Wednesday, September 27

Divorce rate amongst lawyers high: Does It Come with the Territory?

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

In one of our advocacy classes, My Lady raised the issue of high divorce rates among lawyers. One thing I like about My Lady is the practical nature of her teachings. She infuses things not taught or not part of the Bar course into her lectures.

This is the beauty of teaching. Because these issues are of importance to the legal profession. Even though she says, they come with the territory. She finds time to address them.  Nobody would teach you how to manage your marriage or relationship life, but there are instances, where she raised them to instill humility in us as aspiring Barristers.  

Her saying was fortified at our Law School dinner by our Professional Conduct facilitator as well. There, I got to know how pressing the case is. So I decided to examine the literature on this issue. However, in Africa, there is a lack of literature in this area. 

It is interesting to see the high divorce rates among lawyers in advanced countries. For instance, one article by Lily Martis(2017) published by Monster avers that lawyers’ divorcerates are common in the United States. The divorce rate in the legal field as a whole is over 35% and for lawyers and judges the divorce rate is around 28%. With this figure, I realized how pressing the issue is. 

Hence, I believe that law firms should care. This is because your relationship with your spouse or significant other is your most important relationship. Lawyers and the legal community aren’t spending any time talking about it. It affects how you work, how you lead, how you attract clients, and how you bring in new business.  Also, the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives, so it’s about time to start talking about lawyers and their marriages and partner relationships. This position extends to working in larger law firms. 

So Harrison Barnes’s (2020) article reasoned that the bigger the firm a lawyer works, the higher the divorce rate. Interestingly.  He even explained that the attorneys in big law firms divorce rate is even higher than the public in general. He asserts that when he started his vocation in a large litigation law firm every single attorney in the firm had been divorced. Among large law firm attorneys, he believes that the divorce rate among litigators is higher than most other practice areas—but there are exceptions to that too.

He warned that just in case you aspire to work with a large law firm—or are currently practicing law with a large law firm—it is important to understand how practicing law is likely to affect your romantic prospects. The odds are you will have a difficult time holding any relationship together if you want to get married and stay married in a large law firm.

His article presented a new area of research in love life amongst lawyers as the studies did not consider the type of firm.  He explained that the challenge is serious to relationships working in large law firms in large cities. It is stressful being an attorney everywhere, of course, but large law firms have that special something that grinds attorneys down.

He further explained: It does not matter if someone is a partner or associate—the large law firm (in the large city, especially) is equally brutal to each relationship. Partners have even more difficult times remaining married than associates, counsel, and others. Many people stay in relationships under the insane belief that things will get better when someone “makes a partner.” It is at that stage that the shit hits the fan, because there is even more stress, longer hours, and it is even harder to hold on to a job when someone becomes a partner than before they are a partner. That is when things often really go bad in relationships because everything just gets worse from there. 

What could be the problem? In general, divorce rates vary by factors like race, education level, and employment status, and now we have a pretty good picture of how they vary by occupation.

It is reasoned that in the case of lawyers, the profession itself is another factor.  As a profession, lawyers endure significant stress and that can take a toll on their relationships. Furthermore, many lawyers prioritize their careers in a way that could make their spouses feel disconnected. It is true for virtually any profession that spending a great deal of time working can strain life at home. 

Aileen Reilly(2018) believes that when two lawyers marry or are in a relationship and they infuse the law, the relationship is likely to break. Hence, lawyers must do away with the idea of being right in the relationship. The reality is, no one is right. A marriage has two people with two subjective points of view. There is no absolute reality in your marriage. Additionally, lawyers must do away with bringing the Rules of evidence in their relationship. 

Leslie A. Satterlee is a partner with Woodnick Law and has been practicing family law exclusively since graduating cum laude from ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Leslie A. Satterlee pointed out that irrespective of the reasons, lawyers—like everyone else—sometimes get divorced. The difficult thing according to the expert has to do with, representing a lawyer in a divorce case.  The expert explained that the fact that the person is a lawyer doesn’t mean the person understands family law. 

Even lawyers who practice divorce law themselves may struggle to view the issues in their case through an objective lens. Every lawyer hears the same adage at some point after starting law school: a lawyer representing himself has a fool for a client.   

Moreover, many lawyers see family law as relatively straightforward and assume that they can handle divorce cases without much trouble. And in some ways they are correct: concepts like dividing community property roughly in half are theoretically simple. However, divorce for a lawyer is especially complicated for the following reasons (among many others):

1) How much is a lawyer’s practice worth? Can a lawyer sell a practice in a divorce? What if the lawyer is a partner in a larger firm—is that interest divisible? Does the type of practice matter?

