No wonder we’re all alcoholics. Researchers in Australia studied 50 criminal lawyers and 50 non-criminal lawyers and found that those engaged in the practice of criminal law are more likely to require therapy and turn to alcoholism. This is because of the nature of our jobs. Those engaged in the practice of criminal law (prosecutors and defenders both) deal with some rather unsavory facets of human nature and the seedy underbelly of society. We see pain, fear, anger, sadness and loss on a daily basis. Yet we have to be above it. We cannot let it affect us or cloud our judgment. We cannot dwell on it, for fear of getting lost in it. So we march on, perhaps repressing these emotions. What level of impact will that have on us?
Another part of the reason for this, the study reasons, is that the profession is such that it attracts a certain type of person – the perfectionist – and there really is no accepted was to discuss these issues with peers. The emotional stress of our jobs is not a frequent topic of conversation in our offices and hallways of courthouses.
“It’s about becoming aware. Everyone is upset by this type of work. It’s a normal response, and if you can talk about it and address it, you won’t develop full-blown vicarious trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder. Once you’re aware, you can start taking more positive steps — maybe playing some sport, or looking at your case load and saying ‘I’ve had five sexual assault cases in a row, maybe I need a break’.”
So how do you unwind after a hard day’s work? What are your distractions? Things that keep you sane. How do you cope with it after 10, 20, 30 years in this field of law?
Me? I’ve got all of you.