Why Bother? And How To Help With Attorney Depression

Why Bother? And How To Help With Attorney Depression

If you join a couple of attorney friends for lunch (a table for three), one of the three of you will suffer symptoms of attorney depression at some time during their legal career. Identifying which attorney at your table may be suffering from depression is challenging. Symptoms of depression are often the character traits of good attorneys. Good attorneys, for example, are often introspective and pessimistic (always anticipating what might go wrong).1

The legal services industry itself is often structured to manifest depression where attorneys are expected to fix problems, battle for clients, and deal with client emotions but have no control of the results. It is hard to work in the legal services industry and not experience stress and anxiety.

Identifying Depression

Probably the easiest indicator of depression is the loss of interest in something someone used to enjoy. This is distinguished from a season of life where someone has a hectic schedule and can’t do something they enjoy. Rather, a symptom of depression is someone losing the joy of something they used to enjoy. Given the opportunity, they refuse because they “just aren’t interested anymore.”

Otherwise, symptoms vary person to person. That is, depression in some people may look like sadness and weeping. In others, it may look like anger and irritability. Consider some of these varied symptoms:

  • Fatigue and decreased energy;
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering details;
  • Difficulty making decisions;
  • Insomnia;
  • Early-morning wakefulness;
  • Excessive sleeping;
  • Eating significantly more or less;
  • Thoughts of suicide;
  • Suicide attempts.1

Why Bother?

Even with close friends, the prevailing response to depression is to not get involved. Just let things run their course and see what happens. Why meddle and risk a negative impact on our relationship?

The costs of not getting involved are simply too high. At a minimum, unchecked depression results in lost productivity, ethics complaints or malpractice claims for failure to act resulting from fatigue or forgetfulness. The severity worsens to substance abuse issues, divorce, wealth depletion, and suicide. Why bother? The stakes are simply too high not to.

The Best Help

Often someone suffering from depression does not know it. They may know that they are so fatigued that they cannot complete the same level of work. They may complain of waking at 2 a.m. without the ability to go back to sleep. But they may not know they are suffering from some level of depression. Simply suggesting that someone consider that they may be suffering from depression may be the best help.

How you approach someone will vary from person to person. Approaching a person you have an established friendship with is different than approaching someone you only know casually. Often, pointing out changes in behavior that you have personally noticed is impactful, especially when coupled with an offer of help. Consider questions like these:

→ This is the first year you haven’t played softball with us, is there anything I can do to get you back?

→ Several times I’ve heard you say that you are not sleeping well. My brother-in-law found a great doctor to help him with a similar problem, could I introduce you to my brother-in-law?

→ You know, for as long as I’ve known you I remember that you take your wife out on a date every Friday. I’ve noticed that you haven’t mentioned that in over a month. Is there anything I can help you with so you can get some free time?

Simply having an open conversation can be immensely helpful. Many attorneys know they are suffering from a symptom (like fatigue) but it never occurs to them that they may be suffering from depression. Once the discussion starts, you may find many opportunities to steer your friend toward objective help.

Objective Help for Attorney Depression

A friend may be more willing to receive help from a helper outside of a friendship and you should encourage them to do so.

The ability to objectively evaluate depression in our friends is often clouded by all that we know about them. If you personally know someone to have a keen memory, it is sometimes difficult to admit that their memory is failing. If you personally know someone to have a strong work ethic, it is difficult to admit that their work is slipping due to fatigue. A third-party helper can analyze symptoms more objectively and provide valuable advice and resources.

Also, someone who has studied depression or had experience with depression is better equipped to identify red flags of increasing severity (like substance abuse or suicide) and they are better equipped with resources to help.

More and more resources are available for attorneys suffering from depression. Consider these three:

A Depression Coach

Dan Lukasik is an attorney who suffers from depression. He has created a national coaching practice to help other attorneys. Dan is a great first step for attorneys struggling with depression symptoms who want to talk with someone that has both legal experience and experience with attorney depression.

Medical Help

Beyond coaching, attorneys seeking medical advice often confer with G. Andrew H. Benjamin, J.D., Ph.D., ABPP for evaluation and treatment. Dr. Benjamin has a unique insight into attorney depression as he is credentialed both as an attorney and health services professional.

A Local Attorney Depression Group

Unlike group therapy, a local attorney depression group is a meeting of attorneys who have identified that they struggle with depression. Many have developed coping skills and identified local resources that they are willing to share. If you don’t have a local attorney group close to you, consider starting one.

Joy On The Other Side of Depression

Of course, in more acute situations, you may need to involve your Lawyers Assistance Program. Even then, however, the goal is not just to navigate through an acute depressive episode. The goal is to establish a lifestyle that balances joy in the practice of law and in life beyond the law.


