It's especially tough in the face of the ongoing social pressures you feel as a consequence.

    I dropped out of medical school after my second year. (It's a long story) That was OVER A DECADE ago, and still at weddings and funerals I have to see this one uncle who, after having a few drinks, will give me shit about it.

    They'll hand me a JD this coming May, and when I'm walking across the stage, what I'll really be thinking is, "I've got more respect for the people with the hard-headed fortitude to drop out as 1L's than those graduating in the bottom third of this class."

  97. I realize in retrospect that my slam on "the bottom third" could be seen as yet another piece of the heirarchy-obsessed nonsense that law schools rightly get ridiculed for.

    My apologies - that wasn't my intent. I meant it more as a comment extolling the virtues of dropping out, not slamming those who didn't get great grades.

  98. Breezy, as someone who just decided to drop out midway through my 2L year, I appreciate the words of inspiration. I know my friends and family probably think I'm an idiot for doing so, but they just don't understand. It's not their 50K (which is what it would cost for another year and a half). They don't understand how miserable the job prospects are for people who aren't in the top of the class. I know people who are in top 15-20% at this Tier-2 and who got NOTHING through OCI. Now they are understandably very worried.

    I was on scholarship for my 1L year so I am "only" 35K or so in debt. I should have dropped out after 1L and then I'd only be 18K in the whole. Oh well. At least I had the sense to do it now before spending another 50K on this degree (plus bar fees and opportunity cost)

    For the majority of law students, IT'S JUST NOT WORTH IT.

  99. I know people who are in top 15-20% at this Tier-2 and who got NOTHING through OCI.

    Yeah that'd be me. I'll sail into Order of the Coif in May without breaking a sweat. I had the resume and transcript to get multiple interviews at my state supreme court.

    But OCI?

    "Hey nice grades; go fuck yourself."

  100. It saddens me when I think about how happy of a person I was before I went to law school. Now I'm a depressed wreck with little prospects. If I only I could done what everyone else does and find a comfortable job right out of college and live a comfortable middle class existence. But no, I had to go for prestige and now am left with nothing but debt and a wrecked life.

  101. 10:46 is correct. Many federal lawyers work very long hours and do very high level work. Basically anyone who is doing litigation is going to be working a lot of hours. I don't do trial work, it's mostly appeals with an occasional administrative hearing, but I regularly work 10 hour days, no lunch. I run across the street for a sandwich that I eat at my desk. I bend over backwards to avoid working weekends but many of my coworkers do regularly work them. Now that many agencies are under hiring freezes, the workload for the people remaining has skyrocketed as well. In my office we've lost 4 people (out of about 30) to various things over the past year or so, and none has been replaced. Meanwhile, case filings keep going up and up...I counted today and realized I had 17 briefs waiting to be written. They're not all due this month, but within the next 6 months, or maybe 5, I'm too traumatized to calculate it.

    Now, there are certain fed jobs that do have much more relaxed schedules, but those are the non-litigation jobs. This myth that all government jobs are easy and great is just that...a myth.

  102. "what everyone else does"!?

  103. 5:31, this is 5:22 here. I should have said "what all my friends did". Saying "what everyone else does" was a bad way of putting it. Sorry

  104. As soon as I hit the button, I figured that is what you meant. Sorry.

  105. Does anyone else reflect on how happy they were before they started law school? (obvious question, I know). I was so happy in college and thought I had a wonderful future ahead of me. I wish I could go back a few years and smack some sense into my naive 21/22 year old self.

  106. 5:55,

    I do whenever I visit those pre-law boards like lawschooldiscussion. Those poor suckers have no clue what's waiting for them.

  107. 5:55: I was pretty depressed before I went to law school, personally. While I have some predisposition toward it, I also felt at the time--and still feel now--that most of my depression issues are extrinsic, i.e. could be resolved or strongly ameliorated by a serious change in my circumstances.

    The only option I felt I had to change my circumstances then was to get into a professional program--and I reckoned I'd be good at law school, and I wasn't tremendously terrible at it, I guess, but rather kind of mediocre.

    ...I suppose it goes without saying that it didn't help.

  108. 1:50, I don't think it's fair to compare transgender women with Brian Leiter. He wouldn't have nearly the moral courage or self-awareness required to come out of that closet.

  109. Why attack people by referencing gender identity, or gender at all?

  110. I think young people need to be more willing to work from the ground up as opposed to feeling that they are entitled to a large salary in their 20's and thus taking out a suicidal amount of debt in an often futile attempt to get there. Too bad I didn't take that advice a few years ago.

    I know people out of college who started at low salaries that most prospective law school students would laugh at. But after a year or so of proving themselves, they getting promoted and making 40-50K. That's a pretty damn good salary when you are in your mid 20's with no debt or dependents. And you have 30 or so years to get promoted and make more.

    Be willing to start small right out of college. Work hard at what you do and you'll have a good chance at getting promoted. Then before you know it, you could be making in the 40-50K range. Enjoy a debt-free middle class life. Cherish the weekends. It's not a bad way to live. Don't risk ruining your life and mental health on the small chance that you'll get a good legal job.

    The above advice certainly doesn't guarantee success, but most have much better odds of succeeding that way than they do getting a job out of law school that will justify the debt.

  111. LawProf - The New Republic has an article examining the higher education bubble. It talks about the entire system and not limited to law schools but discusses how the tuition bubble has been subsidized by the govt and some basic solutions to the problem.

    An excerpt below:

    "Imagine you’re in the business of selling apples that cost $1 on the open market. Then the government decides that more people should have the opportunity to buy apples and society would benefit from a net increase in apple consumption. So it decides to drop the price of apples to 60 cents. Sometimes it does this by giving you 40 cents for every apple you sell, on the condition that you start selling apples for 60 cents. Sometimes it gives people vouchers worth 40 cents that can only be used to purchase apples from approved vendors.

    At first, the policy works splendidly. Apples are effectively less expensive so more people buy them and the nation is suffused with apple goodness. But then you, the apple vendor, look at the situation and say “Hey, the market price of an apple is still $1. Wouldn’t it be great if I could charge $1 for apples, but still get 40 cents from the government for every apple I sell?” Raising the price all the way from 60 cents back to $1 in a single year would be too obvious and jeopardize political support for the apple subsidy program. So you start raising prices by three, four, or five percent above inflation annually. When annoyed public officials begin asking why, you explain that apple production is an expensive, labor-intensive business, and that all of the extra money is being used to produce the very best apples money can buy. Since apple quality is substantially a matter of taste, this is a hard claim to refute.

    Meanwhile, you use some of your new profits to sponsor crowd-pleasing sports events on weekends, building public goodwill. Other profits are used to hire professional lobbyists to plead for both more subsidies and more freedom to set prices. You also convince the government to allow you and other incumbent apple sellers to form a private organization with the authority to decide whether new sellers can become “approved apple vendors” for the purposes of receiving public subsidies. Unsurprisingly, few new sellers are approved.

    But eventually things start to break down. As time passes and price increases accumulate, the public starts to notice that while the taxes they pay to support apple subsidies are staying the same, the price of subsidized apples is creeping closer to the market price. This seems unreasonable. Meanwhile, when the economy turns sour, available tax receipts for apple subsidization decline. Instead of raising taxes to make up the difference, public officials drop the per-apple subsidy to 30 cents. This is bad for you, because it means you either have to spend less money on the exotic orchid greenhouse you’ve built next to the apple orchard—the reason, truth be told, you got into the apple business in the first place—or raise prices even further. Luckily, since you’ve kept new vendors out of the market and prices are still below the market rate, you can get away with raising prices, and so you do."


    "Because nobody really knows which colleges provide the best education, consumers have been trained to think of colleges like a luxury good: The best are the most expensive, by definition."

