Psychology for Lawyers

the emotional fallout of work


"The practice of law has become increasingly challenging both professionally and personally."

—M. Mark Heekin, Implementing Psychological Resilience Training in Law Incubators, 1 Touro J. Experiential Educ. 286 (2015) [online text of the article]

"[W]ork can be sick . . . the pathology can be in the work, in its organizational structures and systems of management, its professional attitudes, even its physical environs . . . . It is only natural that many lawyers, through their sympathetic talents, begin to reflect and interiorize these work disorders."

—Benjamin Sells, The Soul of the Law 122 (Rockport, Massachusetts: Element, 1994)

"[The 'modern madness' is] the invisible link between careers and emotional conflict. Its victims suffer various disturbances—genuine emotional conflicts—that range from mild distress to feelings of self-betrayal, to stress and burnout, to acute psychiatric symptoms and irrationality. These symptoms, sometimes invisible on the surface, are generated by work and career within today's large organizations. They reveal a pervasive malady that may affect thousands of workers, particularly the new breed of careerist—achievement- and success-oriented men and women mostly with the 25- to 47-year-old range.

We find that many of these career professionals describe . . . a vague dissatisfaction with their lives that gnaws away at them. They speak of feeling empty and detached, of a lack of meaning, despite career success. Some say that they feel numb emotionally, and that they can't love anyone, that they feel no passion about anything, despite being good in their work. A common theme is the feeling of not being at the helm of things in their lives, despite outward achievement and outwardly comfortable lives. . . . They describe feeling passive and helpless, at the mercy of forces that seem outside themselves and beyond their control, beyond their comprehension, even."

* * * *

"To properly understand [psychological] symptoms [of a professional] requires understanding both the person and the situation. One must explore whether the symptoms do, in fact, reflect unconscious, irrational motives and passions, rooted in childhood experiences, or whether the symptoms are a response of a person within the normal range to threat, stress, disturbed working environments, or overadaptation to the values of the career culture."

—Douglas LaBier, Modern Madness: The Emotional Fallout of Success 3-4, 49 (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publ. Co., 1986)


"The Iron Cage," in Barry Schwartz, The Costs of Living: How Market Freedom Erodes the Best Things in Life 7-9 (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1994)

"Why Lawyers Are Depressed, Anxious, Bored Insomniacs," Wall Street Journal (June 12, 1995)

Connie J.A. Beck, Lawyer Distress: Alcohol-related Problems and Other Psychological Concerns among a Sample of Practicing Lawyers, 10 J.L. & Health 1 (1995) [online text]


Jennifer Senior, Can't Get No Satisfaction: In a Culture Where Work Can be a Religion, Burout is Its Crisis of Faith, New York Magazine (2007) [online text]

Wilmar B. Shaufeli, Michael P. Leiter & Christina Maslach, Burnout: 35 Years of Research and Practice, 14 (3) Career Development International 204 (2009) [online text]

Christina Maslach & Michael P. Leiter, Reversing Burnout: How to Rekindle Your Passion for Your Work, Stan. Social Innovation Rev. (2005) [online text]

Class Videos

Class Viewing 1: James Hillman on Work with Purpose [1:21 mins.]

Class Viewing 2: James Hillman Lectures and Interviews [1:25:45 mins.] [class presentation ends at 2:14 mins.]

Class Viewing 3: The Fear of Missing Out [11:31 mins.] [Priya Parker] [in-class viewing can end at 6:28 mins.]

Class Viewing 4: Stress Management for Lawyers [2:28 mins.] [Mark Siwik, a lawyer, talking about lawyer stress; relates burn-out to depression]

Class Viewing 5: Why Are Lawyers So Blue? [2:12 mins.]

Class Viewing 6: Burning Out in the Fast Lane [3:58 mins.] [Gary Gwilliam, a trial lawyer talks about his life; about his drinking] Trial Lawyers and Stress [2:08 mins.]

Class Viewing 7: Learning to Live [13:36 mins.] [Stephanie Snyder, TED Talk] ["What we hide from the world owns us."] ["We don't have to pursue our passion; our passion is always pursuing us."] ["Be aware of the longing of your own heart."] [end class presentation at 4:20 mins. and resume at 7:16 mins. and end at 11:40 mins.] ["Identify our demons or they will identify us"; the need to identify our broken places.]

