Stress, depression, and mental health concerns for lawyers

 In Georgia State Bar Grievances, Legal Malpractice

Stress inherent in the legal profession is difficult to deal with for all lawyers. With Chandler Law’s focus on professional liability and State Bar ethics and disciplinary matters, we have encountered plenty of lawyers who are experiencing substance abuse and addiction problems, depression, and other psychological disorders. In some cases these problems and disorders pre-existed the lawyer’s professional calling. But it is equally true that the stress of the profession can cause these problems and disorders to arise. What might start out as a coping mechanism can quickly become a substantial, even life threatening, impairment.

A recent blog article pointed out that “between 21% and 36% of U.S. lawyers drink at levels consistent with an alcohol abuse disorder. Those figures are roughly 3 to 5 times higher than the forecast for the general population in the United States.” Depression is a serious issue for lawyers, too. The blog article noted that depression “impacts one out of every four lawyers in the country[,]” or 25%. This is significantly higher than the general US population, of which about 18% is affected by depression and anxiety disorders. Of course, everyone is familiar with the lawyer suicide problem, and efforts to combat the problem continue.

Recognizing and admitting there’s a problem

Lawyers are human, too. And humans make mistakes, fail to live up to expectations, and make messes. Even lawyers who’ve never had a client grievance or faced a legal malpractice complaint could go through the stress of a divorce or suffer from substance abuse issues. Or, they could have family members who deal with these issues, perhaps because the lawyer’s working all the time and away from home too much. As the saying goes, the law is a jealous mistress. Everybody needs assistance with their problems from time to time.

Often, a partner, trusted employee, or family member realizes there’s a problem, but chooses not act. Unfortunately, help often comes after the lawsuit or Bar complaint, and the lawyer’s impaired actions hurt a client or someone else, sometimes themselves.

The perfect solution is to address the stress and other causes of these issues before a problem occurs. But if you make a mistake, report it to your carrier, and then follow guidance for notifying clients, the State Bar, etc. Don’t ignore the problem, whether it’s you, an employee, or a colleague. The best way to deal with stressful situations is to get organized and get things moving, attack the problems one small step at a time. And when you’re in over your head—or a colleague is—that first small step is to get the help that you need. Ignoring a problem only makes it worse.

Services available through the Georgia Lawyer Assistance Program

The State Bar of Georgia created the Lawyer Assistance Program (“LAP”) to help with these issues. When needed, we have called upon the LAP for our professional clients, and they have been prompt, responsive, and caring. All inquiries are confidential. The main thing is to get help early. Don’t wait. All services are accessible through the confidential LAP Hotline: (800) 327-9631

  1. Telephone Hotline: Staffed by trained counselors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you are a lawyer or judge and have a personal problem that is causing you significant concern, the LAP can help.
  2. Personal Counseling: Up to six prepaid in-person sessions per presenting issue per 12-month period.
  3. Work/Life Program for assistance with such issues as childcare, elder care and finances. Callers receive advice, referrals and materials customized to take into account their individual concerns, financial and geographic needs. These referrals are reached through calling the LAP Hotline.

If you, or someone you know, needs help, or maybe you aren’t sure, but need to discuss a situation with a professional, feel free to contact Chandler Law.

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