  112. 9:51, There was no need for those quotes. Any moron understand that government subsidy for demand = greater prices by supply. If that's some deeply brilliant thought to you then you might want to open an Econ 101 textbook and blow your mind with other genius ideas such as "printing money can create inflation."


  113. Thank-you so much, Law Prof, for writing about this. I didn't fully understand what happened to me in law school. Before law school, I didn't have concerns w/ psychological issues. I went to law school because I was highly idealistic and had dreams of serving low-income populations in public interest law. I was a very strong, grounded female who had a very supportive family.

    When I started law school, my whole life, values, and world turned upside down. I was suddenly surrounded by not only the most competive individuals, but individuals who had no problem violating every moral compass and value - whatever it took to win, they did it. I had to search long and hard (for two years) before I found just one individual who didn't lie, cheat, steal or stab others in the back. And it was incredibly frustrating to see these individuals rewarded by the law school for such behavior. In fact, my GPA was directly affected by my refusal to engage in some of the actions that so many others in my school did to get higher grades that was dishonest. In addition, for the first time in my life, my strengths weren't enough and everthing I did was being ripped apart. (Thank-you, 1st year Moot Court competition.)

    In addition, the emotionally cold atmosphere contributed to a severe depression that I experienced. I felt unbelievably worthless and for the first time in my life, I got involved in an emotionally abusive relationship. I would have never predicted before law school that I was someone that would be involved in that, but by experiencing it, I have insight as to why some individuals are involved in and remain in abusive relationships. (For me, it was the low self-esteem factor.)

    Fortunately, by the end of my third year it got better for me, especially when I met others like me, who also went through similar situations. However, it went back to being worse when I graduated, could not find legal employment, then could not find any employment, and ended up stuffing bags for $9.50 an hour after graduation. Made you wonder whether it was all worth it. (It's not.)

    Fortunately, I am now in another field altogether and every day away from the legal field is a happy one. It's so nice to be working in a supportive environment surrounded by decent, supportive individuals. It was so nice to discover that I didn't have to work under that level of competition and stress and could still be extremely successful and work at a job I love. The legal field is just not worth it. There are too many negatives and nowadays, no positives. I am glad every day that I no longer work in the legal field. And I ask myself occasionally why I used to want to be a lawyer. I can't remember the answer to that one anymore.

    Thanks, Law Prof, for all the work that you do. Thanks for taking up your students' and graduates' causes. I know you don't get thanked enough. You are what a law professor should be, but seldom is. THANK-YOU for caring!

  114. As to Federal Government Lawyers working long hours: I'm a federal government lawyer, and I just got home (at 2:00 am) after billing over 15 hours today. In one of my fiscal years, I hit over 2,300 billable hours without trying to bill (though trying very hard to do good work).

    After the last few years, I've become more skeptical about private firm lawyers regularly billing 2,000+ years, because that year REALLY beat me down. I suspect a lot of private firm lawyers are fibbing.

  115. On the subject of depression: I suspect some of it is baked into our adversarial system's cake. As a lawyer you're simultaneously: (1) completely responsible for your case and your client's welfare and yet (2) the ultimate outcome is completely out of your control.

    You have to work hard and constantly because mistakes can lose a meritorious case: missing a deadline, failing to raise an argument, failing to be persuasive, missing relevant legal authority in your research, failing to track down documents and evidence, etc. You can lose your case.


    You don't have ultimate control because, even if you're right and you do everything right, the Judge can destroy your case. Sometimes its because your opponent is also really good. Sometimes the case is genuinely close. But, often enough, it's because the Judge has an agenda or is sloppy or is slammed or any number of other things that can lead to mistakes. And, even if your client wins, the Judge still had control over it. So, you can't win your case (the Judge or jury can win your client's case, but you don't control it).

    You can lose, but you can't win (even if your client does). You have tons of responsibility/stress and yet little control.

