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Lawyers and Drinking

August 2, 2007

Why do so many lawyers drink so much?

Take last week, for example. A colleague sent me and several others an email that he normally sends out every week. “Reminder: Happy Hour. Tomorrow, it’s Alma de Cuba. Be there or be square.”

The next day, a friend (lawyer) called me. “Hey, my colleagues and I are going to El Vez for drinks after work, and you’re invited.”

Later that same day, another friend (also lawyer) sent me a text. “I know it’s late notice, but I’m out with some colleagues, and we’re in your neighborhood. Come to Rouge if you want to catch up over some wine.”

That same week, I went to two Philadelphia Bar Association receptions. One featured two free drink tickets and appetizers. The other featured an open bar (free, of course) and heavy hors d’oeuvres and desserts.

I didn’t go to happy hour with my colleagues. And I met up with only one of my friends and ordered a Coke. I went to the two receptions but had one cocktail at one (and I said no thanks when some friends of mine went to a bar after that reception for more drinks) and only drank water at the other reception.

“You’re no fun,” said one of my acquaintances because I chose not to drink any alcohol at one of the receptions. “You know, it’s open bar, and it’s free!”

“I know, but if I drink at every reception I go to, I’d be drinking all the time,” I replied.

“What’s wrong with that?” he joked. “Aren’t you a lawyer? Aren’t we supposed to be alcoholics?”

That got me thinking, do lawyers drink more than average Americans? Apparently, we do. I have read that alcoholism is more prevalent among lawyers than it is among the general public. In fact, statistics show that about 13 percent of lawyers drink several alcoholic beverages a day, where as (only) seven percent of non-lawyers are alcoholics. I also read in another study that one out of three lawyers suffers from alcoholism.

Maybe the rate of alcoholism among lawyers is double the rate of alcoholism among non-lawyers because of all these happy hours and receptions we keep getting invited to. Maybe we drink more because it’s our way of destressing when we have lots of deadlines and constant pressure to attract and retain clients. Maybe it’s the adversarial nature of the profession that drives us to drink. Or maybe we drink because we often feel as though we have no control over our lives, since we are often at the mercy of judges, clients, and partners. Or, maybe we drink because lawyers generally tend to be unhappy people due to the hours we have to put in (billable or otherwise). Or, maybe our profession just attracts the type of people who are prone to drinking.

Today is Thursday. Is anyone going to happy hour after work?

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark permalink
    August 2, 2007 11:54 am

    I like this post even though I am not a lawyer. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion–does it? I don’t buy the excuse that lawyers drink (more than the average Joe) because they have stressful jobs with lots of pressure and lots of deadlines. A stressful job is working for the US military and leaving the Green Zone in a humvee every morning (or several times a week). That’s my definition of a stressful job. As for a stressful home life, that would be having two kids and no job.

    Still, it would be nice to be invited to all the social events you describe, with all that free food. Following your line of argument, though, you seem to suggest that lawyers, on average, are also overweight, but I see a lot of thin lawyers. Must be all the stress! I’m not trying to be snide; I actually like (most) lawyers.

    Oh, I also see that you posted this at 3:48 am. Methinks you should have had another glass of wine before bed.

  2. August 2, 2007 12:30 pm

    Good point, but stress is a routine part of lawyers’ work. According to an American Bar Association survey, 20 to 25 percent of lawyers suffer from stress so severe that it impairs their practices. Clearly, you must see that such stress sometimes leads lawyers to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

    As for your argument that you see a lot of thin lawyers, research shows that social class measured by income and education plays a role in obesity. Perhaps many of us are “thin” because we tend to eat better and healthier foods (as opposed to McDonald’s burgers) and exercise more than the average Joe, as we can afford to eat good-for-you foods and join a gym or even get personal training thanks to our higher income and higher education than Typical Joe.

    And by the way, I was fast asleep at 3:48 a.m. The clock on this post is wrong. Did you post your response at 11:54 a.m.? I’m looking at my watch right now, and it’s just about 8:30 a.m.

