Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Is This Profession Misunderstood?

August 19, 1996

Clients in distress. Your clients are in distress with major life consequences and are depending on your ability to help them. Your clients are often difficult and demanding. Their needs are complex. Moreover, clients are not present when you are doing the work. Often they don’t understand how much work you do.

Some of your clients wait until the last minute, expect immediate action and think little of calling you at home in the evenings or on the weekends. Your fees are high enough to cause hardship for people who need your service which adds to the tension. Sometimes you have to tell them what they don’t want to hear.

When you win, you are ecstatic. You are much appreciated by your clients. When you lose, your client loses and you feel for them and for yourself. The work took a huge emotional and work investment on your part. Some of your clients will understand you did the best you could. Others will be too bitter and angry to acknowledge your good work.

Long hours. You work hard. There is a lot of evening and weekend work. It is intellectual work that requires reading and writing. There are no short cuts. During a time of crisis or intense preparation you put in as many hours as your physical body can stand. Even when you try to relax, your mind can't shut down.

At times having a personal and family life with any semblance of balance is difficult. Vacations and long weekends are difficult to schedule because deadlines and schedules of others obligate your time beyond your control. If fact, establishing control over your time is very difficult.

Your work is technical and detail-oriented in a field that expands exponentially as society becomes more complex. You have to read to keep current or you will harm your client. A major mistake will be obvious to others in your profession and subject to severe sanctions.

Others in your field will scrutinize your work, attack and criticize it. Their job is to win at your expense. Some in your profession may try to publicly attack and humiliate you Their success depends on your failure. The stakes are incredibly high.

Work load. You belong to a profession where image is everything. Overhead is high. The income you have to generate is staggering. You are subject to peer pressure and high expectations from upper management. You are afraid to say no to new work.

Your status within your group may depend on ever-increasing levels of productivity. If you are at a junior level, you may have work dumped on you with little concern for your workload. With the coming of fax machines, E-mail and pagers, and other communication improvements, people in your profession push you to work even faster.

You are in the private sector of the economy. Your income depends on new business and being competitive in the marketplace. Saying no to new cases and all the work that goes with them is difficult.

There is a tendency for those in your profession to live beyond their means which adds to the pressure of needing to work even harder. Too many people are entering the profession and the competitive pressures are growing more intense.

Public image. Hollywood glamorizes and paints an unrealistic picture of your profession with scant attention to the "grind it out" hours that are put in. Other well-regarded professionals and business interests have a vested interest in not being held accountable for their actions and directly oppose your professional scope of action and responsibility.

The public has taken a fancy to making fun or putting down your profession as mercenaries, bullies and sharks feeding off other people. TV commercials are off-putting. Comedians and public speakers ridicule your profession.

Every profession has its bad apples - dishonest and unethical practitioners. They attract publicity while their actions taint everyone else. In reality, you and 95 percent of those you know in the profession are honest, decent, hard working people with good values and concern for others’ feelings and rights. The public perception of your profession is starting to grate on you.

Your profession helps create and maintain a fluid functioning society where fairness and justice abound. Individuals are protected. Society is protected.

Without your profession, there would be violence, civil unrest and primitive, emotional ways of handling disputes. Your profession helps make business arrangements possible and spurs the economy. The public doesn't understand that the work and high ideals of your profession are the glue that holds society together.

You guessed it. The profession is the law. Before I started interviewing attorneys about stress issues, I was unaware of the difficulties they face. Within the profession itself, issues of depression, alcoholism, marital and family problems and general stress management are being addressed. Young attorneys face burnout and disillusionment.

It is hard to picture attorneys as sympathetic figures for whom we should have compassion, but it is a lot more realistic than the lawyer-bashing that is going on. If you know an attorney, asking an opinion about this column might be interesting.