Statistically, lawyers suffer high rates of depression, substance abuse, and PTSD. A course taught at U Sask Facutly of Law teaches methods to avoid depression
Photo Credit: Eric Cabanis- AFP

Lifestyle: the Law and Happiness

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It seems a strange combination..law and happiness. But a fairly high percentage of lawyers, and judges, and others in the legal professions suffer from depression.

Marilyn Poitras who has long and wide-ranging experience in law has developed a programme to mitigate the situation. She is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Saskatchewan.

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The course that Professor Poitras offers is in fact called Law and Happiness.

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Marilyn Poitras teaching “Law and Happiness” at the University of Saskatchewan Faculty of Law © University of Saskatchewan

She notes that too many students come into law with extremely unrealistic ideas about what it is to be a lawyer which comes from watching too many Hollywood lawyer movies and TV shows.

In those, there’s a lot of excitement and glamour, and cutting edge drama, whereas in the real world a vast amount of time is spent sitting alone researching case histories in books or online.

She says that pessimists tend to do better in law, and that a high percentage of students who weren’t pessimists before, become pessimists after just one year of a typical three year degree course,

Poitras says legal work tends to make lawyers cynical and question everything. They often bring that home to their families, creating tensions.  They also bear a lot of responsibility, whether dealing with unsavoury characters,  seeing clients lose their property in a case, or go to jail, and in corporate law, where vast sums of money are at stake, the pressure is immense as well. For judges too the pressure is there to make sure the right legal decision is made.

Poitras teaches aspiring lawyers to think like lawyers, but also to practice techniques she teaches on how to eliminate some of the negativity of the profession to keep people from becoming cases of clinical depression, which is prevalent in the profession.

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