    Finally, on top of it all, the growing trend of legal nihilism can leave one losing faith in the law and the rule-of-law. It seems that some Judges and prestigious members of the bar are more and more comfortable with viewing themselves as politicians and feel less and less constrained by he law. For someone who thinks that the law has some meaning and that it is generally possible to identify a better outcome under the law, this can be devastating on two bases. First, the law is being disregarded by the powerful people who have been entrusted to protect it--they feel unlimited by it and comfortable pursuing their agendas. Second, you still feel bound by it and want to comply with it, so you're tied in knots of the law while others disregard it. You get the worst of both worlds: less faith in the rule of law, and yet limited in pursuing your own ends regardless of the law.

  116. There are a huge number of people practicing law in the vast window between DUI and representing Fortune 500 companies. This might be called small law or midlaw, and the pay is ok. In most cases it is probably enough not to justify $150K in debt, but it's there. They just are not the type to go on a blog like this or Abovethelaw.

  117. @ the guy who dropped out midway through 2L. I did that as well. I was in a similar situation (scholarship, T2, $30k in LS debt), best decision I've ever made in my life. You might have a hard few months in front of you, but you no longer have a hard rest of your life. Best of luck to you. I dropped out a little over a year ago. I have a job I like, that pays well, and I've learned a lot. I'm on a good path now.

  118. @ 2:01 A.M

    Thanks for the words of inspiration. I like knowing that there are people out there who have made a similar decision and who have succeeded in doing so.

    I had little employment prospects given where I was sitting in the class and finally realized that spending 50K to finish this degree would have just been pouring money down the drain. Like I said, people at the top of the class where striking out at OCI at this "decent" regional T2 school.

    Right now, I can tell that family and friends think I made a dumb decision by dropping out. But they just don't understand. They thick law school is an automatic ticket to paradise. If I can just find a decent job making OK money and be happy then people will eventually forget that I was in law school. It's not their life.

    If there's any advice I can offer to people in law school/going to law school, it's this: If you don't do well in 1L, cut your losses and move on! Odds are things won't get any better in your 2L year. If I had just cut my losses after 1L I'd only be 18K in the hole. Instead, I came back for the first semester of 2L (was afraid to admit failure) and poured another 18K down the drain (lost scholarship after 1L). The worst decision I've ever made was attending law school. The second worst was not cutting my losses after 1L. Hopefully the best is deciding to drop out midway through 2L.

  119. @10:08, you said: "Any moron understand that government subsidy for demand = greater prices by supply."

    Actually, most people don't understand basic economics. There are still a lot of people that blame Cooley and TJLS for the ills in the legal world when the fact is that it's the government subsidies, in the form of unlimited students loans, that are the root of the problem.

  120. @10:08 that's a bold statement. I made the exact same point regarding government subsidies three posts ago (or so). I was promptly attacked as an unemployed loser that knows nothing of economics by multiple commenters. Not everyone gets it.

  121. This is going to sound weird, but...

    I have suffered from depression all my life--recurring, at-first debilitating depression that is genetic in origin, and which is not susceptible to cure by drugs (I've tried. They don't work for me.) But after years of therapy, I have discovered things that do make a measurable difference:

    * making sure that, no matter how busy I am, I eat right
    * making sure that, no matter how busy I am, I take the time to exercise
    * going to bed at 10 PM and getting up at 6 AM.
    * when faced with uncertainty in my future, I plan what I'm going to do under any option: that way I am never out of control.
    * making sure that every day, for at least one hour, I do something because *I* want to do it, not because my job demands it or someone tells me I must.

    If you are suffering from depression--and if you're suffering from depression in law school--a big part of the reason is the complete loss of control that is law school.

    You don't control when you get called on. The amount you work, and your understanding of the material, doesn't have any impact on the grades you get. You don't get to choose the classes you take, the professors you have, the books you read.

