Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Law is the Loneliest Profession

aloneOne may be the loneliest number, but it seems the law is the loneliest profession.

That’s according to a recent “loneliness survey” of more than 1,600 workers in various occupations.

Participants in the study were asked a battery of questions regarding their feelings and attitudes about their jobs. Based on their answers, they were ranked on a scale of loneliness.

Sixty-one percent of lawyers scored above average for loneliness. This was higher than the number of lonely engineers, research scientists, food preparation workers and teachers. It was even higher than librarians, who are stereotypically solitary and bookish.

Doctors also ranked high on the scale, which led the study’s authors to conclude, “The solitude of the ivory tower seems to be a real phenomenon.”

The survey comes on the heels of a report from the ABA Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, which found the profession at a “tipping point,” with rates of depression, anxiety, chronic stress, burnout and substance use well above those of other professions.

You can read what the authors have to say about their study in the Harvard Business Review and in this Washington Post article.

Isolation and Lack of Understanding

The loneliness scale was developed by researchers at UCLA. It is comprised of 20 statements designed to gauge a person’s degree of loneliness. Here are some of the statements:

• I have nobody to talk to.

• I feel as if nobody really understands me.

• I feel left out.

• No one really knows me well.

• I feel isolated from others.

• It is difficult for me to make friends.

• I feel shut out and excluded by others.

Lonely lawyers are less likely to be satisfied with their jobs. They also tend to receive negative performance reviews and fewer promotions, which leads to frequent job changes.

These factors impact their employers as well through high turnover, low morale and excessive sick days.

Loneliness and isolation may underlie many of the issues revealed in the ABA Well-Being Report.

“There are these disparate problems like depression and suicide and substance abuse, in many respects tied together,” says a Texas lawyer in this ABA Journal article.

New York attorney Daniel Lukasik runs Lawyers with Depression, the first website of its kind to help law students, lawyers and judges cope with stress, anxiety and depression. Since its launch 10 years ago, the site has received more than 2 million page views and been heralded as a top depression resources by the likes of Medical News Today and Healthline.

Lukasik says technology is one reason for the soaring rates of loneliness and stress in the law. Today it’s possible to do research, attend meetings and even run an entire practice from your spare bedroom without the benefit of taking time off, chatting at the water cooler or hanging out with colleagues.

“What that translates to is, you’re working all the time,” Lukasik told the Post. “You get to the point where you’re too exhausted to socialize.”

Some Other Takeaways

  • Firm size makes little difference for loneliness. Even lawyers in big firms felt isolated in a “cubicle culture.”
  • Jobs that rank low in loneliness include social work, marketing, sales and others with frequent social interaction.
  • Government employees were lonelier than for-profit and nonprofit workers.
  • Loneliness is not tied to geographic location.
  • Nor is it linked to gender, race or ethnicity.
  • Salary and income has only a slight impact on loneliness. Workers making $80,000 or more per year experience 10 percent less loneliness than counterparts earning half that much.

What steps do you take to avoid loneliness and isolation at work?


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

Read More by Jay >

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