The Highest Paid Lawyers and Their Addiction Problems 

Lawyers suffer from alarming rates of substance use and alcoholism. They experience unique stressors and competitive environments. Get more information here.

The Highest Paid Lawyers and Their Addiction Problems
The Highest Paid Lawyers and Their Addiction Problems

The Highest Paid Lawyers and Their Addiction Problems

Lawyers suffer from alarming rates of substance use and alcoholism. They experience unique stressors and competitive environments. Get more info here.

The information presented on this page is a general overview and is offered here as a comprehensive resource. At Ampelis Recovery, our programs are customized and tailored to the individual’s needs. Specific details below that cover treatment protocols may not reflect the protocols used for our clients.

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Culture of Alcohol in the Highest Paid Lawyers

The American Bar Association asked a dozen of the highest-paid lawyers why depression and anxiety are prevalent among their roles. The answers included stress, burnout, and the demanding nature of their jobs. Alcohol is often used as a release from these pressures. Approximately 1 in 5 lawyers suffer from alcohol substance abuse.1 Alcohol abuse in lawyers combined with other drug dependencies, including stimulants, sedatives, and marijuana, contributes to dependency rates.2 Law firms have taken to putting anti-drinking culture rules into place to curb the issue. However, studies have shown that the type of person drawn to study law may be more likely to experience addiction.

Another critical factor in alcoholism among the highest-paid lawyers is how they entertain a client. Lawyers in private firms often socialize with their clients through casual drinking. Entertainment lawyers may network at galas and other events. The work hard/play hard attitude encouraged by most private law firms can be the final straw to tilt a lawyer into alcohol or substance abuse.

    Rates of Alcohol Use

    • At a rate of 1 in 5, law professions have double the national average in alcoholism rates.3
    • In a study of 12,825 lawyers, around 22.6% admitted to alcoholism negatively impacting their lives.3
    • 27.6% of lawyers in the same study admitted to harboring alcoholism before law school.3
    • The highest rates of alcohol substance abuse occur at opposite ends of the ladder, meaning junior associates and the highest-paid lawyers experience the largest rates of alcoholism.3

    Rates of Alcohol Use Disorders

    • Approximately 1/3 of lawyers experience alcohol use disorder.4
    • 47% of practicing lawyers have depression and/or anxiety, two conditions that make an individual prone to substance dependency.4
    • Of all the stressors the highest-paid lawyers undergo, alcohol abuse is by far the most impactful. Seeking rehab to overcome addiction is especially tricky as it can ruin a lawyer’s reputation and career. Private law firm lawyers consider their environment as adversarial, and any social misstep like substance dependency can be costly. For this reason and others, even the best lawyers continue to self-medicate.4
    • A Washington state study concluded that 18% of lawyers practicing for 2-20 years have an alcohol dependency.5

    Learn More About Healing the Brain


    • Holistic Approach
    • Brain Chemistry
    • Positive Psychology

    The Highest Paid Lawyers and Substance Use Disorders

    The highest-paid lawyers can be defined as those with the most prestigious law degree or those having achieved senior law partner status. This group also exhibits the highest rates of SUDs. Their upscale circles, clients, and environment provide them access to drugs.

    Rates of Substance Use

    One study revealed that 62% of responding lawyers with a substance use history admitted to using cocaine as a stress reliever. Around 8% of lawyers in that study stated they use substances to get rid of anger and frustration.5 At one point, 26% of lawyers suffered from substance use disorder. That number has since reduced but shows a historically ingrained culture of drug and alcohol abuse.

    Rates of Substance Use Disorders

    The drinking culture and substance use among the highest-paid lawyers result in disproportionately high rates of SUDs. Again, this combines with a reluctance to seek out proper treatment. Lawyers tend to abuse alcohol, sedatives, opioids, and cocaine.

    What the Highest-Paid Lawyers in America Risk with Untreated Addiction

    All partners’ salaries include full medical coverage, retirement options, and relocation expenses when applicable. As a note, profit per partner refers to the total net income of senior law partners.

    Average Earnings of Lawyers in the Five Largest Law Firms

    Kirkland & Ellis

    Kirkland & Ellis is one of the largest law firms in the world. Associates at Kirkland & Ellis start at approximately $190,000 annually. The best lawyers and law partners range between $330,000 and $905,000 annually, not including bonuses.6

    Profit Per Partner: Profits per partner at Kirkland & Ellis total $6.2 million annually.7 This number is based on a 2020 financial report and shows a 16% increase in company revenue.

    Latham & Watkins

    Latham & Watkins offers an average starting salary of $190,000 annually. Junior lawyers who work 1900 hours or more also qualify for a base bonus.8

    Profit Per Partner: Profits per partner are at $4.5 million per year. In 2020, the law firm brought in over $4.3 billion in revenue.

    Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, and Flom

    New associates can expect a salary of $190,000 per year. This firm also has the option to take a three-year leave of absence contingent upon good standing.9

    Profit Per Partner: Profits per partner are $3.9 million annually. In 2020, the law firm took home 2.6 billion in revenue.10

    Sidley Austin

    Attorneys and others with legal degrees bring in 190,000 as new employees at Sidley Austin. Sidley Austin offers flexibility with its billing hours but maintains a 2,000-hour minimum to qualify for a bonus.

    Profit Per Partner: Senior law partners and the highest-paid lawyers at Sidley Austin have a profit per partner of $3 million. The firm brings in $2.6 billion in recent revenue.