    For me, getting through a depressive episode is entirely about creating control: giving myself choices, fall-back plans, assurances, creating pockets of my life where, no matter what is happening elsewhere, I'm in control.

    When I went to law school, I mapped out scenarios. If I absolutely hated it, I planned to leave at the end of the first year. I figured out what jobs I would look for, how I would go about getting them, and planned to cover the "resume gap" that year would create.

    It took me years to figure out that I had a problem, that the problem had a cause, and that there was something I could do about it.

    In some ways, I think the reason I got through law school (relatively) unscathed is that I was already familiar with what was happening, and I knew what it was I was facing. "Oh," I remember thinking in law school, "this feels like the onset of a depressive episode. I've got to take care of myself."

    Whereas most people who are unfamiliar with depression think: "Oh, what the fuck is happening to me? I had better work harder, and stop being such a pussy."

    Which is what I was doing to myself in the beginning.

    Depression is something that can be dealt with and managed.

    All of that being said, the one sure-fire thing that is bound to send me into depression is this:

    * not being financially solvent

    I graduated in 2006, and what I had then is rare as unicorns now.

    If I had gone to law school today, I hope to hell I would have left after the first year. I don't see any other way that I could have managed to stay in the profession without suffering from serious harm.

  122. Good for you 8:11. You're a model of life management.

  123. @4:02, 2:01 here.

    I don't feel like it was the worst decision I ever made to go to law school, because I was on that path for a long time. Obviously a huge mistake in retrospect, but consider us lucky for not pouring more money down the path to misery. I of course should have cut losses after 1L. I was unemployed for 3 months after I dropped out of law school, fyi. I found my place though, and you will to.

  124. 2:01,

    Thanks for those words of inspiration. Even though I know I made the right decision, I'm kind of down in the dumps right now as you can probably imagine. I'm sending out job apps left and right and doing everything possible to get something ASAP. But I know something isn't just going to magically drop out of the sky. It's going to be a full-time job finding a job, but I ultimately think I'll be OK since I have a decent undergrad degree that is marketable in the area I live in.

    Talking to you, someone who literally made the exact decision I did at the same point in their LS career, has made me feel better. Thanks.

  125. Hey !:25,

    not sure if you'll see this but email me at if you want to chat / If I can give you any advice or words of inspiration.


  126. Hello,

    Attorney Dan Lukasik is currently writing a book on depression in the legal profession for the forthcoming ABA book publication "A Terrible Melancholy: Depression in the Legal Profession."

    Dan is currently interviewing law students, lawyers, and judges nation-wide who suffer from depression.

    Dan is looking for 15-20 minute law student contributions (open or anonymous) to be included in his book. The contributions will offer suggestions for healing, help and hope, as 40-51% of law students suffer from depression. Compelling stories of perseverance as well as coping strategies would be very helpful.

    Are there any law students willingly to make a contribution to the book?

    Please check out the website below to get a better idea of the book as well as the great things Dan is doing for our legal community.

    You can contact Dan directly via his site:



  127. I'm one of the law grads who look fairly together on the outside. I graduated from a top 20 school before the recession, did main journal, landed a moderately respectable clerkship, and then got a legal job in government. (BigLaw loved my resume, but we never "clicked" in interviews and I knew it as well as they did.) I was hurting for money for the first few years, but now I'm doing okay and have no major financial problems. I expect to be able to pay off my loans, buy a house, and eventually retire.

    But I still became clinically depressed in law school, and I've had another bout of the illness since getting out. I don't put it down to the competition of law school itself. I enjoyed the academic challenge, and at some level I enjoy the adversarial nature of litigation. But law school is where I lost my faith... not religious faith, which I still have to some degree, but faith in institutions and progress and, really, the legitimacy of everything.

    I found most of the curriculum after first year ridiculous, and my professors so alien (in both social class and generational experience) that I couldn't connect to them. The faddish fields my classmates wanted to work in (mortgage-backed securities?????) were obviously absurd. Pretty much everything in the public policy realm made me want to punch holes in walls. It's that thing about how people who like sausage and respect the law should never watch either one being made.

