Help Is Available

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One of every four lawyers suffers from stress, and out of 105 occupations, lawyers rank first in depression. In addition, a disproportionate number of lawyers commit suicide. These are some of the troubling conclusions that can be found in various studies of addiction and depression.

Taking the lead in an extensive national effort to reach out to lawyers, judges, and law school faculty and students in need is the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs.

The commission, chaired this year by Richard A. Soden of Boston, manages a comprehensive program to educate the legal profession on addiction and other psychological issues, and how to confront them. The commission maintains a national clearinghouse on lawyer assistance programs and developing case law about addiction and psychological problems. The commission also reviews state and local LAPs, and develops a national network of program chairs and directors to serve as a resource to each other and to other attorneys needing assistance.

Since its inception in 1988, the commission has expanded considerably and its outreach to the organized bar has had a significant impact. In partnership with the state and local bars, the commission has harnessed an impressive array of resources to provide services to lawyers and law students in need.

Currently, a lawyer assistance program or committee exists in every state, whereas slightly more than two decades ago, only 15 states had such programs. All of the 60 programs that responded to a 2001 ABA questionnaire reported that they served lawyers impaired by drug or alcohol problems. Most of them were also helping lawyers deal with stress and clinical depression, as well as disorders involving gambling, sex and eating.

Every fall, the commission sponsors a national conference for leaders of lawyer-counseling programs to learn about new developments in the field of addiction, recovery, mental health and treatment.

The commisssion’s 18th national conference will take place in November in Charleston, S.C. This year’s conference will focus on the role of the legal community in supporting balance in a lawyer’s life, part of a three-year effort to address this issue. The keynote speaker will be U.S. Magistrate Judge Carl Horn III, author of LawyerLife: Finding a Life and a Higher Calling in the Practice of Law.

The commission operates a confidential toll-free hotline (1-866-LAW-LAPS) that provides callers with referals to a local LAP, where they can receive one-on-one assistance. In 2004, the ABA signed an agreement with the National Bar Association to provide the toll-free number to its members. The commission is eager to work with other ethnic and specialty bars to provide this service.

Assistance for Students

Assistance to law school faculty and students is very high on the commission’s agenda. Its law school outreach committee has put together a tool kit that will be sent to all ABA-accredited law schools with information on substance abuse, alcohol and drug policies, resources for help–including local LAPs–and aspects of confidentiality. The law school committee has developed an annotated bibliography of books and articles on addiction and mental health problems that is posted on the commission’s Web site, www.abalegalservices.org/colap. CoLAP staff manage a successful e-mail discussion list for law students in recovery that provides students an opportunity to share their experiences in staying sober and dealing with the stressful environment of law school.

The commission’s quarterly newsletter, Highlights, provides information to state and local LAPs on the latest developments in the field. The newsletter includes book reviews, messages from the chair and reports on LAPs throughout the United States. Also available is the 2005 Directory: State and Local Lawyer Assistance Programs, which includes a list of more than 100 committee chairs and managers of programs dealing with dependency, depression, stress, gambling and other issues; a list of lawyer assistance hotlines; and information on other organizations such as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, International Lawyers in AA, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

For more information on the commission, contact its very dedicated director, Donna L. Spilis, at 312-988-5359 or via e-mail at [email protected].

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