July 25, 2017

The Addicted Lawyer: Is Alcoholics Anonymous For You?

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Above the Law on October 14, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please get help. The Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program provides confidential assistance — call (303) 986-3345 or visit coloradolap.org

briancuban-e1473974781722By Brian Cuban, Esq.

April 2007. I walk up to the door of the building where area Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are held. My family is pushing hard for in-patient treatment but I refuse. My psychiatrist feels that a trip here is the first step to long-term sobriety. Lucky for me, the building is right next to his office. If it hadn’t been convenient, I might have just made excuses to not go at all. For an addict, excuses are often more plentiful than reasons for recovery. The present is more important than the future — the present of the high.

After pacing around outside the doorway for a long time, I finally peer down the long hallway into the room where people are gathering. I’m afraid of being recognized. My ego is still paramount in my worries. “I’m a lawyer. There are no lawyers in in AA or treatment. My one client left needs me!”

My mind flashes back to one of my favorite childhood movies, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. I suddenly imagine that as soon as I enter the meeting room, I’ll be carried away by a team of chanting Oompa Loompas determined to punish me for my bad habits. I have no desire to meet the Oompa Loompas on the other side of that door.

I finally walk down the hall into the meeting room, and I can smell the fumes of stale cigarette smoke and day-old coffee. My eyes lock onto the 1950s tile floor, ingrained with the dirt of countless feet. There are other people milling around in room. Are these the people with whom I was supposed to share my darkest secrets? Would I be made fun of, teased, or insulted? Who are these people? Skid row bums? That’s my perception of AA. I think of Nick Cage’s character, Ben, living in the sleazy “no-tell motel” as he drinks himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas. Dick Van Dyke’s character, Charlie, drunk, alone on the beach with no future in The Morning After.

Deep breath. Don’t look around. Eyes down at the floor. That fixed point. Watch the feet move forward. One baby step at a time to a waiting chair. It’s the way I’m able to accomplish things in life. It’s how I was able to finish eight marathons. Facing any difficult task, my best self is that part of me that can place one foot in front of the other until a goal is accomplished. Don’t look left. Don’t look right. Don’t think about the finish line. I sit down. I listen. I cry. At the end of the meeting, I take a desire chip. The most important journey in my life begins.

As you have probably figured out, I got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous. I know I am irritating some who believe we should not talk publicly about being in AA. I believe we should be empowered to share all aspects of our personal journey if we choose to. I find it perplexing that we as attorneys in recovery, who spend our lives engaged in critical thought and using data, will exclude AA from that process as if there is some magical healing power to not discussing both its benefits and flaws when there is no empirical data to support the notion that talking publicly about being in AA, then relapsing publicly, will cause someone to not enter the program.

Certain aspects of AA have worked for me to date. I completely disregard other aspects. The sober connections I found in group were, and are, important to me. The people. The stories that tell me I am not alone. I, however, have never been as keen on the spiritual aspects and certain rituals of the program. That’s just me. You may like that. You may need that. Those issues however, have never been a deterrent to me in my program like they are for some who reject AA as their mode of recovery.

In speaking to law students and other lawyers about recovery, while some embrace the program, some would rather find others ways to long-term sobriety and have. Through their church. Through non-12-step-based programs such as Smart Recovery. Through both 12-step-based and non-12-step-based residential treatment. Through collegiate recovery programs. Through informal local attorney support groups. I know a few lawyers who have gotten sober on their own, although I would never recommend that path to start. There are many paths to recovery available today that were not available in 1935 when AA was founded.  AA has also not been my only mode of therapy. I have been seeing a psychiatrist for over a decade. I take anti-depressant medication daily. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have been important in my recovery. Let’s not lose sight of the goal: To be a person in long-term recovery regardless of the path chosen. The most important decision of your life should be one of reflection and critical thought. It’s your journey. If it’s AA, that’s great. If it’s another path, get on it. Recovery awaits.

  1. http://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance.html
  2. http://collegiaterecovery.org/programs/
  3. http://www.aa.org/
  4. http://www.smartrecovery.org/
  5. http://www.celebraterecovery.com/

 

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

The Addicted Lawyer: Silence is Deadly

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Above the Law on September 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

September is Suicide Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or suicidal thoughts, please get help. The Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program provides confidential assistance — call (303) 986-3345 or visit coloradolap.org

briancuban-e1473974781722By Brian Cuban, Esq.

July 2005. A dark room. Table, desk, chairs. I’m with a staff psychiatrist of the Green Oaks Psychiatric Facility in Dallas, Texas. My brothers, Mark and Jeff, are sitting at the table across from me. I have a vague recollection of my younger brother rousing me from my bed. My .45 automatic lying on my nightstand.