  3. CDS permalink
    August 2, 2007 3:40 pm

    If you need to drink to be social, you are not social. Although lawyers see their clients get into a lot of trouble because of self-medicating, they still can’t stop self-medicating themselves. Doctor, heal thyself!

    Most importantly for the rest of us, DRUNKEN LAWYERS, YOUNG OR OLD, BRING DISREPUTE TO THE PROFESSION.

  4. Mark permalink
    August 2, 2007 5:28 pm

    For the record: I am all for self-medication, just so long as it doesn’t drown out one’s virtues or hurt anyone else.

    Enough, girlygirl34, with all this stress! My main point, which stems from your post, is that lawyers shouldn’t feel that they have a monopoly on stress *and* high salaries, and use the former to justify the latter, which often leads to self-medication (after work, of course). A lot of people in far-ranging professions have stressful jobs, or times during the year when stress boils over into their personal lives. I have never once drank a beer with a social worker or a teacher (my colleagues) and had to hear about how the beer or the cocktail was a direct result of stress in the workplace. Does this mean that we have no authetic stress in our lives? Maybe teachers drink because of their mediocre salaries. Nah!

    “Lawyers and Drinking and Rationalizing” is what happens when you get too many lawyers in one room after work and give them alcohol and free food. It’s professionally incestuous norm-creating behavior. But doesn’t this happen in all professions? It just seems to me that lawyers do a good job (no, a great job) of trying to *justify* their behavior by blaming it directly on their on-the-job stress and indirectly on the weight of their take-home pay. I bet most middle-income professionals, on average, don’t have the same rates of alcoholism or self-medication.

    One solution (chimerical?) is to pay lawyers less, make them work less, and tell them to stop hanging around together like schools of fish after work. Any takers?

  5. Denny Crane permalink
    August 2, 2007 6:37 pm

    You though about this one for a while, didn’t you?

  6. August 2, 2007 7:28 pm

    For the record, I’m not giving excuses for why lawyers drink. What I am doing is giving possible reasons for why they might drink, and stress is one of those reasons. I am also not saying that lawyers have more stressful jobs than other professionals, such as teachers, but if you just Google “lawyers and stress,” you’d likely find many articles dealing with that topic.

    For example, one article suggests that lawyers tend to experience stress in a unique way because of the following:
    (1) an “inability” to get away from work (there’s always something more to do),
    (2) using one’s intellect and “deep” reasoning skills constantly,
    (3) the high amount of hours worked each week and the pressure to increase billable hours, and
    (4) the adversarial atmosphere of the law and the motivation to win (or, at least, not lose).

    Another article states that working more than 45 hours per week on the job was a strong predictor of stress. This article goes on to say that work overload is a well-known and well-documented stressor in the law profession.

    Yet another article says that “work life, especially at big firms, can be emotionally draining. Intense deadlines, staggering billable-hour requirements, and grinding hours are routine . . . . Other issues reportedly contribute to the practice’s toll. The conflict-driven nature of the profession plays a role. And the personality type frequently drawn to the law – perfectionist, high-achieving – is particularly vulnerable to becoming [stressed].”

    But I digress. My post really has to do with lawyers and drinking, and we’re now on a sort of a tangent.

    p.s. I have nothing but utmost respect for teachers. I’ve always loved my teachers. I’m not saying that you don’t have stressful jobs. Of course you do. And I believe that teaching is one of the most important professions, and it’s a shame that teachers are undervalued and underpaid. That being said, you guys have a different sort of stress than we do. When was the last time you had to bill 2500 hours per year? (Remember, you can’t count non-billable hours, even if you’re working). When was the last time you had to work until midnight because you had to finish a brief only to return to work bright and early the next morning?

    BTW, I wanted to put links to the articles I mentioned above, but something’s wrong, and I am unable to do so. I will try put links later for those of you who may be interested in reading them.

