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On the Isolation of Legal Practice and Suicide

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  • On the Isolation of Legal Practice and Suicide

    Anyone who has been practicing law for a few decades will tell you that the practice has changed dramatically, and if the past 10 years is any indication of the pace of change, it is only going to increase in ways we cannot even imagine.

    Over the years, attorneys have become more isolated from their peers. If you are a solo or small firm practitioner, practicing law can be a very lonely existence. The informal support network for attorneys no longer exists. Gone are the social bar associations and the daily luncheons where you would see your colleagues. Gone are most court appearances, along with the trips to the once vibrant courthouse libraries to research the law and mingle with your peers.

    – Connecticut lawyer Frederic C. Udy, writing Friday in the Connecticut Law Tribune

    We’ve written before on the sobering topic of lawyers and depression. But at least in this post here, we focused our attention more on more high-profile problems suffered by lawyers concerning the economy and employment.

    But Udy’s article gets at the issue from a different angle: the increasingly isolating effect of legal practice.

    The article is prompted, at least in part, by the recent suicide of Connecticut attorney James Ripper, age 64. Ripper, writes Udy, is not the first Connecticut attorney to take his own life in recent years:
    In 2007, Jonathan Hoyt, 59, committed suicide. In 2008, Richard Adams, 64, died under suspicious circumstances. His body was found at the base of a tree with his suit on. In 2009, Dennis Ferdon, 56, Curtiss Schrandt, 57, and John Parker, 70, also committed suicide.

    Then there was the recent high-profile suicide of Mark Levy, 59, who was one of the top appellate attorneys in the country. On April 30, he shot himself in the right side of his head with a .38-caliber pistol while sitting at his desk five days after he was fired from his job at Kilpatrick Stockton in Washington, D.C.

    According to Udy, the profession is increasingly becoming isolating, partly because of technology. “Unless you attend court on a regular basis or participate in bar association events, you no longer interact face-to-face with your fellow attorneys. Instead, face-to-face has given way to Facebook, list servers, e-mail, text messaging and sometimes the antiquated telephone.”

    To help curb the problem, Udy suggests implementing a mentoring program. Udy also advocates bringing the Law Office Management Assistance Program, a program developed in many other states, to Connecticut. The goal of LOMAP is to assist lawyers to establish professional office practices and procedures. But, writes Udy, LOMAP professionals . . . can provide assistance through consulting services, telephone consultations, materials, programs and, in some cases, referrals to other professionals, including assistance programs.

    Would a LOMAP have helped Jim Ripper? asks Udy. “We will never know. But we need to adapt to the professional world we now practice in.”

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