Why on Earth Would I Call a LAP?
By Rebecca Nerison
Rebecca Nerison is a licensed psychologist who works with lawyers at the Washington State Bar Association’s LAP. She can be contacted at rebeccan@wsba.org.
They probably didn’t tell you in law school that lawyering can be hazardous to your health. It’s easy for even the smartest attorneys to become overwhelmed by workloads, life/work imbalance, or the stresses of establishing a career. Lawyer Assistance Programs (LAPs) exist to prevent—or to mitigate—damage as a result of substance abuse, marital conflict, unethical activities, or other problematic behaviors. Regardless of where you practice, your state has a LAP that can help lawyers regain productivity and balance.
Why on earth would I call a LAP?
Young lawyers call LAPs for all kinds of reasons. LAP staff are professionals who know the available resources to help you deal with any problem. In ad-dition, because the programs are generally supported by state bars, courts, or foundations, fees for services are usually lower than those for independent professionals.
Some lawyers who call LAPs for help may be suffering serious disabilities, while others may want help with less dramatic situations. Calls may involve one or more of the
following topics:
• Managing stress and family demands
• Finding a job or making a career transition
• Lacking the energy or motivation to do clients’ work
• Procrastinating and missing deadlines
• Feeling overwhelmed by doing legal and administrative work
• Earning too little
• Having relational or family problems
• Drinking, drugging, or other compulsive behaviors
Lawyers who focus solely on their clients’ or firms’ needs, without regard to their own, end up burned out and used up. They can end up in the disciplinary system of their state bar association after clients complain. Stress and burnout are occupational hazards even for young lawyers.
What can I expect when I call?
LAPs around the country vary in the breadth and depth of the services they offer. Small LAPs may consist of a telephone and a lawyer or mental health professional who offers information and referrals. A few of the larger LAPs also offer individual or group counseling by mental health professionals. Many LAPs also have a network of lawyers who have been through their own recoveries and provide support and resources during whatever treatment may be deemed necessary.
Are LAP services confidential?
Yes, in most states, under most circumstances. Your state or local LAP can let you know about specific limitations. Most clients receive the same degree of confidentiality and privilege as they would from private mental health practitioners or agencies.
How can I help a colleague whom I suspect is impaired?
Most LAPs are equipped to advise you on reaching out to lawyers who aren’t asking for help themselves but probably should be. In most states, you can call the LAP and confidentially discuss your concerns, and your call will not be mentioned to your colleague. In some cases your initial contact can be the start of an intervention that may even save someone’s career or life.
Is intervention the same as discipline?
No. LAPs generally do not “report” lawyers who use—or are considering using—their services to disciplinary agents, and their rules of confidentiality protect their information. Check with your jurisdiction to be sure.
But I should be able to figure this out by myself!
Wrong. The sooner you disabuse yourself of this notion, the better your life and career will be. The only truly dumb thing you can do is to realize you need help and then not ask for it. And I think you’re smarter than that.
If you have trouble accessing your local LAP, call the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs at (866) 529-5277 (866-LAW-LAPS) or check the resources at www.abanet.org/legalservices/colap, which links to programs for each state and U.S. territory.
This article is a revised version of one that appeared in the October-November 2006 issue of GPSOLO magazine, “Bumps in the Road III.” © 2006 American Bar Association. Used with permission.
• A Lawyer’s Guide to Healing: Solutions for Addiction and Depression. 2006. PC # 3190033. ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP).
To order online, visit www.ababooks.org.