  7. TB Pickens permalink
    August 2, 2007 9:38 pm

    The reality is that lawyers are people, and people drink for a vast multitude of reasons. I find that lawyers may drink more than the average bear because some of them are insecure people who originally entered the profession seeking confirmation from society that they are smart- its the same reason they talk and argue a lot- these are the same 5′ 4″ orange guys you see at the public house paying $15 for a drink dressed way too well with a too cool smirk on their face hitting on the receptive bleached blonde who is there trying to score the big fish so she doesn’t have to work the desk anymore. Then you have the other sect of lawyers who aren’t insecure so much as just social beings who became lawyers because they like dealing with people and are good at it. These people drink because they’re social butterflies and like to have a good time. Let’s not forget that lawyering is perceived generally as a profession that requires a lot of wheeling and dealing- as such, wannabe wheelers and dealers enter it and they don’t change once they get there. They probably would have drank a lot if they sold insurance.

    As for the gentleman upstairs named Mark: Girlygirl never professed that lawyers have a monopoly on the stress game- in fact, no one debates that military men/women at war have more stress- of course, aren’t military men known for drinking heavily on leave during wartime? So many movies can attest to this- off the top of my head- Cadence, Bilouxi Blues, Apocolypse Now…these movies all depict heavy drinking. If there is any truth to soldiers getting drunk on leave due to stress (and any film fan knows that directors like Neil Simon and Francis Ford Coppala do their homework), then that would only lend credence to girlygirls suggestion that stress MAY relate to the heavy drinking. And as a non lawyer, isn’t it possible that you are misconstruing the level of stress most lawyers deal with? You’re mutually exclusive statement that a stressful job can only exist for those at war seems obtuse to me- its like saying that only apes can poop bananas because they eat so many bananas, when everyone knows that people, monkeys, and pigme elephants also poop bananas, albeit not to the extent an ape does.

  8. TB Pickens permalink
    August 2, 2007 9:39 pm

    FYI- I used you’re when I meant your above. Please ignore

  9. August 2, 2007 10:23 pm

    For those of you interested in reading more about lawyers and stress, I came across this:
    http://www.lawyersassistance.org/

    According to that site, one of every four lawyers suffers from stress, and out of 105 occupations, lawyers rank first in depression. (In addition, a disproportionate number of lawyers commit suicide). Perhaps stress does explain why more lawyers are prone to addiction (such as alcohol) and depression.

    You can also read the articles I cited earlier in one of my comments by clicking on the following links:

    Career Killers

    Women Lawyers

    Are Lawyers Emotional Wrecks?

  10. jocelyn g permalink
    August 3, 2007 1:04 pm

    Part of our job is to network–and I think we tend to network over drinks. Just one more possible explanation for the phenomenon.

    Did you know that 49.8 % of all statistics are made up on the spot?

  11. Abbie permalink
    August 6, 2007 8:42 pm

    It sounds like you are really popular so a lot of different people invite you out!

    I find with many of my friends that if I ask them to go out for a drink (even just one) they are more likely to go than if I invite them over for dinner, to a concert (I had free tickets and no one would go with me) or any where else. I don’t know why it is that way, but I’ve also noticed the trend.

  12. August 7, 2007 7:47 pm

    Great thought provoking post. I am not sure why lawyers as a group tend to drink so much but I have noticed it prevelant in our line of work. I read an article in the past that also noted that lawyers tend to have a lower rate of job satisfaction when compared to other professions. Perhaps this plays a part in the increased amount of alcohol consumption among lawyers.

  13. August 7, 2007 8:34 pm

    Abbie, the next time you have free concert tickets, please let me know! There’s a 68.4% chance that I’d make it. 😉

    BC&B, I read the same thing about lawyers and their low rate of job satisfaction. Again, I think it’s related to stress. And I am sure this low rate of job satisfaction does play a part in the increased amount of alcohol consumption among lawyers. But what do I know?

  14. August 23, 2007 9:25 am

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  15. July 27, 2008 3:33 am

    Is there a lawyers’ AA in the DC area? I know about the DC Bar one. But I’m looking for something more exclusive.

  16. July 15, 2010 9:09 am

    Most importantly for the rest of us, DRUNKEN LAWYERS, YOUNG OR OLD, BRING DISREPUTE TO THE PROFESSION.
    thanks
    killing games

  17. April 10, 2013 3:33 am

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