By NASH NUNNERY
Forget stereotypes – being a lawyer isn’t quite as glamorous as Hollywood portrays it to be.
Television legal drama ‘Suits’ or 1990s hit series ‘LA Law’ might make for must-see Netflix viewing but the practice of law can be demanding and exceedingly stressful.
Work days stretch into work nights. Demand to meet the firm’s billable hours quota can be excruciating. Familial relationships often are strained. Even the most poised and well-adjusted lawyer eventually succumbs to the pressure of the profession.
Substance abuse, divorce, suicide, depression and poor physical health are but a few of the problems facing those employed in the legal industry.
A former attorney, Chip Glaze is a recovering alcoholic. He’s also the director of the Mississippi Bar Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program. Sober for 19.5 years, Glaze personally knows the pitfalls of the legal profession meat grinder.
“We see 100 to 110 new clients state-wide each year. The most difficult part of the process is getting them to have a conversation,” he said. “Finding help is not a thinking process – it requires surrender, which doesn’t exist in the lawyer’s playbook. Things are never easy.”
According to a 2016 study conducted by the American Bar Association together with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, one in three practicing lawyers are ‘problem drinkers.’ Based on the volume and frequency of alcohol consumed, 28 percent suffer from depression while 19 percent show symptoms of anxiety.
Even for those without “red flag” concerns, Glaze says chronic stress from a life out of balance is harmful on its own and can feed into one of those conditions.
“The law is a rough way to make a living,” he said. “(A career in law) might you a success in the public eye but for some, it’s not good on the home life. And, suicide is high in the profession.
“The adversarial nature of the practice of law is very difficult on a person.”
Founded in 1993, the LJAP offers help to Mississippi attorneys, judges and law students who experience physical or mental disabilities due to many factors, including substance abuse. According to Glaze, the help extends to those in the legal profession coping “to practice in a competent and professional manner”.
Approximately 65 percent of LJAP participants seek help on their own – the remainder are referrals from colleagues and family members. Interventions are not uncommon – either in the plush offices of a law firm or even a judge’s chambers.
“Our mission, first and foremost, is to help those that are struggling,” Glaze said. “We also have a duty to protect the public, as an attorney who is mentally incapacitated can wreak havoc for a client and the court system. And third, our job is to educate. I speak to various legal entities an average of 30 times a year, and we have a cadre of volunteers, from judges to lawyers, who have been a part of the program themselves and want to give back.”
Glaze admits that many lawyers are reluctant to seek help, worried that their practice (or firm) will suffer if time is missed. However, the stigma of seeking help is gradually decreasing in the Mississippi law community.
“The firms are recognizing that these mental conditions aren’t failures but a disease,” he said. “It is a slow and gradual process but I believe Mississippi firms truly want the best for their partners and shareholders. Today, most law firms in the state are less likely to dismiss an employee for a condition beyond that employee’s control.”
For Glaze, the road to sobriety was a pathway marked with detours and potholes. As a former attorney/alcoholic, he believes helping law professionals who can no longer help themselves is his calling.
“There are only 50 people in the nation that do what I do in a legal assistance program,” he said. “It’s very challenging and interesting work, and affords me lots of opportunities. When I got sober, I knew I wanted to do something else with life and this is it.
“I found my niche.”
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