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Why Amy Winehouse should matter to lawyers

photo by NRK P3 on Flickr

photo by NRK P3 on Flickr

I will admit to not being much of an Amy Winehouse fan. Her music, and her unique style, just never appealed to me much. I cannot deny that she was a phenomenal talent, though, and that her death last Saturday is a loss for the world. As of this moment, there is still no definitive cause of death, but her ongoing struggles with drugs and alcohol are global common knowledge. Her life, and death, is still a reminder–as if we needed another reminder–about how messed up our perceptions of drugs and alcohol (and fame) can be.

Responses have varied, from the fawning to the annoyed to the downright ludicrous. I personally loved Russell Brand’s comments, spoken as only an Englishman could say it:

Entering the space I saw Amy on stage with Weller and his band; and then the awe. The awe that envelops when witnessing a genius. From her oddly dainty presence that voice, a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie and Ella, from the font of all greatness. A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened. Winehouse. Winehouse? Winehouse! That twerp, all eyeliner and lager dithering up Chalk Farm Road under a back-combed barnet, the lips that I’d only seen clenching a fishwife fag and dribbling curses now a portal for this holy sound.

There are a few intriguing cultural ironies, such as how the song that made her famous was all about a refusal to get clean, or how many musicians seem to have died at the age of 27. My take-away is that a talented person rose to astronomical fame while battling more than her fair share of demons, to the dismay, disdain, and delight of the public. This is certainly a tragedy for her family and friends, and it is a huge loss to the musical world.

Amy Winehouse was a star. Stars shine brightly and then burn out. Sometimes they burn for a long time, sometimes they shrivel and die, and sometimes they explode. She’s hardly the only one to fall victim to addiction, as this video by fellow attorney Lowell Steiger shows:

One can only hope that few will follow where she has gone.

How is this related to lawyers? Lawyers rarely enjoy the sort of fame Amy Winehouse had. Lawyers usually work out of the limelight, below the surface of society, and that can be part of the problem. As celebrities must endure scrutiny of their every move, lawyers often feel a need to project strength and fearlessness. Especially in the context of litigation, vulnerability (and even simple emotion) can be a weakness to be exploited.This is not the way it has to be, but it is the way that many attorneys have made it.

To suppress emotions and vulnerability is to suppress humanity. In that sense, some lawyers may share with some celebrities a sense that they are not allowed to be fully human. In the absence of real comfort, a person will turn where they can, sometimes to drugs or alcohol. They may not ask for help, or even realize they need help. The people who care about them may not try to help, for fear of piercing that invulnerability that can form such an important part of a lawyer’s identity. As a result, some lawyers will drink, or even work, themselves to death.

This clearly cannot stand. Times may finally be changing enough to realize that addiction is a disease, not merely a failure of character or of will. Depression and anxiety abound amongst lawyers alongside addiction. Help is out there, and help is abundant.

Every state bar association has some sort of lawyer assistance program. They accept anonymous referrals if you know someone who needs help, and they respect full confidentiality if you ask for help. The American Bar Association has a list of resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255), National, Toll-Free, 24 Hours

State and Local Lawyer Assistance Programs

National Helpline for Lawyers

National Resources

Economic Recovery Resources

National Helpline for Judges Helping Judges 1-800-219-6474

Law Student ListServ
CoLAP maintains a confidential listserv for recovering law students. If you are interested in joining this group, contact Matthew Reel at

What Lawyers Need to Know About Suicide During a Recession – Free Download

Get help for yourself or someone in your life before it is too late. You may not have a world-famous jazz voice, but you matter.