Lawyering Can Be Hazardous to Your Health—John Henry Browne’s Story

When you think about lawyers, you may think of them as financially successful or prominent in their communities. But there is a dark side to being a lawyer. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that, when practicing law is compared to other occupations, lawyers’ suicide rate is the fourth highest in the country. The CDC study also found that lawyers have high rates of depression, and depression can trigger a suicide. The CDC found that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers.

The Legal Broadcast Network will carry a series of reports on these issues and how they affect lawyers. In this report, defense lawyer John Henry Browne talks about his experience with the demons that can affect a lawyer’s life. Browne recently revealed the dark side of his legal career in his book “The Devil’s Defender.”

Browne explains that alcohol and drug addiction were part of his life for a number of years at a time when he was very successful as a criminal defense lawyer and maintained a very high profile. At a time when he had all the trappings of success, he was miserable. “I experimented with and used drugs, cocaine mostly, and alcohol to offset the effects of the cocaine.” Browne felt that he was not being himself. He questioned his success.

Another factor, Browne says, was “the darkness of it all.” For example, on a recent Friday, Browne spent ten hours in three different prisons. “Just being in that environment is very, very dark.”

Browne stopped the drugs and alcohol 23 years ago. “It’s kind of weird when you drink alcohol and you really don’t even like alcohol.” Browne says that there are all kinds of reasons people can find to explain away addictions. But, he says, the reasons are not important. “What’s important is stopping, which I did” Browne says that his path to recovery was to make his own reality more acceptable. One needs to get away from the darkness.

Browne says that he never felt any internal pressure caused by defending people who were guilty of crimes. He has had 350 trials in his career, and perhaps half of his clients committed crimes. If the government can make a case against a defendant, Browne is not concerned with his client’s guilt or innocence. His problem is living in a dark world.

The legal profession has made efforts to respond to the problems of substance abuse and mental health that trouble lawyers. The American Bar Association offers a list of lawyer assistance programs available on a state-by-state basis.

John Henry Browne is the principal in John Henry Browne, P.S., Seattle, Washington. For almost 40 years, he has successfully represented people charged with serious offenses in state and federal court. Honored in Best Lawyers in America since 1999, he is an attorney with a northwest practice and international reputation. He has tried over 300 criminal cases to verdict and represents a broad range of individuals faced with serious felony charges. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of Sequence Media Group.