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Did Long Hours, Overwork Kill Skadden Associate, 32?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

Back in June, Skadden associate Lisa Johnstone was found dead in her San Diego home. The news was shocking, as she was only 32-years-old. Some speculated that overwork was responsible for her death.

Autopsy results are out, and they’re inconclusive. There were no drugs or alcohol in her system, meaning the most likely cause of death was a cardiac arrhythmia. However, the coroner could not rule out any anatomical defects.

Still, the report suggests that Johnstone had been overly stressed in the weeks leading up to her death.

Lisa Johnstone's mother said that she had been working over 80 hours a week at the time, though Above the Law wrote that it was closer to 100. She had also recently been treated for dehydration and an ulcer, sure signs that she wasn't taking care of herself.

Even more shocking was the time that Johnstone went into work. The day her body was found, a friend became concerned when she wasn't in the office at her planned 4 a.m. start time.

Though we will never know exactly what caused Lisa Johnstone's heart to fail, her story is a good reminder that BigLaw (and SmallLaw) attorneys need to take better care of themselves. Eighty hours a week is not sustainable in the long-term, and can lead to debilitating health problems.

In addition, stress can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, headaches and sleep problems. And it can also lead to anxiety, depression, addiction and compulsive behavior. Sleep deprivation can cause many of the same problems, and additionally impairs your cognitive abilities.

You may think 80-hour weeks creates job security, but it can also make you an irritable person who can't think straight, ultimately ruining your career.

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