Law in Contemporary Society

Legal Briefcase in One Hand, A Scotch in the Other


Hang around a liquor store long enough and you will notice that often times the most frequent customers are the stereotypical drunkard alcoholics: disheveled, unshaven, and almost always belligerent. In actuality, this image of a typical alcoholic can be more aptly substituted with that of a stereotypical lawyer: a clean cut professional wearing a freshly pressed suit and tie.

It is well documented that the alcoholism rate for the American public in general is between 8-10%; meanwhile the alcoholism rate amongst lawyers range from 13-25%, a startling figure when one takes into account the natural incentive for people to often underrate their alcohol consumption or lie about it all together. Why are law students and the future lawyers they become more susceptible to alcoholism at a rate that is more than twice that of the general populace? Is it due to the inherent qualities of people drawn to the legal profession? Or does the intrinsic nature of law school and the life of an attorney cause people to be more susceptible to alcohol abuse? Upon closer examination of both arguments, it can be argued that the traits of the people attracted to law school tend to make them less capable of curbing their addiction when it arises and the culture of the legal profession and education causes and sustains the addiction to begin with.

Character Traits of the People Attracted to Law School

The answer might come from examining the personality traits that law students, and subsequently lawyers, share. Law students by their very nature are a very ambitious, competitive, and outspoken group. These traits do not form a basis for an explanation of the higher rates of alcoholism amongst the legal profession however. One hypothesis of the reason for higher rates of alcoholism amongst lawyers is that lawyers as a group value hiding weakness through a facade of confidence.

Spend any time around law students and lawyers and it can be observed that in their academic and professional careers that the culture of the legal profession rewards those who best hide their weaknesses and shortcomings while projecting a strong and confident image for others to see. By learning to form this hardened exterior, and the inherent perfectionism amongst lawyers, people that are attracted to the legal profession are innately less likely to seek help for shortcomings like an alcohol abuse problem. It would not be too much of a stretch to argue that lawyers are not only less likely than the general population to seek professional help for their addiction, but are less likely to admit to themselves that they have lost control of their alcohol consumption.

This argument isn’t as radical as one that argues that lawyers are biologically more susceptible to alcoholism, but rather that lawyers will be less likely to seek help which could curb or prevent alcohol abuse. However, since the argument relies upon a character trait shared by lawyers and many other professionals alike, an attorney’s tendency to not seek help for his problem cannot be the sole reason why lawyers are twice as likely as the general population to fall into the clutches of alcohol abuse.

Legal Culture of Law School and Legal Practice

Whether it is one of the countless law firm receptions or the weekly “bar reviews,” drinking socially for many students is as much a part of the law school experience as case briefing and the Socratic Method. Infact according to a recent study, 88% of law students reported alcohol use, and 74% of law students binge drink with 34% of those students doing it weekly. It can be argued that the moment a student steps into law school, his or her susceptibility to alcoholism has been doubled. Although the opportunities for social drinking do not constitute a reason per se why law students have a higher rate of alcoholism, the ease of accessibility and institutional pressure to drink is often the first step in the gradual fall into alcoholism. This institutionalized pressure and accessibility to opportunities to drink will only increase as law students move on into their careers as attorneys. Although it is not the sole reason why lawyers are more likely to be alcoholics, the culture of law school and life in law firms is an incremental part of the cause of the higher rates.

Lastly, the decree that lawyers are an “unhappy” group is relatively true since lawyers suffer from depression, anxiety, social alienation and isolation, and OCD at alarming rates. Lawyers topped the list of occupations suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, suffering from MDD at a rate 3.6 times higher than nonlawyers. A recent study has revealed that before entering law school, only 4% of students suffered from depression (normal %); by the 2nd year the rate jumped to 20%, and by the 3rd an alarming 40% of law students were suffering form depression. These statistic leads to the fairly strong inference that lawyers, in coping with the perceived unhappiness with their lives, turn to substance abuse such as alcohol to dull the pain. Thus, the culture of law school and law firm work is a contributing factor in both starting the addiction and being a reason for the addiction itself.


In conclusion, the intrinsic nature of people attracted to law school tend to make them less likely to seek the help they need to avoid crossing the line from a social drinker to a chronic alcoholic. People attracted to the legal profession are less likely to admit they have a problem, and even less likely to seek the professional help or peer counseling groups that would help curb their addiction. However, the accessibility of alcohol and pressure to drink socially present in law school and law firm life is often how lawyers start and sustain their drinking problem.

-- HoangTruong - 04 Apr 2008

  • I think finding some data would be a good way to improve the essay.



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r5 - 22 Jan 2009 - 01:17:15 - IanSullivan
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