Stress Relievers

The practice of law can be very rewarding, both emotionally and financially. Achieving a good result for a client often provides the satisfaction of a job well done. Practicing law is also frequently intellectually stimulating. You must pay constant attention to the cases and projects you are addressing – often from the time you first access the cell phone in the morning at home until you plug the phone into its charger just before you crawl into bed. Indeed, if you are not constantly paying attention to your practice, the reality is that, within a short period of time, you may no longer have a practice. You cannot put your practice on “auto pilot” – not even for the length of time it takes for a plane to fly from New York to Los Angeles. Still, despite the reality of having much more than a 9:00 to 5:00 job, I – like many of my fellow lawyers – have enjoyed practicing law for more than three decades and I look forward to continuing to practice law for at least one more.

Yet the very factors that make practicing law intellectually challenging and stimulating – morning to night attention to emails, daily changes to a client’s problems, the client’s often unpredictable and unsound response to those changes, the unexpected and sometimes inexplicable rulings that one occasionally receives from well-intentioned jurists – also make practicing law a very stressful occupation. Because I have been blessed to have practiced law with the same firm (and especially with the same core group of lawyers) throughout my career, I have always been able to walk down the hall into one of my partner’s offices when I become overly stressed. There, I have been able to express my practice frustrations and obtain invaluable perspective. My partners have almost always taken the time to immediately commiserate with me about my complaint of unfairness or my current legal predicament. They have all been in similar situations in their own careers, and we all know we will undoubtedly be in stressful situations in the future. I know that I have been able to obtain my partners’ counseling when stressed because, as my partners and those who know me will confirm, I am not shy, I am very direct and I usually wear my emotions on my sleeve. I am sure it has often been a challenge to be my partner!

But what a fabulous stress reliever such conversations are! These conversations should and must continue if we are to succeed as a profession – especially as the practice of law necessarily adopts more of the functions of most businesses. Those of us who have practiced law for decades, and who have the resulting perspective of experience, need to take the time to mentor the young lawyers with whom we work. Only a lawyer can really understand the stress another lawyer faces, and only a seasoned lawyer can provide a historical, professional perspective to a younger lawyer. Please remember to take the time to mentor the younger members of our profession. Someone undoubtedly took the time to do the same for you years ago, so don’t forget to pay it forward. I guarantee that you will enjoy it.

But we should not only communicate with the younger members of our profession. Many lawyers have not been as fortunate as you and I. They may not have partners to whom they can turn for advice. They may also be more introspective by nature. When practice stresses are combined with life’s other daily challenges, the pressure on occasion can become unbearable and unfortunately lead to a myriad of terrible problems, including substance abuse, clinical depression, and marital and family issues.

The mental health statistics that often go hand in hand with the stress of being a lawyer are quite grim. We have all read or heard of them. Here are just two of the most chilling statistics: lawyers are twice as likely to struggle with substance abuse than a member of the general public; and studies have demonstrated that nearly one in every five lawyers is addicted to alcohol. Those are frightening statistics, and I am sure all of us either know a lawyer who is struggling with substance abuse or suspect that a lawyer they know may have a substance abuse problem or is clinically depressed. Experts note that the signs of substance abuse and depression are easy to spot – missing court dates, failure to return phone calls, an inability to get work done on a timely basis, etc. Still, it is easy for us to ignore these signs and symptoms in our friends and colleagues, especially if they are not members of our own firms.

It is important to remember that The Missouri Bar and the Supreme Court of Missouri have for many years offered resources that are available to all lawyers and their families. These resources can assist a member of our Bar who is struggling with substance abuse, depression, or marital or family problems.

You probably haven’t read Supreme Court Rule 16 (entitled “Substance Abuse and Prevention”) recently. That rule establishes, among other things, an intervention committee to encourage the identification of substance abuse in the legal profession. The committee is empowered to investigate and conduct interventions involving members of the Bar and the judiciary, with the primary goal being rehabilitation of members of the bar. The investigation is always confidential, and any person who provides information to the committee or who is involved in the investigation, intervention or rehabilitation process is not subject to any civil liability or criminal action.

Of course, Rule 16 was also passed to protect the public from suffering damages due to representation by an impaired attorney. But there is another avenue that can be traveled to obtain assistance for someone whom you know or suspect is suffering from substance abuse, depression or marital or family problems – even if that person is you. The Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program (MOLAP) is a professional, confidential counseling program that serves lawyers, judges, law students, and their families. It is operated by The Missouri Bar and addresses substance abuse, depression, marital and family issues, stress and burnout, or other problems that affect personal and professional well-being. These services are provided free of charge.

The MOLAP program was instituted by The Missouri Bar in 1991. MOLAP’s full-time director, Anne Chambers, is a licensed clinical social worker with more than 20 years of experience. Anne has a wide range of experience working with people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. MOLAP works with a dedicated group of volunteer lawyers who stand ready to offer peer support to interested colleagues. Most of the volunteers have substantial experience in this area.

The MOLAP program maintains a toll free, 24-hour telephone number (1-800-688-7859) for ready access. The services provided include unlimited access to a licensed clinical social worker, counseling, information and referral, crisis intervention, coaching and case management. The program maintains a roster of lawyer volunteers who stand ready to assist others through peer support. The Missouri Bar website contains a link to all of the services that MOLAP provides at http://www.mobar.org/molap/, and includes an informative podcast and several articles that discuss how someone can obtain the assistance they need to conquer their problems. As I mentioned previously, Missouri statutes, applicable professional codes of ethics, and Missouri Supreme Court Rule 16 all provide for the confidentiality of any communication with MOLAP.

So many lawyers spend such a great part of their lives helping others, yet like the cobbler’s children who have no shoes, lawyers often fail to take care of themselves. The Missouri Bar has the desire and the necessary resources to help its members who find themselves overly stressed and in situations where they need professional assistance. I hope that each of you will take the time to familiarize yourself with the resources The Missouri Bar provides through MOLAP so that you can help a fellow lawyer or his or her family if the need ever presents itself to you.