The residuals of cocaine, Xanax, and Jack Daniels are still coursing through my veins. Questions from the attending psychiatrist pierce my fog and anger like tracer rounds. “What drugs have you taken? How are you feeling? Do you want to hurt yourself?”

In the back of my mind, what’s left of the lawyer takes over. I know that my family can’t commit me, but he can. Proceed with caution. I don’t mention that I had been “practicing” sticking the barrel of the gun in my mouth and dry-firing the gun.

Ripped back to reality. Voices in the room. The doctor is talking to me again. When was the last time I used cocaine? I’m pretty sure it has been recently, since it was all over the room when my brothers showed up. I had become the consummate liar in hiding the obvious cocaine habit and drinking problem from my family.

More questions. Do I think I need help? Will I go to rehab? Sure, whatever will get me out of here? I lash out again. They have no right to do this. I yell across the table. “You have no right to control my life! I am an adult! Mind your own business!” They quietly let me rant.

Blaming them for the darkness is so much easier than seeing the light. The doctor is asking calm, focused questions, to ascertain whether I am a danger to myself. At times I am calm in my answers. At times I am crying, angry at him, then at my brothers. Quit asking the same questions! I know your game! Quit treating me like an idiot!

An hour has passed. The room is getting brighter. The love and calm of my brothers soothes me. Quiets me, softens my edges. It’s always been there, but I wasn’t present enough to sense it. I was thinking only of myself: My next high. My next drink. Without the drugs, what am I going to see in the mirror each morning? The thought terrifies me. My brothers calm me, and I begin to focus on my love for my family. Arms are around me. Holding me. I begin to feel the love penetrating my shell. They are not the enemy. Should I go to rehab? What about twelve-step? I’m still on the defensive, but at least for the moment I can listen. Have to grab those moments. They don’t come often.

Sitting in that room during my first of two trips to a psychiatric facility seems so long ago. Today I am closing in on ten years of long-term recovery from addiction. I still deal with clinical depression and take medication daily. I see a psychiatrist weekly. I am also a lawyer. I am part of profession with an alarmingly high suicide rate. An alarmingly high rate of substance use, particularly alcohol. I’ve been there. I get it. I also talk to many in the profession weekly who are currently struggling. Some have contemplated suicide. I ask them what they are afraid of. What’s holding them back from taking that first step forward towards the light. It’s almost always about loss. Loss of license. Loss of job. Loss of family. Interestingly however, the fear of loss is generally attached to disclosure of the problem and not the possible consequences of the problem itself. That is what we know as the “stigma of addiction.” A problem that cuts across demographics but is particularly powerful in the legal profession. We are strong. We are hard chargers. We are “thinkers” who can problem solve our way out of any situation without disclosure. We are not vulnerable.

I am here to tell you that that emotional vulnerability is a good thing in taking that first step to get help. Reaching out is not weakness, it’s courage. Asking questions as a friend or family member is not intrusive, it’s compassionate.

September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Be vulnerable. Be compassionate. Ask questions. Provide resources. Learn what your state Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP) has to offer. Learn what your local bar association has to offer.  Above all, talk! Talking is healing. Silence can be deadly.

 

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Sobering Statistics — Prevalence of Alcohol Use and Mental Health Issues Among Lawyers

COLAPEditor’s Note: If you are or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues, please contact COLAP for confidential assistance at (303) 986-3345 or (855) 208-1168. 

The legal profession is noble indeed. Lawyers are tasked with holding high standards of integrity while zealously advocating for their clients, often during the worst experience of their clients’ lives. Lawyers must maintain competence, diligence, truthfulness, and candor. Biglaw attorneys must be rainmakers as they work grueling hours in a high-stakes environment. Solo and small firm attorneys must also worry about bringing in and keeping clients, but they also have office management duties. In-house counsel must be knowledgeable about many different areas of the law so they can provide competent representation on any issue their business may face. Prosecutors balance heavy caseloads while trying to bring justice to grieving victims. Defense attorneys sometimes face literal life-or-death situations with their clients. The law is not a profession for the faint of heart. And it shows—stories of lawyer suicides are so common it sparked a CNN report, “Why Are Lawyers Killing Themselves?” The South Carolina Bar Association’s South Carolina Lawyer published “The Lawyer’s Epidemic: Depression, Suicide, and Substance Abuse.” Patrick Krill wrote a compelling article for “The Hennepin Lawyer” called “Legally Intoxicated: The Impacts and Implications of Substance Abuse in the Practice of Law,” describing one fictional partner’s descent into substance abuse but also describing situations that are all-too familiar for many lawyers.