Brandon Blankenship
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  1. See generally, Mental Health Awareness 101: Battling Burnout and Depression, American Bar Association
How To Reach The Summit With These Attorney Financial Reports

How To Reach The Summit With These Attorney Financial Reports

Whether your practice is solo, small, medium, or whether you are an associate or partner in a firm, all attorneys manage their own personal law practice. The organization you work for, or with, is not responsible for your personal law practice – you are. If your personal law practice does not grow into what you want it to be, the grief is personal. If you are practicing law, the following attorney financial reports can help you meet your personal practice goals and avoid hidden enemies that could cost you everything.

When I am traveling in the U.S., in a car, I don’t bother much with drawing out a course out on a map anymore. I make sure to have a good address and a phone number of the place I am going. I have Siri or some kind of GPS. I’ve been driving long enough to know that from where I live, I head east for Atlanta and west for Dallas … you get the picture. For me, some travel is just intuitive.

My daughter and I starting a quest.

But when I am hiking, I have a completely different philosophy. I might have newfangled technology that tells me which way to go and how many steps I took to get there. Even so, I want a map and a compass. If I can get it, I want a topographical map. This compulsion might be a holdover from my Boy Scout orienteering merit badge. More likely, it is motivated by the feeling of being lost. If you have ever been lost in the wilderness, really lost, with limited food or water, you never want to be lost again.

Financial reports are the map and compass of a law practice. And by the way, if you are not looking at where you are in your law practice financially, if you don’t know where you are, you are lost.

Newfangled Technology Makes It Easier

The good news is, you do not have to spend hour upon hour pouring over financial reports. There are many tools available that work all of the following financial information into a dashboard. Many dashboards can be configured so that good things are green, cautioned things are yellow and areas of concern are red. You can configure the dashboard to reflect your own personal priorities.

The essential financial reports that are measured by your dashboard are summarized below.

Annual and Monthly Budget

This report is a plan: where am I going over the next month or the next year? It does not have to be drilled down into how many paper clips you might use. On the other hand, a budget helps you structure your practice into what you want, rather than what everyone else wants. If for example, you are on track with your budget to meet your revenue goals, you may be more comfortable turning down business that is outside the focus of your practice. A year of pruning your practice in this way may establish you as an authority in the practice area you want rather than a jack-of-all-trades.

Monthly Profit and Loss Statement

Where a budget is what you intend to do, a monthly profit and loss (P&L) statement is what you actually do. This is the report that you compare to your monthly budget to determine if you are on track or not. So that this data does not get too stale before the reports are available, establish a date early in the month where all the information for the prior month must be entered. For example, by the 6th of this month, all invoices should be sent, all expenses entered and actual transactions should be entered for the prior month. With this practice, your monthly profit and loss statement is available – and accurate – on the 7th day of the month.

Weekly Cash Flow Projection

Of course, the data reflected in a monthly P&L has already happened. It is like driving a vehicle while looking in the rearview mirror and only the rear view mirror. A cash flow projection is looking forward using the whole front windshield. A cash flow projection is calculated like this:

If you are watching your 90-day cash flow projections, you will have plenty of time to work out cash flow problems before you are suffering the consequences of them.

Balance Sheet

A balance sheet tells you what your practice is worth: Assets minus liabilities. It is a good tool to inform you if, over time, you are creating value in your practice or not.

A Broken Compass Is Dangerous

Financial reports are the map and compass of a law practice. The map informs you about where you are and where you want to go. A compass informs you which way to go. Sometimes, however, a map can be wrong or a compass can be damaged. A dashboard with red and green showing your condition is only as good as the data that goes into it. Financial reports are only as good as the data that goes into them. There is nothing more dangerous that a compass that reads wrong.

For me in my practice, and for many others, financial reports were purposefully altered to hide thefts or unauthorized activities. To guard against this happening to you, establish a way to insure that your bank statements are reconciled against your financial reports by someone other than the person that enters your financial data, or prepares your financial reports. Broken financial reporting is dangerous but easy to fix.

Reaching The Summit With Attorney Financial Reports

Isn’t the summit for a law practice strategically developing a fulfilling practice that meets your financial goals? Strategic decision making always has a financial component. Cash flow projections have always helped me make short term decisions strategically. Decisions with a longer impact may require looking to other financial reports – like your balance sheet.

Law practices are more like wilderness trekking than interstate driving. These few financial reports are tools for strategic practice growth. If you wouldn’t trek out in the wilderness without some way of knowing how to get back, don’t trek out into the future of your law practice without financial reporting.


Brandon Blankenship
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