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Reaching out to lawyers

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“We’re not in the business of saving licenses; we’re in the business of saving lives.”

So said Judge Robert “Butch” Childers of Memphis, Tenn., chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, expressing one of the overlying themes of the annual CoLAP conference in Indianapolis Oct. 5-8.

The symptoms of stress, how to help law students, and how lawyer assistance programs work with disciplinary commissions were among the topics addressed at the conference, which had at least 200 participants and 41 exhibitors.

jlap Mary Richardson and Don Lundberg, both former heads of the Illinois and Indiana disciplinary commissions, respectively, discuss the entities’ relationships with lawyer assistance programs at the American Bar Association’s national conference for LAPs, which was in Indianapolis. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

The science of substance abuse and stress, and how it affects the brain was discussed at the session “Stress and Compassion Fatigue in the Legal Profession: What Does Your Brain Look Like?”

Dr. Barbara Krantz, chief executive officer and medical director of research for the Hanley Center showed brain scans and explained how hormones the body produces while under stress tend to affect the brain. For instance, if one is in a stressful situation – the example she gave was sitting in traffic, seeing an accident and construction ahead, and being late to a hearing in court – hormones would be released as a result of the stress. Ideally, the body would also release other hormones to counteract the stress hormones, which would cause a balance, or homeostasis.

When one’s body doesn’t know when to stop the tug of war between the different hormones that cause fight or flight reactions and the hormones that relax the body, there is chronic stress. This can lead to physical symptoms, such as tension, sleep disorders, fatigue, frequent colds and infections, increased alcohol use, headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, and high blood pressure.

Krantz said because attorneys have multiple stressors, and because they are high achievers and tend to put more pressure on themselves while underestimating their level of stress, they often overlook the signs that they need to do something to take care of themselves.

The stressors attorneys face are not that different from what law students face, according to panelists in a breakout session about law student wellness.

Terry Harrell mug Harrell

That panel included moderator Judith M. Rush of the Minnesota State Bar Association Life and the Law Committee, along with panelists Ann D. Foster, director of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program; Michael Larson, director of the Montana Lawyer Assistance Program; Erin M. Keyes, assistant dean of the University of Minnesota Law School; and Carter Alleman, Valparaiso University School of Law Student Bar Association president and national vice chair for Student Bar Associations of the ABA Law Student Division.

The panelists discussed various ways the law schools and LAPs in their states have been tackling the various issues students face, including how to address some of the myths when it comes to getting help for mental health or substance abuse problems while in law school, and how it can affect one’s character and fitness results when they apply to join the bar after they graduate.

They also agreed that the presence of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have contributed to the proliferation of some myths for law students who seek help.

Panelists and audience members discussed whether schools should use a tough-love approach, with a mandatory session to inform students about these issues; or by giving the students the option to attend programs to learn more about LAPs and other resources.

Terry Harrell, executive director of Indiana’s Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program and vice chair of the conference, said lawyers are better off if they face their issues as law students. Otherwise, the problem doesn’t go away, it just gets worse.

She also added a scholarship program is available for law students to receive 30 days of treatment – for free – from Bradford Health Services, with locations around the country. LAPs throughout the U.S. can work with students to get into the program, and they need to pay only transportation costs.

Another well-attended panel was a discussion between two former disciplinary commission chairs. Don Lundberg, now a partner with Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis and former executive secretary of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, spoke with Mary Richardson, who previously chaired the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

Lundberg said that he and Judge Childers agree that “there is a fundamental shared goal of lawyer disciplinary commissions and lawyer assistance programs to protect the public. But our approach is different.”

Because both LAPs and disciplinary commissions are trying to achieve the same ultimate goal, Lundberg and Richardson agreed the entities ought to work together in terms of how they are structured and how they get along on a personal level. However, they also need to maintain an understanding when it comes to what the other side is dealing with. For instance, Lundberg said, “The disciplinary side deals with the mess. We deal with the victims and the chaos” that result from an attorney who is facing disciplinary procedures.

Both added that there are different personalities between those who serve disciplinary commissions and those who serve on LAPs, but that both groups still need to be able to come together somewhere in the middle

They also agreed there needs to be trust among the people of the two types of organizations, including a trust in the LAPs’ reasoning to have confidentiality in cases that aren’t being monitored by a disciplinary commission.

Richardson said the only time her disciplinary commission wrote an amicus brief was to support the confidentiality of those who go to LAPs for help because without it, that system would fall apart and fewer people who need treatment would seek help.

Early on in the conference, Judge Childers noted that because what the participants do in their regular work is so serious, the event was also meant to be fun.

While most of the four-day conference discussed serious topics, participants had a few lighthearted moments, such as a dessert reception that included a presentation by Dr. Will Miller, a therapist who is also a minister and a stand-up comedian.

Miller focused on his theory of refrigerator relationships, relationships between friends and family where if one person is visiting the other’s home, it’s not unusual for the visitor to raid the refrigerator of his or her host.

He connected it to what LAP programs do, because many Americans are mobile and therefore are less likely to have family or other support systems in place when they get into trouble with drugs or alcohol, or feel depressed. He added that people should never feel isolated, even though that is the norm in society.

Many of the panels also mentioned isolation and how LAP programs could share that with the legal communities in their respective states so that attorneys – or law students – would know how important it is to check on each other from time to time.

In his closing speech at the awards dinner Oct. 7, Judge Childers reiterated his point that the LAP programs aren’t helping lawyers keep their licenses, but they’re saving lives by reaching out to their communities and helping to prevent some of those feelings of isolation attorneys have when they are distressed.

“I’m constantly energized by the number of people who give of their time to save lives,” he said. “… I am constantly amazed at what we can accomplish with a small group of people working toward the same goal. … We have made a lasting change in the legal community … and we need to continue to be the change we want to see happen.”•

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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