by Susan Eisenhauser, J.D., Former Executive Director, JLAP
Volume 23, No. 1. Indiana Trial Lawyers Association quarterly journal, The Verdict. Reprinted with permission.
"...I Think This is the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship."
- Rick to Captain Renault - Casablanca (1942)
Let me begin by introducing myself as the Executive Director of the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Committee (JLAP). When the opportunity presented itself, I was delighted to be able to reach the trial lawyers of Indiana through this forum and perhaps begin an ongoing dialogue on JLAP issues. Yet when I sat down to actually write this piece I found myself at a loss. What could I possibly say that would snag the attention of busy trial attorneys with mounds of other things to read and likely minimal interest in issues such as the possible substance abuse and mental health of their friends and colleagues. Much less their own mental health. After all, experience has shown us that lawyers are more reluctant than others to seek help for their own problems.
Many of you were already exposed to JLAP when we presented at the ITLA Annual Institute last fall, so a basic "who are we, what we do" seemed redundant. It is important, however, that those unaware of JLAP's existence or function know we are an agency of the Indiana Supreme Court, created by Rule 31, Rules for Admission to the Bar and the Discipline of Attorneys. We are here to provide confidential assistance to any judge, lawyer or law student who might be encountering issues that could impair his or her ability to practice in a competent and professional manner. In addition to myself, our staff includes JLAP Clinical Director Terry Harrell, J.D., MSW, LCSW.
As I pondered, I wondered -- would it get your attention to hear that some studies indicate lawyers may be 1.2 to 1.8 times more likely to have problems with substance abuse than persons in the general population? Or that if it is estimated that 10% of the general population is at risk for substance abuse this brings lawyers possibly as high as 18%? That out of the approximately 14,000 Indiana lawyers that means between 1,680 to 2,520 of us could be at risk? And finally that Lawyers Assistance Programs (LAPs) around the country consistently rank trial lawyers as the most prevalent type of practitioners they see in their programs? I would hasten to add the good news that, when treated, lawyers have a consistently higher recovery rate than the general population.
It seemed, however, that focusing on alcohol and drugs might narrow our audience and the message that JLAP is now what is called "broad brush" could be lost. Many would not learn that, in addition to substance abuse issues, JLAP offers assistance in the areas of other addictions including eating disorders and gambling; mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety; aging; and physical disabilities.
Following in that vein, I wondered -- would it reach you to let you know that more than 19 million adult Americans will suffer from a depressive illness - major depression, bipolar depression or dysthymia - each year? Or that a Johns Hopkins survey finds lawyers on the "Ten Most Depressed Professionals" list? That the only exclusively gambling in-patient treatment facility in the country recently reported their patient base to be 11% lawyers? Finally, that according to one source 40-75% of the disciplinary actions taken against lawyers involve practitioners who are chemically dependent or mentally ill? (Note: although this figure is the subject of dispute within the LAP field, even at less than the 40%, it is still an eye-opener).
Surely, I thought, suicide and its prevalence in our profession - as well as in the Indiana legal community -- would be of interest to you. With no research whatsoever, I know of three attorney suicides in three separate counties within the span of a few months this past year. Many of you know of others throughout the years. Studies show that almost all people who kill themselves have a diagnosable mental disorder, most commonly depression or substance abuse. Most importantly, I would want you to be aware that with the advent of a wide range of new medications, along with a greatly heightened understanding of mental illness, recovery rates for these disorders are very high.
After all this reflection I finally came to the conclusion we simply need more time with you, and space to reach you. I hope the above stirred your interest for future articles to cover the areas above in a more specific and informative way.
I would like to close with a few things I hope you will remember:
Finally, please spread the word about JLAP. We want to reduce the suffering of our judges, fellow lawyers and law students. We want them to seek assistance before their impairment leads to disciplinary action. We want to eliminate suicide as an option. We want every judge, lawyer and law student in Indiana to know -- Help is available.