The recent suicide of a federal public defender in the State Bar of Georgia parking deck served as a tragic exclamation point for an effort by bar associations in Georgia and elsewhere to stem an often-unseen tide of suicidessuccessful and attemptedamong attorneys.
In what she termed a "bizarre, intense" revelation, Georgia Bar President Robin Frazer Clark said investigators determined that at the very time Thomas "Jake" Waldrop was sitting in his car and preparing to take his own life, between 1 and 2 p.m. on Feb. 12, she and the bar's Executive Director Cliff Brashier were having a lengthy conversation about her proposed "How to Save a Life" initiative.
"It's chilling," said Clark. "Literally two minutes after we hung up, Cliff called me back and said, 'I have some very bad news.' We were discussing it while a man was committing suicide in our parking deck."
Clark said she is aware of at least three Georgia lawyers who have taken their own lives in the last nine months, including Waldrop. The suicide of an Emory Law School student last year had already spurred a panel discussion there aimed at throwing light on the stresses that can trigger depression or substance abuse and start a spiral that can, if left unchecked, end in suicide.
Three days after Waldrop's death, Clark named a five-member panel to a new Suicide Prevention and Awareness Committee that was part of her initial plan.
J. Randolph Evans of McKenna Long & Aldridge will chair the panel, which also includes Duane Morris partner and former bar president Bill Barwick; bar executive committee member Elizabeth L. Fite of Kutak Rock; Decatur family law practitioner and state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver; and Atlanta solo Charles "Chuck" Pekor Jr., who chairs the bar's Lawyer Assistance Program Committee.
The panel's task, according to the appointment letter, is to "develop new means through which to provide Bar members, their families and colleagues with suicide prevention resources and information, including understanding the warning signs, myths and realities, and attorney specific risks."
According to figures circulated at a bar seminar last week, "The Attorney's First Aid Kit," the suicide death rate for lawyers is six times that of the general population, and it is the third-highest cause of death for lawyers.
Attorneys are also among the professionals most prone to suffer from depression, according to course materials. A 2008 review of several studies estimated that of about 1 million lawyers in the United States, 250,000 suffer from some form of depression.