for Lawyers: Friends in Deed
We work in a stressful profession. Deadlines constantly loom, our clients’ futures are often at stake, and we maintain high professional standards. Even before entering the profession of law, we faced the unpleasantness of the Socratic method, dealt with difficult and high-pressure law exams, and, of course, conquered the dreaded bar exam. While such stress is not necessarily negative, all of us have known times in our careers when it’s been challenging to handle.
Stress in Action
Everyone handles stress differently, and some stresses are more easily borne than others. I recall a member of our profession whom I was honored to call a friend when I was but a high school student. He was a wounded veteran of World War II, having survived the Battle of the Bulge. Whether due to this stress or multiple stresses, he became an avid tennis player and approached life with a philosophy that seemed to say “live for today and forget tomorrow.” His lake home was close to my parents’, and as I grew up I was struck by the intensity with which he embraced life. On the Fourth of July he would sound reveille for the lakeshore residents, take to a small boat accompanied by his friend, a veteran of Guadalcanal, and together they would cruise up and down the shoreline with a 10 h.p. Johnson, waving the American flag and loudly declaring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
During summer weekends as a high school student, I was selected as his doubles tennis partner. He insisted on practice times at 6:00 Saturday mornings and would enter us in local lake tournaments. We always lost, but he never gave up his Bobby Riggs’ style. The bottom line was that we played for the day and struck terror in our opponents because there was nothing left but for that time and place.
Friends in Need
Given this background, it may not surprise you to learn that my friend later became one of the founding members of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL), an organization launched in Minnesota 30 years ago by lawyers recovering from alcoholism who banded together to reach out to other chemically dependent lawyers. The year was 1976. California Judge Leon Emerson, who had attempted without success to implement his idea for the organization in his home state, found a receptive audience in 13 Minnesota lawyers and judges who gathered to hear him speak in July of that year.
The founders of LCL recognized that the disease of alcoholism causes some unique problems for those engaging in the legal profession. Because attorneys handle matters of great significance to many people, all of whom could suffer if the attorney’s disease went untreated, Judge Emerson urged that it was vital to create a program that catered specifically to recovering members of the legal community. LCL was thus founded both for the sake of recovering attorneys and for the sake of their clients.
In 1999, the Minnesota State Bar Association, in conjunction with LCL, petitioned the Supreme Court to establish a Lawyers Assistance Program to address a broad range of mental health problems faced by members of the legal profession. LCL was selected in 2001 to fill this role, and expanded its professional and peer assistance program to address a broader range of issues. Thus strengthened by funding from the Court, LCL now offers confidential assistance to members of the legal community suffering from any addiction, depression, or mental illness as well as any other condition that negatively affects the person’s home or work life, including financial issues.
Not only lawyers, but all members of the legal community including judges, law students and family members have access to LCL services. Employing support groups, one-on-one mentoring, and referrals to professional services as needed, LCL caters to members of the legal community throughout Minnesota. In the fiscal year 2005-2006 LCL provided support to 249 members of the legal community.
LCL is a volunteer organization, comprising members of the legal community ranging from 1Ls to judges, many but not all of whom are recovering from alcoholism, other addictions, mental illness, or one of the many other issues LCL confronts. This allows the reticent attorney to feel more at ease when discussing a private dilemma. Having a friendly ear, rich in experience and empathy, allows for open and easy communication. Confidential help is available 24 hours a day.
In addition to providing direct service to members of Minnesota’s legal community, LCL also works to educate attorneys, law students, and other members of the legal community about alcoholism and other challenging personal issues. LCL is willing and able to provide education and assistance to firms and family members of lawyers who are struggling with these issues.
Friends in Deed
My friend of years past didn’t stop when he founded LCL. In later years, as I became a young attorney, his chambers were always open to me and he would frequently call giving advice concerning career paths. Consequently, I particularly appreciate that an organization like LCL exists to help extend the careers, and even the lives, of some of the most valuable members of our community. Whether we suffer from alcoholism personally or have a friend or family member stricken with this affliction, very few of us go through life without being touched by this disease. When our focus is expanded to include the myriad of maladies addressed by LCL, it is safe to assume that no one is totally unaffected. It is incumbent upon all of us to actively support this program. Please, take the opportunity to provide support to LCL so the next 30 years can be as successful as the past 30.
PATRICK J. KELLY is president of the Minnesota State Bar Association, a founding partner in the St. Paul law firm Kelly & Fawcett, and a recognized Minnesota SuperLawyer. He practices in areas of municipal law, labor and employment law and litigation, real estate, and administrative hearings.