GPSolo Magazine - October/November 2006
From the Editor
Stopping the Free Fall into Chaos
Five years ago, GPSolo broke new ground with its first Bumps in the Road issue. That topic was so popular that we reprised it two years ago, and now we’re back by popular demand with Bumps in the Road III. The personal crises lawyers face while tending to others never end.
As many as one lawyer in four suffers from stress, and lawyers suffer the highest rate of clinical depression of all professions. One frightening estimate claims that nearly half of all lawyers will have an alcohol, drug, or mental health disorder at some point in their lifetime. Suicide is one of the leading causes of premature death in lawyers. If those odds aren’t sufficiently sobering, consider the other people within the constellation of every lawyer’s life—family and friends, clients, staff, judges, and even other lawyers. All are affected in one way or another.
Nothing drives the legal profession more than conflict. If conflict didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. With the anger and frustration of our clients rubbing off on us, we’re constantly struggling to remain competent, worrying about finances, battling ethical conundrums, keeping clients satisfied, slaying dragons (and opposing counsel), futzing with technological demons, and trying to bring in more work. Perry Mason’s lot may have been neatly resolved at the end of 60 minutes, but Franz Kafka wasn’t writing his script. Add the business of practicing law to the everyday stresses of buying a house, getting a divorce, or dealing with a death in the family, and you have a recipe for chaos.
A clear head and a steady hand on the wheel are essential to navigating the perilous turns and unexpected speed bumps along the trails and avenues of practicing law. Understanding and recognizing problems, perhaps more delicately framed by the politically correct term “issues,” help us perform at maximum capacity.
Even putting matters of mental health and quality of life aside, keeping that license to practice law in good standing is essential to putting food on the table. We’ve all known plenty of very good lawyers who ran afoul of lawyer disciplinary authorities for one reason or another—neglecting clients and failing to communicate with them, forging signatures, dipping into client funds, lying, playing fast and loose with the rules. Many of them started out with the best of intentions, some at the top of their game, but something along the way derailed them, precipitating their fall from grace. And who hasn’t known a lawyer who’s now no longer practicing law, simply for failing to respond to a complaint from the bar? Preventable tragedies, all of them.
The landscape is filled with safety nets and remedies, from self-help tools to treatment centers to lawyer assistance programs serving those who’re on the edge. It’s only a matter of recognizing that a problem may exist and asking for help. Share this issue with your colleagues, leave it on the desk of someone you think could use a hand, and spread the word. Lawyers are so accustomed to helping others that it’s hard for them to ask for help. You can break that barrier.
Joan Burda, a lawyer hailing from Lakewood, Ohio, deserves a hearty round of applause for shaping and developing this issue, soliciting articles and authors. She is the author of Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples, the best-selling book published by the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division.
GPSolo depends upon its readers’ input. Please do tell us what you’d like to see in this magazine. What topics would you like to see addressed in an upcoming issue of Bumps in the Road? Take a look at the past Bumps in the Road issues of GPSolo at www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2004/oct-nov/index.html and www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2001/jul-aug/index.html.
And don’t switch that channel—coming up on the horizon in December is the Technology & Practice Guide issue of GPSolo, all about disaster and recovery.
jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo , is a lawyer and writer living in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.