2) How much does a lawyer earn for purposes of calculating things like spousal maintenance or child support? For a solo practitioner whose caseload varies, how is income calculated? What about a lawyer whose clients pay a recurring fee (such as for a structured injury settlement or social security/disability payments over time)?

3) Many lawyers have student loans or have spouses who worked while the lawyer attended school. Is the value of their legal education divisible in a divorce? What about student loan debt—can it be divided or does it attach solely to the student?

Another added layer of complexity for lawyers getting divorced is their professional reputation. The legal community is small and no one wants to be known to their colleagues for their ugly custody battle instead of their legal work. Even the judge who hears the case may one day rotate to another division where the divorcing lawyer regularly appears.  Even if the case does not go to trial, the pleadings are generally public records (and even if they are sealed, the Internet tends not to forgive or forget).

For a lawyer who is contemplating divorce, these concerns may result in putting off the action in hopes of either reconciling or simply out of fear of the unknown. Consulting with competent divorce counsel is imperative to ensure that the dissolution of marriage is well-planned and well-executed (sometimes months before filing the case).

The provided a summary of the divorce rates and I reproduced herein the jobs with the lowest divorce rate:

1. Actuaries 17%

2. Physical scientists 18.9%

3. Medical scientists and life scientists 19.6%

4. Clergy 19.8%

5. Software developers 20.3%

6. Physical therapists 20.7%

7. Optometrists 20.8%

8. Chemical engineers 21.1%

9. Religious and education directors 21.3%

10. Physicians and surgeons 21.8%

11. Biomedical and agricultural engineers 22%

12. Podiatrists 22.4%

13. Dentists 22.5%

14. Pharmacists 22.6%

15. Military enlisted tactical operations and air/weapons specialists and crew members 23%

16. Speech-language pathologists 23.2%

17. Natural science managers 23.7%

18. Biological scientists 23.7%

19. Veterinarians 23.9%

20. Agricultural products graders and sorters 24%

Jobs with the highest divorce rate:

1. Gaming managers 52.9%

2. Bartenders 52.7%

3. Flight attendants 50.5%

4. Gaming service workers 50.3%

5. Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders 50.1%

6. Switchboard operators 49.7%

7. Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders 49.6%

8. Telemarketers 49.2%

9. Textile knitting and weaving machine operators and tenders 48.9%

10. Extruding, forming, pressing, and compacting machine setters, operators, and tenders 48.8%

11. Telephone operators 47.8%

12. Massage therapists 47.8%

13. Gaming cage workers 47.3%

14. Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses 47%

15. First-line supervisors of correctional officers 46.9%

16. Dancers and choreographers 46.8%

17. Dispatchers 46.6%

18. Textile winding, twisting, and drawing out machine operators 46.5%

19. Ambulance drivers and attendants 46.3%

20. Small engine mechanics 46.2%

Industries ranked from lowest to highest divorce rate:

1. Architecture and engineering 27.5%

2. Computers and mathematics 27.6%

3. Military 28.3%

4. Life, physical, and social science 28.5%

5. Education and library 30.1%

6. Health care 31.6%

7. Community and social services 32.5%

8. Farmingfishing, and forestry 33.0%

9. Finance 33.9%

10. Legal 35%

11. Arts and entertainment 35.2%

12. Management 35.7%

13. Business operations 36%

14. Construction 36.5%

15. Extraction 37.3%

16. Food preparation and serving 37.4%

17. Building and grounds cleaning 37.8%

18. Sales 38.2%

19. Production 38.9%

20. Health care support 39.2%

21. Installation, maintenance, and repair workers 39.3%

22. Personal care and service 39.6%

23. Protective services 40%

24. Transportation 40.5%

25. Office and administrative support 40.6%

Indeed, looking at the statistics, My Lady, was right in her saying  “It comes with the territory” and we cannot dodged once we remain in the legal profession. However, something can still be done to improve lawyers’ relationships.  

Take this study titled: Divorce among physicians and other Healthcare professionals in the United States: Analysis of Census Survey data,” published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The study revealed that doctors were less likely than lawyers to be divorced. The results showed a 24.4 percent divorce rate among physicians, compared to 26.9 among lawyers. The question is what can we do to avert the rising cases of divorce amongst lawyers as lawyers’ relationship also matters.

Prof. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu is a full Professor of Holistic Medicine. President, Nyarkotey University College of Holistic Medicine & Technology, Ghana. He recently completed the Bar Course at the Gambia Law School, Banjul.  

This article aims to create love life awareness in lawyersand the need to balance.  E-mail: