At least a dozen lawyers in Kentucky have committed suicide since 2010, half of them in the last 12 months. The trend in Kentucky highlights a disproportionate rate of depression, suicide, and substance abuse that has loomed over the legal profession for years.

The Louisville Courier Journal did an in-depth piece Monday documenting the suicides of some prominent Kentucky lawyers:

"One was a former University of Kentucky basketball player who practiced in Leitchfield, Ky. Another had been commonwealth's attorney in Kenton County. A third was a Louisville lawyer who helped battle the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville over cases of priest abuse - and whose Facebook photos still show him snowboarding, scuba diving and sightseeing with his family.

Jim Dinwiddie, Harry Rankin and Ross Turner all died in a similar way: They killed themselves."

There were three very specific commonalities among all of the people whose stories were covered in the Courier Journal piece: they were all men, all lawyers (mostly trial lawyers), and all around the same age of 53.

The statistics concerning lawyers and depression are staggering. Studies show that lawyers are six times more likely to kill themselves than the rest of the population. In 2012, suicide became the third leading cause of death among attorneys, after cancer and heart disease. A widely cited Johns Hopkins study of 104 professions found that lawyers were the most likely to suffer from major depression. One in four struggle feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, or anxiety. Substance abuse in lawyers is double the national level, and one in five lawyers is alcohol-addicted.

Kentucky Bar Association president Doug Myers told reporters that the inherent stress of the job may be a contributing factor in these recent suicides. "You take on the burden of your clients' problems, then pile them on your own, and it takes a toll," he said.

Unfortunately, for many, seeing anxiety and depression among colleagues is just commonplace — so much so that some consider it just par for the course.

"Lawyer suicide is so common that I think a disproportionate rate of early, self-inflicted death is just considered part of the price of doing business," wrote Elie Mystal at Above the Law. "Maybe hazard pay should be built into lawyer salaries like it is for race car drivers or test pilots."

Nevertheless, this is a serious problem for lawyers, particularly for those who have successfully practiced for quite a while. The Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program has launched a depression support program.

"As lawyers, we are very good at referring other troubled people for help," Myers wrote in the bar journal. "We need to do the same for ourselves."


Eaton WW, Anthony JC, Mandel W, Garrison R. Occupations and the prevalence of major depressive disorder. 1990.

David T. Can Lawyers Be Happy? The Practical Lawyer. 2011.