    Clifford Chance

    Staying competitive with the market, Clifford Chance associates and attorneys earn $190,000 annually. Clifford Chance is also one of the few law firms that offer on-site childcare.11

    Profit Per Partner: Profit per partner at Clifford Chance are $2.1 million. The firm brought in $2.3 billion as recently as 2020.

    Average Lifetime Value of a Law Degree

    It takes on average seven years to obtain a law degree, the payout of which is an adjusted $1 million in lifetime income before taxes.12

    Ethics Violations, Suspensions, Disbarment

    The three main ways for practicing lawyers to lose out on their lifetime income include:

    Ethics Violations: Ethic violations occur when lawyers withhold the funds due to clients, overcharge clients, or withhold case-sensitive information. Ethics violations can tarnish the reputation of even the highest-paid lawyers and attorneys.

    Suspensions: Suspensions are punishments to those in the legal field. Attorneys, law partners, and other legal professions face suspensions for ethical violations and courtroom performances. When a lawyer’s license is suspended, they are barred from practicing law.

    Disbarment: Disbarment is the highest form of punishment a lawyer can experience. Once disbarred, reinstatement only occurs with a court order and lengthy legal process. For many lawyers, disbarment is the end of their legal careers in the courtroom. Even the best lawyers have a hard time recovering from disbarment.

    Main Mental Health Issues of Lawyers Leading to Addiction

    Attorneys and others in the legal profession face several mental health issues. The most prominent factors are stress and depression.

    Stress and Anxiety

    Lawyers are known to value validation and career success over personal well-being.13 Their personality type leads to stress and anxiety with little regard for healthy coping mechanisms.

    Stress and anxiety lead to reduce mental function and make a person more prone to addictions. The highest-paid lawyers have broad access to illicit substances, prescription medications, and vast amounts of alcohol due to their financial and social status.

    Depression

    Depression and substance abuse are often concurrent conditions that require dual treatment. Even the best lawyers experience work burnout and mood irregularities due to substance use. According to lawyers interviewed by the American Bar Association, most depression occurs from a combination of heavy workloads, long hours, and the combative professional environment.

    Lawyers seek out substances and alcohol to help cope with the stressors of their careers. Depression makes a person more likely to develop a substance issue and worsens the effects of the dependencies.

    American Bar Association Education and Assistance for Substance Abuse

    Educational Programs

    The American Bar Association mandates substance abuse and alcoholism education for all practicing lawyers. The program aims to help everyone, from super lawyers to new associates, navigate substance use stigma. The program ensures that everyone has a chance to learn about SUDS.14

    Assistance Programs

    The ABA offers rehabilitation training for distinguished lawyers, attorneys, and the average lawyer. These programs serve to study addiction within the law field and affect clients in the future. Lawyers of distinction with or without substance issues may find a use for these programs for understanding their next case.14

    Special Concerns of Lawyers Looking for Addiction Treatment

    Lawyers have specific concerns about recovery that can prevent them from getting the help they need.

    Privacy: Law careers are built on reputation. Lawyers often seek privacy due to the shame they feel over their issues and to save face.

    Career and Responsibilities: Lawyers may be unwilling to leave behind their extensive workloads and clients.

    Best Accommodations: The highest-paid lawyers are accustomed to quality accommodations and are unlikely to settle for less.

    How Executive Wellness Centers Address These Concerns

    Executive wellness centers provide privacy, 5-star accommodations, and access to handle external work issues. Executive wellness centers also provide counseling, and long-term treatment plans to guide lawyers towards recovery.

    Resources

    1. https://www.abajournal.com/voice/article/lawyers_weigh_in_why_is_there_a_depression_epidemic_in_the_profession
    2. https://journals.lww.com/journaladdictionmedicine/fulltext/2016/02000/the_prevalence_of_substance_use_and_other_mental.8.aspx
    3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4736291/
    4. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/05/business/dealbook/high-rate-of-problem-drinking-reported-among-lawyers.html
    5. https://sblaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Substance-Abuse-within-the-Legal-Profession_-A-Symptom-of-a-Greater-Malaise.pdf
    6. https://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Kirkland-and-Ellis-Partner-Salaries-E3255_D_KO19,26.htm#:~:text=The%20typical%20Kirkland%20%26%20Ellis%20Partner%20salary%20is%20%24330%2C582.
    7. https://www.law.com/American lawyer/2021/04/09/Kirkland-set-to-stay-on-top-after-double-digit-revenue-and-profit-gains-405-80183/?slreturn=20210312203209#:~:text=Kirkland’s%20revenue%20spiked%2016.3%25%20to,according%20to%20American%20Lawyer%20reporting
    8. https://www.google.com/search?q=latham+and+watkin+salary&rlz=1C1CHBD_enUS810US810&oq=latham+and+watkin+salary&aqs=chrome..69i57j0i13l9.4783j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
    9. https://www.google.com/search?q=skadden+salary&rlz=1C1CHBD_enUS810US810&oq=skadden+salary+&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l6j0i22i30l3.3703j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
    10. https://www.lawcrossing.com/lawfirmprofile/K7jhq/Sidley-Austin-LLP/salary-benefits
    11. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/677921?seq=1
    12. https://www.enjuris.com/students/lawyers-and-alcoholism.html
    13. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/health_law/interest_groups/educational_outreach/substance_abuse/
    14. americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/policy/