Practicing Law In A Field Of Misery


I’m only happy when it rains
I’m only happy when it’s complicated
And though I know you can’t appreciate it
I’m only happy when it rains

You know I love it when the news is bad
Why it feels so good to feel so sad
I’m only happy when it rains

Pour your misery down
Pour your misery down on me

– Garbage, “I’m Only Happen When It Rains”.

Unlike the protagonist of the song, I don’t take joy in misery.  But, it wouldn’t be an obvious conclusion from my choice of career and specialties as an attorney.

I do a considerable amount of probate law, which is a handmaiden of death, I handle guardianship and conservatorship cases which become necessary when one’s mind goes to pot with old age to a point that has been known to drive people to suicide.  And, I handle divorce cases, surely one of the most miserable experiences one can have in life.  I have had a mini-tidal wave of such work recently. By comparison, the business to business warfare of commercial litigation, which I also practice, is positively cheery.

Now, these “misery specialties” are more tolerable second hand than they are to live though.  Rather than engaging directly with the emotionally intense elements of these situations, the lawyers tend to mostly deal with the commercial and property aspects of these difficult times.  But, inevitably, the raw emotional stories of these cases can’t be completely avoided and impact your own emotional state if you have even a twinge of empathy in your psyche.  It can be like constantly living on the fringe of a horror movie.

Perhaps it is little wonder then, that lawyers suffer from mental health conditions at an above average rate relative to the general population.  It is harder to stay sane and mentally thriving when constantly exposed to stress and toxic emotions, than it is when a person’s finite resilience is rarely tested.

There are different ways of coping.  One can focus on the positives are providing practical help to people in a time of need, and finding positive solutions.  One can reassure oneself that at least this isn’t your problem personally, and distance yourself from it.  One can, as alluded to above, focus on the less emotional components of the job.  One can chase positive compensation for negative on the job experiences in one’s personal life.

Many funeral home and mortuary operators I’ve met in my practice cope by developing their own special grim brand of gallows humor.

Death and incapacity are basically inevitable.  While judicially granted divorces are less than two centuries old (and no fault divorces are less than two generations old), in Western cultures, people who need to figure out how to deal with troubled marriages have been with us for almost as long as the institution of marriage has existed.  Somebody has to do the dirty work, and lawyers, collectively, have signed up to be the untouchables to do it.

from Wash Park Prophet
via Denver News

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