Before anyone ever decides to pursue a career in law, they would have probably done a background check on the work ethic in the legal profession and they would no doubt have discovered the maniac work shifts lawyers keep and the endless hours of reading. It’s par for the course then especially when viewed against the background that we live in an ever revolutionary world of rules, where a day away from work in 365 days can be the only reason why a lawyer got floored in court by opposing counsel because he had relied on the old rule of law, now defunct, that had existed up till the time he took his breather from work. This is hardly surprising since we live in a roller coaster society where what has gone viral the previous day could hardly be major news the day after that.
The supersonic pace of change in society has long been taking its toll on lawyers. Lawyers have to be constantly-up-to the minute with the times, along with meeting the demands of clients. They always have to juggle too many balls and this can be depressing at times. Law students are not irrecusable from this damaging trend. Back then in my days at the University of Benin, you could second-guess any law student’s level in school just by glancing at the color of their white shirts. The brighter the color, the more likely they were in their first year. The reasoning was this; first year law students in Nigeria are rarely exposed to the rigors of law studies until their second year (at which time they will have their first share of half a thousand contract cases to memorize). So it’s fairly easy to see why they’d care about their appearance. The higher you go the less likely you’ll care that much about your appearance. You had tons of cases to deal with. So where then will you get the time to do all of your major laundry?
With such frantic schedules to keep and endless tasks to juggle, law students have become more prone to depression, anxiety and stress. In a research conducted by the Davenee Foundation, depression among law students is 8-9% prior to matriculation, 27% after one semester, 34% after 2 semesters, and 40% after 3 years. Stress among law students is 96% compared to 70% in med students and 43% in graduate students
In my second year of school, I got so overwhelmed with the typical nine to five schedule that I started gaming excessively (a sign of depression). For two weeks running I would skip classes to play video games and since I stayed off campus most times I had no one around to keep me in check. It was very uncharacteristic of me to do this, since prior to that time I had barely missed a day of lecture at the law faculty.
It took me a few weeks of soul searching to come round. In that time, I found a way of escapism, away from my choking lecture time table that barely afforded me the opportunity to let my soul catch up with my spirit. On less busies days of lectures, I would leave the law faculty for sight-seeing somewhere in town at the close of lectures. That way I would come back refreshed and stronger for the longer days ahead of me.
Unlike other professionals, the over-powering need to be a Harvey-specter perfect lawyer combined with the adversarial nature of the lawyers work leads lawyers down the steep slope of work-life imbalance possibly opening the door to depression, addictions and eventually suicide. Again it has been reported in a research conducted by the Davenee Foundation that lawyers are the most frequently depressed occupational group in the US, and ranked 5th in incidence of suicide by occupation.
In some cases, these consequences can snowball into deeper behavioral and psychological issues. And since we live in a society where people with emotional and psychological issues are stigmatized and looked upon as first class moral failures, it then becomes difficult for people with these issues to open up or seek help. They tend to bottle it all inside until the consequences are irremediable.
But we all need to be doing more. We need to do something like community policing where once we spot the tell-tale signs of ill-health among colleagues, we can act fast to help. If we spot anyone do something out of character repeatedly, then that is a red flag. When an otherwise neat person starts showing up late for class or work or unkempt then those are possible indicators of something deeper. Other examples would be sleep and eating disorders, sadness without a reason, anger outbursts, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, issues with concentrating and isolation.
People having these struggles should seek professional counseling or confide in a trusted friend.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LL.B from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
To get in touch, follow him on social media.