On The Merits
Depression, stress, burnout, a profession filled with workaholics. Does the work drive lawyers to kill themselves?
Although there is no single thread that unites the instances of suicides among lawyers, the American Psychological Association says depression generally is the most likely trigger. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers, and suicide is the third-leading cause of death among practicing attorneys.
Of course, as in many professions, the recession and layoffs can lead to depression and worse. The National Law Journal
reported in 2009 that several prestigious firms had lost attorneys to suicide after they were fired.
Fortunately, a number of bar associations have launched efforts to curb this deadly spiral. California, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina and South Carolina have added a mental health component to mandatory continuing legal education courses. Kentucky, where 15 lawyers have committed suicide since 2010, starts its annual CLE conference with a presentation on behaviors that raise the risk for suicide. And in Oklahoma, the bar association created its own suicide-prevention hotline after multiple lawyers claimed their own lives several years ago.
While many lawyers are familiar with the relatively high rates of suicide and depression in the profession, the public too often is not. After all, stories about lawyers killing themselves don’t make for sensational copy.
Posted: 2/12/2014 1:33:14 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 1 comments
We know that judges are supposed to protect us from criminals by putting them behind bars, but are they supposed to protect the prison from people who like living there on the taxpayers’ dime?
Judge Patrick Robb of the 5th Judicial Circuit Court in St. Joseph, Mo., rejected a proposed plea
after deciding to protect a defendant from his own desire for a long prison sentence. Defendant Roy Murphy tried to plead guilty to second-degree attempted robbery based on his botched holdup of a convenience store. It seems Murphy asked the convenience store clerk to “please” open the cash register, and then told her to “Please call the police” before fleeing the store on foot.
His arrest shortly afterward came less than a year after he was released from prison based on an earlier conviction. While entering his plea, Murphy told Judge Robb that he was looking forward to the proposed seven-year sentence since he already had spent so much time in prison that he didn’t know how to live on the outside.
But there was a problem with the attempted robbery charge. The judge said the law required that threatening physical force be used, so he refused to convict Murphy.
“The one thing everybody agrees is he didn’t threaten anybody,” Judge Robb was quoted as saying at the hearing.
The judge explained that he was worried a conviction could be overturned on appeal based on a lack of evidence. At the same time, Judge Robb noted the incident was dangerous, and “Mr. Murphy’s criminal record is terrible.”
A solution emerged when the prosecutor agreed to file an amended felony charge of attempting to take property. The resulting four-year sentence will likely prevent costly appeals and prevent Murphy from serving three more years than he actually deserved.
Judges are supposed to see that justice is done. And sometimes that means taking the side of the defendant, even if the defendant isn’t on his own side.
Posted: 2/10/2014 1:25:00 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
Now, there are two ways to take this – 87 is a whole lot of people who had the right to expect more from their country than to be mistakenly imprisoned for somebody else’s crime. Our entire system of justice is based on Blackstone’s notion that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
On the other hand, it is a testament to the lawyers and professors who spend every day trying – in the words of the Founding Fathers – to “form a more perfect union” by spending their time and resources to free a fellow citizen they have never met simply because it is the right thing to do.
Their efforts seem to be paying off. “Police and prosecutors have become more attentive and concerned about the danger of false conviction,” said Registry Editor and Michigan Law Professor Samuel Gross. “We are working harder to identify the mistakes we made years ago, and we are catching more of them.”
The best lesson here comes from Boone County, Mo., prosecutor Dan Knight: “It’s the duty of police and prosecutors to protect everyone in the community, including victims and defendants. We want the process to be as fair and transparent as possible.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Posted: 2/6/2014 1:17:01 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
Although most of them never ask to receive credit, there are many law firms that consistently give back to their communities in the form of pro bono work, fundraising activities, and sponsorship of worthwhile charities, just to name a few. In one recent example, the Palo Alto, Calif., office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom is giving back with a project that represents a smartly creative fit for Silicon Valley.
The firm is giving real-world advice
to teens about social media and related online misconduct. The Skadden lawyers answer pointed questions like this one: If a person gets really drunk and something very bad happens at a party, is she going to be charged with underage drinking? (The answer given: No.)
Questions such as that one are being discussed in “Living Skills” classes in the Palo Alto school district. The project was the brainchild of Carrie LeRoy, a Skadden Arps technology and intellectual property lawyer who also is the mother of three children.
Teenagers “don’t really understand the power they have when using social media,” LeRoy tells The Recorder, which covers California legal news. “We start with educating youth about what they can and cannot do.”
Hewlett-Packard is one of Skadden’s clients, and that company also has embraced the project, sending its lawyers to observe classes so they can pitch in. The effort is a collaboration with Legal Advocates for Children & Youth (LACY).
“Silicon Valley is the perfect place for this to be launched,” says Jennifer Kelleher, directing attorney for LACY. “Nobody wants their technology to be used in a way that harms kids.”
So far, more than 700 students have heard the presentation, and organizers hope to expand it to other school districts, providing another example of how law firms often work out of the spotlight to make their communities better.
Posted: 1/23/2014 1:10:15 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
The law and reality television sometimes collide in bizarre fashion, as in the recent case of “Sister Wives,” a reality show on the TLC network that follows the daily lives of avowed polygamist Kody Brown, his four “wives” and their 17 children. The Brown family originally resided in Utah, but fled to Nevada after Utah authorities saw the hit show and threatened to prosecute them under Utah’s anti-polygamy law.
Brown and his wives filed suit against the state of Utah, claiming that the law was unconstitutional. Last week, a federal judge agreed. While conceding that a polygamist could be prosecuted if he legally married more than one person, Brown doesn’t fit that description because he was legally married in Utah to only his first wife. The remaining wives are “spiritual wives,” who are recognized as wives only by their particular branch of Mormonism and not by the State.
The state tried to argue that merely holding out one’s self as being married is sufficient to violate the statute, but the judge’s 91-page decision examined at great length the inherent difficulties of that position. Obviously, people are free to cohabitate and live as they choose – and do so frequently even in conservative states such as Utah. For the state to prohibit cohabitation, ruled the judge, it would violate both the right to privacy and religious freedom under the First Amendment.
While very few Americans actually approve of polygamy, the Court recognized that its role was not to pass judgment on that notion, or – as The New York Times put it – “open a new frontier in the nation’s recognition of once-prohibited relationships.” The Court pressed the state to explain the difference between this situation and a permissible situation of cohabitation, which the state agreed it could not prohibit. Was it sex? Sex with someone to whom you are not married? Claiming a religious belief? Claiming marriage without a legal license? The State never really had a good explanation of where the line should or could be drawn.
Vagueness and selective application are very often fatal to criminal statutes. That’s not opening a new frontier. It’s upholding an established constitutional precedent.
Posted: 12/18/2013 6:29:21 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments