They are here to help
At its best, the practice of law is about helping others. In fact, that’s what likely drew many of us to the profession. The law is one of the three “noble” serving professions (the clergy and medicine being the other two), and the opportunity to do good for others is a strong motivation to get in early, stay late, give that “little extra” when needed and keep coming back for more.
We attorneys approach issues somewhat differently than others. We were, after all, “trained to think like a lawyer.” We have been trained to solve (and have spent our adult lives solving) problems. Many times we have a tendency to attack our own or our friends’ problems as we might when presented with a client’s problem. We analyze the issue, research the alternatives and make a decision; then and only then are we ready to move forward. If you doubt this, ask your spouse or significant other.
Individuals who find themselves in a tough, tough spot, particularly when they are in unfamiliar territory, can fail to employ their best problem-solving skills. Further, as Abraham Lincoln noted, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
Anyone, from any walk of life or from any profession, can face health or life issues that have the risk of affecting daily work performance. It is a reality that our profession, noble though it may be, is not immune – many lawyers struggle with health, addiction and depression issues that can adversely affect their job performance. Sadly, research suggests that the number of lawyers who have drug or alcohol addictions may be nearly twice the number of the general population, and, like anyone, we are susceptible to health or depression issues.
Because we tend to attack problems head on, convinced we can solve them, many lawyers struggle alone. Additionally, there is the issue of professionalism – how would it look to admit a struggle with addiction or depression? And how would it impact one’s practice?
Asking for help can be perceived to be a sign of weakness. We tell ourselves that we have been trained to solve problems, so we can solve this one. Admission to oneself or others that help is needed could be perceived as damaging to a lifetime of effort. Perhaps because of all of these reasons, many lawyers suffer alone, day by day struggling under the weight of increasing pain caused by a health issue, addiction or depression, which could seriously impair their ability to perform.
Sometimes a problem is best solved when we “look outside the box” or get a different perspective. I suggest that those who struggle with the above described issues are particularly in need of a different perspective. I don’t pretend I have all the answers, particularly on this complex and even controversial subject, but I believe the solution begins with a fourletter word – perhaps others initially, but eventually the word “help.” If you know a fellow lawyer who may be struggling with a health-, addiction- or depression-related issue that risks his or her ability to practice, don’t ignore it. Use the resource that the Supreme Court has created to offer assistance – the Judges & Lawyers Assistance Program (JLAP). The compassionate people there can help, and the information you provide will always remain confidential. If you’re uncertain how to proceed, let JLAP’s trained staff provide suggestions and guidance. They deal with these issues, which may be new to you, everyday.
JLAP does not, I repeat, does not report individuals who contact the agency for help to the Supreme Court or the Disciplinary Commission. While there are a variety of contracts or agreements that an attorney can enter into with JLAP (and some of them do involve reporting), without a signed consent to release information (be it an individual consent or one appearing in a contract), JLAP does not report to the Supreme Court or the Disciplinary Commission.
Since 1997, Indiana lawyers and judges have had JLAP, which is available to provide help on issues that have largely gone unaddressed for generations. Established by the Indiana Supreme Court under Admission &Discipline Rule 31, JLAP exists to help judges, attorneys and law students who experience physical or mental disabilities that result from disease, chemical dependency, mental health problems or age, which may impair these individuals’ ability to practice in a competent and professional manner.
JLAP’s services are highly confidential and range from simple referrals to assistance with intervention organizations. JLAP has a competent and caring staff and a network of volunteer attorneys across the state. If you or someone you know could use some help, please know that I trust JLAP, and I firmly believe that the staff and volunteers are committed to helping those in need of help. If you can find room on your plate to be a JLAP volunteer, call or email them today and ask for information. I have been a JLAP volunteer for several years now. The commitment of time is minimal, but the service provided is immense. From my perspective, the satisfaction received from my role as a JLAP volunteer has greatly exceeded its time commitment.
If you ever need JLAP or would like information about how to be a volunteer, please contact Terry Harrell, JLAP executive director (866-428-5527, email@example.com) or visit JLAP’s website at www.in.gov/judiciary/ijlap.