I was stunned the other day when a good friend confided that he was about to leave the law. He's looking for someone to take his cases. He's had enough. He can't take it any longer. He's all of, perhaps, 39 years old, with his best years yet to come.
Why would he leave? He's tried many cases, and has a reputation as a good trier. Indeed, he is on my short list of young men to watch. Why this prospective professional suicide?
We've talked some. He wants more time with his family, and the pressure of trial work is corroding his innards. He has trouble sleeping; making ends meet in the practice of criminal law is difficult. His clients are mean, angry souls expecting miracles and threatening suit when their unrealistic dreams don't come true. Much though he loves the law, spotting issues and melding doctrine to recalcitrant and sometimes damning fact, the human dimension overwhelms him.
I cannot convey how saddened I am by the prospect of losing this man. There is a camaraderie at the bar. The sharing and management of our clients' crippling pain and the fight to redeem a life on the cusp of the penal system's wasteland is special. I feel as though the man to my right has been shot by a sniper. I want to revive this comrade before it is too late.
The temptation to leave the law is always great. I struggled several years ago. All the angry faces of people in trouble and need had somehow transmogrified into a hideous exclamation point that came pounding down at the end of every move I made. I was gun shy, tired and angry myself. Somehow, I recovered. I stretched some and became a better lawyer, learned a new gear to cope when all around me seemed like despairing mire. I developed a passion outside the law -- the buying and selling of used and rare books. It was my salvation.
Any suggestions on what I can have this man read? Any citations to studies on lawyer burn out and what to do about it? I am not naming this friend because I do not want to let word out that a warrior is failing. But I need something, and fast. I repeat: I do not want to lose this man.