Class Viewing 8: A Rant on Work-Life Balance [5:16 mins.] [a "visual rant" by Andy Clark of Wellness on the hazard posed by those who promote and seek work-life balance; going easier on the idea of balance than some of us would]

Class Viewing 9: Alain de Botton: A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success [16:51 mins.] [TED Talk] [end class presentation at 7:42 mins.; pick up viewing at 12:22 mins., video then runs to 14.38 mins.] [total viewing, in class: 10 mins.] ["It's hard to be free of career anxieties."]

Class Viewing 10: Life is Your Talents Discovered [10:57 mins.] [Ken Robinson | TED] [end class presentation at 9:58 mins.]

Class Viewing 11: Ken Robinson on Education & Creativity [19:18 mins.] [begin class presentation at 2:58 mins.; video ends at 19:10 mins.]

Optional | Recommended (Work--a Historical & Philosopical Context): The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work [1:07:49 mins.] [Alain de Botton's presentation begins at 2:38 mins.] [class presentation can begin at 8:02 mins.]

A Departing Note1: Reintroducing Wisdom in Everyday Life [44:56 mins.] [end class presentation at 2:40 mins.]

A Departing Note2: Talking Heads, "Once in a Lifetime" [4:31 mins.] Live Performance [5:39 mins.] Recorded Live [November 4, 1980, Capitol Theatre, Passaic, New Jersey :: 5:48 mins.] David Byrne, performing "Once In A Lifetime" [BBC Sessions, Union Chapel Hall, Islington, July 2002 :: 4:41 mins.] a two song encore: "Take Me to the River" [7:41 mins.] David Byrne, "This Must Be The Place [5:13 mins.] [Holland, 2004]

Reference (Rethinking Adversarial Law Practice)

Jeanne Fahey Talking about Her Life as a Lawyer
[9:47 mins.]
Pt2 [9:56 mins.] Pt3 [9:55 mins.]

Michael Zeytoonian Talking about His Life as a Lawyer
[8:12 mins.]
Pt2 [4:24 mins.]

Reference (Work)(Alain de Botton)

Reintroducing Wisdom in Everyday Life
[44:56 mins.] [a lecture by Alain de Botton; highly recommended.]

The Future of the Way We Live, Love and Work
[19:53 mins.] [another recommended de Botton talk]

On Pessimism
[38:53 mins.]

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
[23:17 mins.]

Fulfillment at Work
[1:31:50 mins.]

A Guide to Happiness
[23:58 mins.]

Fear of Failure
[4:56 mins.]

Self Confidence
[24:12 mins.]

On Status Anxiety
[38:55 mins.]

On Love
[1:12:48 mins.]

On Art as Therapy
[45:16 mins.]

The Art of Travel
[49:00 mins.]

On How to Live Wisely in the Digital Age
[46:23 mins.]

Religion For Atheists
[1:09:17 mins.] ["I don't believe the business of living is very obvious."]

An Evening with Alain de Botton
[1:04:57 mins.] [de Botton's presentation begins at 2:02 mins.] [begins by talking about what he seeks in his books: guidance; looking to different disciplines, philosophy, literature, visual arts, architecture; decides, as a non-believer, that religion might have something to offer to non-believers]

An Evening with Alain De Botton
[1:07:35 mins.]

Reference (Priya Parker)

How to Quit Your Life (and Reboot)
[18:44 mins.] [reference to corporate lawyers]

Priya Parker Interviewed on the Fear of Missing Out
[4:43 mins.]

Reference (Work Life TED Talks)


Getting Stuck in the Negatives (and How to Get Unstuck) [9:56 mins.] [Alison Ledgerwood]

Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career
[15:00 mins.] [Larry Smith]

Why You Have to Fail to Have a Great Career
[10:29 mins.] [Michael Litt]

Emotions at Work
[17:39 mins.] [talk begins with the idea of two worlds: private & professional; we move between these two worlds]

The Way We Think about Work is Broken
[8:02 mins.] [Barry Schwartz]

Bring Your Whole Self to Work
[12:05 mins.]

