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Stressed out? Resources available for attorneys in need

In the normal practice of law, someone’s life — or someone’s life savings —may be at stake. Add that to a workload that is often herculean and you have a recipe for extreme stress.

The practice of law is one of the most stressful professions.

“Lawyers are twice as likely as the general population to suffer from mental and/or emotional health issues and/or substance abuse or dependence,” said Betty Daugherty, director of the Mississippi Bar Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program (LJAP).

Daugherty said there are many reasons for this, including the following:

1. Liability. Generally the attorney is “on the hook” for the services and advice he or she provides.

2. The practice of law is all too often problem driven. More often than not, clients come to see the lawyer because of a problematic situation in which they have already found themselves. Many times the issues involved are highly volatile involving personal freedom, emotional investment and financial consequences.

3. Deadlines. It can be difficult to meet court-ordered schedules or rules such as statutes of limitations.

4. Vicarious trauma. Professionals in all areas are affected by the constant immersion in the problems of others.

Richard Montague, who is chairperson of the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Committee, said another reason for the added stress is that there is usually another lawyer trying to undo everything you do, which tends to add chaos to the lawyer’s life.

“A heart surgeon certainly has high stress, but he doesn’t have another doctor untying his sutures,” said Montague, who is an attorney with the firm Wells, Moore, Simmons & Hubbard, PLLC, Jackson. “I recently heard a lawsuit described as two separate plays being produced on the same stage at the same time with the same actors with two separate scripts and two separate directors, the lawyers being the directors.”

Like other professionals in stressful occupations, lawyers benefit from seeking balance in their lives.

“Life has multiple facets — mental, physical, emotional and spiritual,” Daugherty said. “It is important that all facets receive adequate attention. Seek community. Isolation kills. To the extent that an attorney, or anyone else, suffers alone, their situation becomes all the more desperate.”

When an individual’s efforts to deal with her stressors and problems prove ineffective or insufficient, she should seek help from trusted competent professionals.

“One of the things we offer attorneys is quality control, so to speak,” Daugherty said. “Our job is to be aware of the best available treatment for the dollar, so the lawyer’s dollars are most effectively spent.”

Unfortunately, sometimes attorneys turn to alcohol and other substances such illegal drugs or abused prescription drugs to deal with the stress.

“While initially allowing for escape, at least temporarily, all too often these can lead to addiction, which only exacerbates the problems,” Daugherty said. “Again the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program is available to help lawyers, or their firms or family members concerned about addictive or emotional or mental illness of a lawyer, judge or law student. Our program is confidential. All communications with the LJAP are confidential.”

Lawyers are no different than the general population when it comes to getting help. Many people feel like a failure for seeking help or fear they will be stigmatized.

The LJAP of the The Mississippi Bar is a voluntary, confidential, no-cost program, which offers education, evaluation, referral and monitoring services for lawyers, law students and judges. Attorneys in need can reach the program confidentially by phone (601) 960-9573.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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