    It's very hard to go through life when you think all the institutions around you are corrupt, incompetent, or otherwise hopeless. Maybe it's just the general fall-of-Rome malaise that everyone in the U.S. seems to have these days, but I think being in law school at the peak of the financial bubble intensified this to the point that I can't look at the world in a positive (or even neutral) way anymore. I'm sympathetic to those who want to drop out, become religious cultists, or otherwise not grapple with the modern world. I don't want to. It's awful.

    I don't know if I would have come to feel this way if I didn't go to law school. I worked in a lab and never thought about any of these things. I wish I could get that back, but that isn't going to happen.

  128. 1. Expect to lose half of your cases.
    2. The right person doesn't always win in court.
    3. Judges can be jerks. They are nothing like the TV shows. Just remember, always bow and scrape no matter what.
    4. The biggest problem is that companies like to hire the big law firms and get raped by the bills because they think they have some sort of magic bullet to win cases. They don't. Too much testosterone in the brain leads to this fallacy. They should hire new grads for peanuts and get the same results.

  129. Part 1:

    Such a great discussion here.

    Dr. Raj Persaud addresses this exact question in his excellent book, “The Motivated Mind” (Bantam Press, 2005).

    Persaud says that stress and even 'status anxiety' by themselves don't necessarily lead to depression, and this is supported by the fact that many other stressful and hierarchical fields do not have depression rates anywhere near to what we see in the legal field. Rather, he attributes the depression susceptibility of lawyers/law students to: (1) a specific type of stress, which is the kind arising from a perceived lack of control over what you do at work; and (2) personality disposition towards pessimism. Law school and biglaw culture (particularly the early years) definitely involve the former. The second is more controversial as it suggests that lawyers/law students at least to some extent self-select into the field out of a distinctly pessimism-prone personality type; this would appear to at least partly support the hands-off view of some law schools regarding law student depression, which is that "they come to us that way".

    For those who do not have easy access to "The Motivated Mind", I am providing the following excerpt (for the purpose of educational discussion and commentary) from Dr. Raj Persaud's excellent book. I strongly encourage anyone interested in the subject of lawyers (and other professionals) struggling with mental and emotional health issues, or those interested in the general topics of life management, self-improvement, focus, motivation, goal-setting, happiness and fulfillment, to pick up a copy of Dr. Persaud's eye-opening, compassionate and helpful book.

    “One of the largest surveys ever conducted to investigate which jobs are the most stressful involved interviewing over 3,000 people and concluded that the job most associated with major mental health problems was being a lawyer… Lawyers, according to this research, are almost four times more likely to be depressed than the average working person. The study was conducted by doctors at America’s top medical school, Johns Hopkins, where I worked for a while as a psychiatrist. The authors to the study, led by Dr. William Eaton, were puzzled as to why [this profession] should be associated with the most depression of all and suggested that perhaps it was down to the lack of control the individual working in [this area] had over their workload.

    Much research into occupational stress has found that it’s not so much the workload you suffer that determines your stress levels as how much control you have over the way you do your job. The more individual autonomy you have from nine until five, the more protected you seem to be from developing emotional disturbance, or even the physical consequences of stress, like high blood pressure. Even if you have a lot of work to do, as long as you have some say in how it’s done, this seems to buffer you from the effects of occupational stress.

    However, psychologists have long been puzzled by why lawyers were the most depressed profession of all, given, for example, that lawyers in the USA long surpassed doctors as the highest paid professionals. Yet 52% of practicing lawyers in a recent survey there described themselves as dissatisfied.

    The latest theory to explain this odd result comes from top American psychologist Professor Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania. Seligman argues that the key thing about lawyers is they tend at heart to be pessimistic personality types. When bad things happen in life, pessimists tend to assume these negative life events are permanent and global—they are going to last forever and are going to undermine everything. The pessimist views bad events as pervasive, permanent and changeable. While pessimism is maladaptive in most endeavours, Prof. Seligman found, surprisingly that those entering law school get better grades the more pessimistic they are.

