Its a tough life working in Big Law. A partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in New York became dependent on drugs. Identified only as “Peter,” his former wife wrote about him in a New York Times piece. Peter worked 60 hours a week for 20 years. He was by all accounts successful. His former wife, Ellene Zimmerman wrote about his life. He constantly stressed over pay, competition and clients. Ms. Zimmerman pointed out that if he had asked for help, he felt there would be ten other lawyers waiting to take his place. The competition was never ending.
In the months before his death, Peter was at times angry and threatening, then remorseful and generous. He would leave messages on her phone, meandering soliloquies. He never sacrificed a client for his family life. He departed any social gathering if a client called. In his last few months, he would sometime lose consciousness. The drugs helped him stay awake, but they took a toll. He died from an infection contracted from a syringe. His ex-wife found him, lying dead on the floor, with half-filled syringes, crushed pills, a spoon, a lighter, a bag of white powder and a tourniquet next to him. His last cell phone call was to a conference call, vomiting, unable to sit up, slipping in and out of consciousness.
At his funeral, many of the attorneys attending the service, were bent over their cell phones tapping out email to clients and attorneys even as they laid to rest one of their own who could not stop tapping out those same messages. Ms. Zimmerman wrote a book about her former husband’s death. In a recent ABA survey, 20% of judges and lawyers reported alcohol problems, 28% reported problems with depression and some 75% skipped the question on drug use. See ABA Bar Journal article.
My old professor at Tulane Law School, Luther McDougal, would jump in at times like this and remind us, “Its all about greed. About Greed.” That would signal it was time to move on to another topic.