FROM THE EDITOR

Concentrate on the Present Moment

By Joan M. Burda

This issue marks the fourth time we have addressed the issues lawyers face in their lives, families, and work. Former Chair John Macy started us on this road in 2001. Eight years later, we find there are new subjects to address and others to revisit. Jim Schwartz took the lead on this chapter in the Bumps legacy.

Past issues of Bumps in the Road have generated great response from our members and other entities outside the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division. This reflects the quality of the articles presented and the itch that needed scratching in many lives. Lawyer assistance programs across the country have requested permission to reprint past issues. I expect this new issue will see the same response. (As with previous “Bumps” issues, no special permission need be requested to reprint these articles for most educational purposes; for more details, see under “Special Permission” in this issue's Division News column, (www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2009/octnov/anderson.html.)

In the beginning, Bumps addressed addiction issues: alcohol and drugs. Historically, these topics have been of primary concern within the profession. Then we addressed dealing with addictions facing our clients and other lawyers—and our responsibilities to them. The last issue, published in 2006, included articles about ADHD, treatment expectations, issues facing returning veterans, and disciplinary actions.

This issue of GPSolo, “Bumps in the Road IV,” looks at the ethical issues of reporting colleagues, preparing for the unexpected, and how our practices affect our families.

I am particularly pleased that Daniel Lukasik has written an article on depression. Daniel became known as the lawyer who revealed his struggle with depression in the July 2007 issue of Trial magazine. You can read the article on Daniel’s website: www.lawyerswithdepression.com.

Some statistics indicate that depression runs rampant in the legal profession—and it starts in law school. Unfortunately, society retains its dismissal of depression as something to “get over.” And many who suffer from it do so in silence because of the enormous burden of being classified as having a mental illness. Many people avoid therapy because they fear how it would affect their lives if anyone found out. Daniel Lukasik has begun to shine some light on the issue. But the road ahead is not yet clear of obstacles.

We are trained, from the first day of law school, to never admit ignorance on an issue because clients might not like it. I have found, after 26 years of experience, that clients are amazed whenever I admit I do not know something. The usual response: “I’ve never heard a lawyer say that.” I also found that admitting my ignorance lifted a great burden from me. We’re lawyers; if we don’t know something, we can find out. It doesn’t mean we are incompetent or incapable—just that we don’t know the answer to one particular question. And it gives us the opportunity to decide if we are in over our heads and should refer the matter to someone else. By the way, that’s another thing we have a problem doing: watching those potential fees walk out the door. But it’s cheaper to refer the client to another lawyer than pay the price of committing malpractice.

We need to take care of ourselves just as much as we care for our clients and our families. Think of it as that three-legged stool. We need all of the legs to be sound. Getting help, when we need it, is smart advice. How many of us lamented the fact that our clients waited before seeking legal assistance. The same is true for us concerning our own physical and mental health.

Unfortunately, the health insurance industry often fails to treat mental health assistance and physical health assistance equally. That’s part of the stigma that attaches to anything that can’t be diagnosed with a machine. What would happen if our health insurance refused to treat a heart problem because we brought it on ourselves by not eating properly? I doubt such a decision would withstand scrutiny. Yet, those same insurers limit coverage for mental health issues because the cause and cure can be nebulous.

Whether it’s addictions, stress, depression, or disability, there is an article in this issue to help you find answers. Several of the articles reflect an individual’s personal journey back. It takes courage for anyone to admit being less than perfect. The authors of those articles have done us all a service. There is no one who does not experience, in some way, the issues included in Bumps IV.

I think everyone reading this issue will find something to give them pause. Maybe we will worry less about the future, think less about the past, and live more in the moment.

Starting in January 2010 we will begin posting the themes and proposed articles for future issues of the magazine on the Division website (www.abanet.org/genpractice). If you have ever thought about writing for us, check out the Author Guidelines there. As a rule, we do not accept prewritten articles. But if you are interested in writing for GPSolo, you will have the opportunity to let us know. And, if you attend the Division’s Annual, Fall, or Spring Meetings, drop in at the magazine’s Editorial Board Meetings. They are open to all members.

Let me know what you think about the issue. You can reach me at jmburda@mac.com.

 

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