In response to the article "Why are lawyers killing themselves?" (cnn.com), Judge Kane wrote the following (posted with his permission):
As for lawyer suicides -- and I'm not trying to be flippant--- I think they are billing themselves to death. The constant pressure to generate income by billing on an hourly basis is far more stressful for a trial lawyer than trials. In fact, less than 1% of cases now go to trial. The courts have become settlement bazaars. The clients are always unhappy with the costs and the firms are unforgiving in their income generation expectations. Transactional lawyers may get bonuses from their clients ---- after all it's a business deduction----- but most trials are paid with after tax dollars or by very parsimonious insurance companies. And a return on the investment in terms of a successful result not delayed further by appeals is never guaranteed or even a sure thing.
The billable hour is one of the worst things about practicing law. In addition to all its other evils, the billable hour is an open invitation to cheating at the cost of one's self-respect. Also, remember in Hamlet's To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy, one of the reasons he posits for committing suicide is "the law's delay." That delay is bad for the client, but it's the daily fare for the lawyer repeated with almost every case. One of the rarest things to happen to a trial lawyer (only twice in my fifteen years) is to have a client say, "We lost, but I couldn't have asked for a better lawyer."
Of the many reasons why our system would be so much better with a barrister/solicitor bifurcation is that barristers are not allowed to set fees or engage in billing and collecting them. Such is done by the "clark", the Clerk of Chambers who in England makes more of an income than the barristers he shepherds. They likewise cannot be sued for malpractice nor sue for a fee. I hear that is changing in England and the barrister/solicitor separation is withering away. Strangely, this is not because barristers want more, but because the very large solicitor firms want in and more control over the conduct of the case. With that, of course, goes the high standards of ethics and prestige barristers have; they go down the drain.
The Q.C.rank of the best barristers is the source of appointment to the judgeships on the High Court. S.C. (for state counsel) is the equivalent in Ireland and is alive and well, so far. I think that is true of New Zealand, Australia and perhaps others islands of the declining empire, but it's gone in Canada and India.
I am very curious what correlation there might be between suicide rates for barristers compared with solicitors.