  130. Part 2 (excerpt from "The Motivated Mind" cont.):

    Pessimism is seen as a plus among lawyers because seeing troubles as pervasive and permanent is a component of what the law profession deems ‘prudence’. A prudent perspective enables a good lawyer to see every conceivable snare and catastrophe that might occur in any transaction. The ability to anticipate the whole range of possible problems and betrayals that non-lawyers are blind to is highly adaptive for the practicing lawyer who can, by so doing, help his clients defend against these eventualities. The best lawyers are probably those most deeply pessimistic about human nature and who don’t trust their own clients any further than the opposition. This scepticism helps them to be best prepared for any eventuality.

    Unfortunately, a personality feature that makes you good at your profession does not always make you a happy person.

    The key to solving lawyer unhappiness – and, given pessimism probably is at the heart of the success of many other professionals where prudence is a key factor, a key to helping many of us to be happier at work—is not to take home the pessimism that helps us to do our jobs well.

    It is vital to understand that gloomy views of others are helpful in getting your job done well but to take these views home and maintain them of your spouse, family or friends is likely to make you depressed about life in general.

    Pessimistic lawyers are, according to Prof. Seligman, also more likely to believe that their spouses are being unfaithful and this might explain why lawyers have the highest divorce rate compared to other professions.”


    Persaud goes on to discuss helpful techniques for preventing such otherwise useful pessimism from contaminating other areas of your life (e.g. self-esteem and relationships) where it is not welcome and can only do harm. Pessimism can be a very useful cognitive trait in a lawyer's toolkit, but as a human being, optimism and resilience are what you require to thrive. Self-awareness and balance are the secret of success here. (But not if you want to succeed in biglaw in the status quo, however; that requires a fundamentally skewed and imbalanced life. Or maybe that's just my pessimism talking ;-)

    I'll just add that 10 minutes of daily meditation can be miraculous and transformational for any student or professional dealing with depression. "Search Inside Yourself" is an easy and incredibly powerful crash-course in meditation (and other happiness tips) by Google engineer and wellness author Chade Meng-Tan.

    Good luck everyone with your challenges. Keep looking up and stay strong.

  131. EDIT:
    *The authors OF the study
    * The pessimist views bad events as pervasive, permanent and UNchangeable.
    *Excerpt taken from pp. 152-154 of "The Motivated Mind" by Dr. Raj Persaud (Bantam Press, 2005).

  132. This site is awesome. I continually encounter something new & different right here. Thank you for that data.Natural remedies to treat depression

  133. Law students are depressed because they have coe to realize that there is no law. Many, like me, enroll with the quaint conviction that law is about "justice", that philosophy and ethics matter, that it is about "right" and "wrong, that there are such things as "legal principles". LOL.

    Instead, we are given hundreds of "rules", each with multiple exceptions, and sometimes exceptions to the exceptions. As we brief cases, we come to understand that any case could have been ruled either way, and that this is the WHOLE IDEA. We are trained to argue every issue from either side, and there is always "law" to make this possible. Our task as attorneys is to provide the court with the ability to rule any which way that serves its interest.

    This is depressing.

  134. Of course law professors are "arbitrary". There is no other way they could be. Any attempt to grade objectively would reveal the "law" for what it is: bullshit.

    One of the first things we discover is that "rule of law" is impossible. Indeed, there are (at least) two sets of laws - one for government employees, and one for everyone else.

    The purpose of law school really is to weed out those individuals who maintain any shred of morality, for such is systemically intolerable. Can you imagine? Saying the Emperor has no clothes?! So of course the professors beat us up on a regular basis. How else will we learn what real law is like in the real world?

    We don't have a justice system, we have a power system, and law school reflects that well.

    This is depressing.


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