Finding & Being Authentically Myself at Work
[12:35 mins.]

Failure to Find Passion
[15:01 mins.] [Cass Phillipp]

Don't Just Follow Your Passion: A Talk for Generation Y
[17:52 mins.] [Eunice Hii]

How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes
[10:34 mins.] [Adam Leipzig]

How Do We Discover Purpose?
[13:56 mins.] [Steve Frampton]

Finding Our Aspiration by Losing Your Ambition
[12:41 mins.] [Aliza Weller] [distinguishing ambition & aspiration]

How to Find Your Passion and Inner Awesomeness
[16:51 mins.] [Eugene Hennie]

What Makes Life Meaningful
[16:46 mins.] [Michael Steger, professor of psychology, Colorado State University]

The Exhausted Woman's Handbook
[4:34 mins.] [Christine Hammond]

Reference (Psychological Distress in Lawyers)

Connie J.A. Beck, Bruce D. Sales & G. Andrew H. Benjamin, Lawyer Distress: Alcohol-Related Problems and Other Psychological Concerns Among a Sample of Practicing Lawyers 10 (1) J. Law & Health 1 (1995-1996) [online text]

Reference (Burn-Out) (Christina Maslach)

Burnout From Heroic Action
[13:01 mins.] [Christina Maslach, University of California-Berkeley]

Understanding Burnout
[audio of lecture :: 1:12:29 mins.]

Reference (Burnout)(Articles)

A. Weber & A. Jaekel-Reinhard, Burnout Syndrome: A Disease of Modern Societies?, 50 (7) Occup. Med. 512 (2000) [online text]

Brittany Stringfellow Otey, Buffering Burnout: Preparing the Online Generation for the Occupational Hazards of the Legal Profession [online text]

Susan Jackson, Jon Turner & Arthur P. Brief, Correlates of Burnout Among Public Service Lawyers [online text]

Céleste M. Brotheridge & Alicia A. Grandey, Emotional Labor and Burnout: Comparing Two Perspectives of "People Work," 60 J. Vocational Behavior 17 (2002) [online text]

Bert Loonstra, Feelings of Existential Fulfilment and Burnout Among Secondary School Teachers, Teaching & Techer Education (2009) [online text]

Ayala Malach Pines & Oreniya Yafe-Yanai, Unconscious Determinants of Career Choice and Burnout: Theoretical Model and Counseling Strategies, 38 (4) J. Employment Counseling 170 (2001) [online text]

Connie J.A. Beck, Bruce D. Sales & G. Andrew H. Benjamin, Lawyer Distress: Alcohol-Related Problems and Other Psychological Concers among a Sample of Practicing Lawyers, 10 J.L. & Health 1 (1995) [online text]

Reference (Lawyers)(Stress)

A Lawyer Talking About a Stress Relief Technique
[0:50 mins.]

Wellness Lawyer: The 3 Types of Stress
[21:38 mins.]

A Lawyer's Stress
[6:00 mins.]

Reference (Stress)

Ellen Langer on Stress
[2:48 mins.] [commenting on mindlessness]

Stress, Burnout Taking Toll on Many U.S. Workers
[7:53 mins.] [PBS news]

Introduction to Stress Management
[19:13 mins.] [Dr. LuAnn Helms, Utah State University's Counseling and Psychological Services]

The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
[22:15 mins.] [David Allen, a TED Talk]

Positive Emotion in the Midst of Stress
[58:44 mins.]

Coping with Stress: Imaginative Solutions for Stress Relief
[1:28:31 mins.] [Dr. Martin Rossman]

Reference (Depression in the Legal Profession)

Why Lawyers Are So Depressed
[3:14 mins.] [Larry Kramer, Dean, Stanford Law School]

Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in the Legal Profession
[9:32 mins.] [Daniel T. Lukasik] Pt2 [10:36 mins.]

A Terrible Melancholy: Depression in the Legal Profession
[31:58 mins.] [Bar Association of Erie County]

Depression is a Disease of Civilization
[22:21 mins.] [TED Talk] [Dr. Stephen Ilardi, professor of clinical psychology, and author of The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs]

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