Are you a trial lawyer?

Then you’re probably stressed

Stuart Zanville
2017 November

Readers of this column have something in common. They are all trial lawyers.

There is also something you share just by the nature of your job. It can lead to serious medical conditions, even death, and that’s pretty serious.

That something is stress.

I can see you smiling now and saying, “Not me, I’m not stressed.”

Really? My guess is that as a trial lawyer, you have two characteristics that lead to high levels of stress. You are either a perfectionist or a pessimist, and probably both.

Your job requires you to deal with endless deadlines, exhibit chronic anger against real and perceived adversaries and face the distinct possibility of rejection on a regular basis. But, even if that wasn’t so, in today’s political world, if you watch cable news, read the internet or follow the tweets of our president, you are stressed.

Today, we are all victims of information overload. We are bombarded with a constant barrage of digital intrusions. We hear many friends and relatives saying, “Please, I can’t take any more. It’s just too much.” And they probably aren’t trial lawyers.

Patient is the web’s leading independent health platform, established for 20 years. With more than 18 million visits a month, it is a trusted source of information for both patients and health professionals across the globe. Here’s what their experts say about stress:

Stress is difficult to define or measure. Some people thrive on a busy lifestyle and are able to cope well with daily stresses. Other people become tense or stressed by the slightest change from their set daily routine. Most people fall somewhere in between but may have periods when levels of stress increase.

As a trial lawyer, elevated levels of stress are part of your daily routine and can lead to serious consequences. Those consequences are truly serious, and if it takes facts to make you agree, how about these:

  • A 1990 Johns Hopkins University study examined more than 100 occupations for anxiety-related issues and found that lawyers suffer from depression at a rate 3.6 times that of the other professions studied.
  • A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study – based on data from 1984 to1998 – concluded that white male lawyers are more likely to turn to suicide than nonlawyer professionals.
  • Falling Through the Cracks, a 2014 survey of Yale Law School students, found that 70 percent of them have struggled with mental health issues during their time at law school.

Will Meyerhofer is a Harvard-trained lawyer who became a licensed clinical social worker after benefiting from therapy he himself underwent.

When asked how many lawyers are stressed out, Meyerhofer says, “The official number is that something like a gazillion lawyers are stressed out, and that amounts to a bajillion percent of the profession.”

Today, counseling stressed-out attorneys has become a specialty for Meyerhofer, who’s also written a book, Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning. In his practice, lawyers complain frequently and primarily about depression and anxiety. “I see it like crazy.”

If you don’t think you are stressed, take this simple quiz about telltale signs of stress that may be building up in you.

Raise your hand if the answer is yes to any of these questions:

  • Are you unable to sleep properly with worries going through your mind?
  • Do minor problems cause you to feel impatient or irritable?
  • Are you unable to concentrate due to many things going through your mind?
  • Are you unable to relax and always feel something needs to be done?
  • Do you have headaches and muscle tension in your neck and shoulders?

OK, you can put your hands down now.

As a trial lawyer, it’s a given that you have high levels of stress. So, what can you do about it?

Recommendations for reducing stress are everywhere, and range from simplistic to sophisticated, from serious to silly.

Here are a few you might consider:

  • For a few minutes a day, sit still in a quiet place. Try and clear your mind.
  • Identify and eliminate sources of stress that are within your control. (Stop listening to and reading every word our President says or tweets!)
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Caffeine and alcohol cause anxiety.
  • Get more sleep. Losing sleep increases feelings of stress. If you can’t get more sleep, try a quick afternoon nap at your desk.
  • Try deep breathing and stretching.
  • A final tip is one of the simplest, but one that nearly every expert agrees will work. Exercise more.

I speak regularly to a prominent trial lawyer and much of the time he has just left the gym or is on his way there. He is a calm person with few signs of the stress he should be feeling. He’s convinced it’s because of his exercise regimen. He’s a great trial lawyer; who am I to disagree?

The solutions may sound simple, and obviously you need to find your own answers. But like everything else, the first thing you need to do is admit you have the condition. Hopefully, this column helped with that without causing you more stress.

Stuart Zanville Stuart Zanville

Stuart Zanville is the Executive Director of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA). Contact him at (213) 487-1212 or by e-mail:

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