The Norman Transcript

Columns

April 30, 2013

Helping the wounded trial warrior

NORMAN — “Shooting at the walls of heartache, bang, bang, I am the warrior.”

— Patty Smyth

I got the news that a friend killed himself. One of several lately. All of them middle-aged men. All of them trial lawyers.

Shannon Ragland, who publishes the must read Kentucky Trial Court Review, noted the rash of suicides and one of his readers posted an article from the American Bar Association Journal noting that, “lawyers’ personalities contribute to suicide risks.”

The suicide risk is especially high for trial lawyers. All personality tests tell me why I work in a profession where I assist trial lawyers. I am a fighter for causes and nothing gets in my way. I am intensely competitive, have a quick temper, rack up insane office hours and go through periods of extreme burnout.

In other words, I have the identical personality of a middle-aged trial lawyer.

I see how they suffer from depression, mental illness and suicide. Many more cope with stress and depression with drinking, drugs or other addictions.

Trial lawyers have a unique caveat to their job. They are always making someone mad. Oftentimes, like Atticus Finch’s character in Harper Lee’s classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” they can find that their entire community has turned against them. The stress of being a trial warrior can take a constant toll on a lawyer, a toll that sometimes ends in suicide.

I’m in the process of writing a long piece about Peter Perlman, one of the nation’s greatest trial attorneys. You will see the feature next month, but Perlman, a former President of the American Trial Lawyers Association, manages to stay on top of his game after 50 years of trial practice.

Pete has a solid foundation that many of my friends lack. He has been married to his college sweetheart for many years. A star athlete in college and high school, Perlman works out daily and looks 20 years younger than his age. Although no one prepares for a trial with more intensity than Pete does, he manages to find ways to keep his stress level down.

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