Just a quick post here to highlight a new study from the Wisconsin State Bar about lawyer stress, or, as the article calls it, “compassion fatigue.”
The study found that [State Public Defender] attorneys reported significantly higher levels of compassion fatigue than administrative support staff and the general population, when data for the latter were available for comparison. The study’s findings break down by specific symptoms of compassion fatigue as follows.
“A major finding of our study,” Dr. Andrew Levin reports, “is that the extent of caseload and lawyers’ exposure to other people’s trauma were clearly related to symptoms of compassion fatigue.” Interestingly, factors such as years on the job, age, office size, gender, and personal history of trauma made no significant differences in compassion fatigue levels.
The study identifies increased levels of depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and impaired functioning among the lawyers studied. And yet:
Are we to conclude from the key findings that SPD attorneys are impaired on the job? Absolutely not, says Dr. Andrew Levin, medical director at the Westchester Jewish Community Center in Hartsdale, N.Y., and cofacilitator of the study. Bear in mind, he emphasizes, these results come from self-reporting instruments, which indicate trends, not diagnoses of conditions. . . . If anything, the data show just how resilient the study participants are, Albert points out. “Despite the fact that they endure ongoing exposure to trauma and have these high caseloads, they continue to meet the requirements of their employment,” she says. “It’s amazing that they do. They are handling the demands of the job, but not easily and not without it having an impact on their lives.”
The entire report is well worth reading, and I urge you to do so.
It also gives me an opportunity to point out the brand new section of the UMass Pre-Law website on managing stress—start learning some productive ways to deal with the inevitable stress now, when the stakes are much lower than they will be when you’re an attorney.
(Thanks to The Girl’s Guide to Law School —a very useful and not at all spammy website, blog and twitter feed—for sharing the article.)