A new study from the Hazelton Betty Ford Foundation revealed alarming rates of substance abuse and mental health disorders among attorneys. Nearly 13,000 legal professionals responded to an anonymous survey posted by bar associations across the country. Of the respondents, 53.4 percent were men and 46.5 percent were women. Age was measured in 10-year increments beginning with under 30 and ending with 70 and older, and respondents were fairly evenly divided through the age groups, with the fewest responses from the 70+ attorneys and the second fewest from the under-30s. Marital status and race/ethnicity were also considered; the vast majority of participants were white/Caucasian (91.3 percent) and married (70.2 percent). Professional characteristics, including work environment, position in firm, hours per week, and whether litigation was involved, were also examined. Participants self-reported on alcohol and substance use, and 84.1 percent reported using alcohol in the past 12 months.

The study included a 10-item self-report test called the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), which is used to screen for hazardous use, harmful use, and potential alcohol dependence. An alarming 20.6 percent of reporting attorneys had positive AUDIT screens, as compared to 11.8 percent for a broad, highly educated workforce and 15 percent for physicians. The youngest attorneys were the most likely to report problem drinking—31.9 percent of the under-30 attorneys and 25.1 percent of attorneys aged 31-40 had positive AUDIT screens, with the percentages tapering off for each age segment. Similarly, attorneys in practice 10 years or less reported the highest rates of problem drinking—28.1 percent of new attorneys had positive AUDIT scores, with percentages diminishing in each age segment. The results were fairly static across all types of firms; private firms and bar administration had the highest rate of positive AUDIT screens but solos, in-house (government), in-house (corporate), and law schools were not far behind. Junior associates were most likely to screen positive for problem drinking, and senior partners were least likely.

The study also found alarmingly high percentages of depression and anxiety among responding attorneys. Of the attorneys surveyed, 28 percent experienced mild or higher levels of depression, 19 percent experienced mild or higher levels of anxiety, and 23 percent experienced mild or higher levels of stress as measured on the DASS-21 scale. Over 60 percent of the attorneys surveyed reported having experienced anxiety at some point in their career, and 45.7 reported having experienced depression. Suicidal thoughts and actions were also described, with 11.5 percent of responding attorneys admitting they had had suicidal thoughts at some point in their careers and 2.9 percent admitting self-injurious behaviors. The study noted significantly higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression among those screening positive for problematic alcohol use, and those with stress, anxiety, and depression scores within the normal range endorsed significantly fewer problematic alcohol behaviors. The study also remarked that alcohol can cause mental health issues, and mental health issues can often lead people to self-medicate with alcohol, so the two issues frequently co-exist.

Among all respondents, the same barriers to treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders were raised: not wanting others to find out they needed help and concerns about privacy and confidentiality. However, those who sought treatment in programs designed for legal professionals reported significantly lower AUDIT scores than those who attended programs not tailored to legal professionals.

Colorado has a lawyer assistance program tailored for legal professionals, appropriately named the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program or COLAP. COLAP is completely confidential, and in fact Colorado Supreme Court Rule 254 establishing COLAP provides that none of the information gathered by COLAP can be released without a signed release. COLAP’s mission is to protect the interests of clients, litigants, and the general public by educating the bench, bar, and law schools regarding the causes of and remedies for impairments affecting members of the legal profession, and to provide confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, and law students who suffer from physical or mental health issues, or other impairments that affect their ability to be productive members of the profession. As COLAP’s website informs, “Getting help won’t sabotage your career, but not getting help can!”

If you are among the one out of every five attorneys who struggles with problematic alcohol use, or the one-in-four attorneys who is experiencing depression, please do not struggle in silence. Contact COLAP or your personal physician today.

The Colorado Lawyer: Suicide Prevention

LorenBrownEditor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. Reprinted with permission.

By Loren M. Brown

World Suicide Prevention Day is observed every September 10 to promote global action to prevent suicide. Various events and activities are held to raise awareness that suicide—a major cause of premature death—is preventable.

Suicide and Lawyers

Lawyers are not immune to suicide. In fact, numerous recent studies about suicide make clear that lawyers experience depression and substance abuse at higher rates than the general population. As a result, lawyers are at a greater risk for suicide.

Suicide is a very difficult subject to talk about. This is even more the case in a profession where we are constantly on guard and attempting to maintain an air of strength with our clients, with opposing counsel, within our firms, and within the profession. However, now is the time to speak about this issue—and speak loudly. The fact that attorneys have one of the highest suicide rates among professionals can no longer be ignored.

Suicide touches us all, from line deputy district attorneys and public defenders to 17th Street corporate transactions attorneys to solo and small firm practitioners throughout the state. I have felt the impact of suicide in both my personal and professional life. As a child, I grew up with stories of relatives who found themselves in dark places they were unable to escape. In my practice, I have suffered the loss of clients, opposing counsel, and friends at their own hands.

Through all of these experiences, the question that continues to ring out is, “Why?”

Why would someone do this?
Why does it keep happening?
Why have we not done more to combat this within our profession?

There is no good reason to continue to ask this last question, but there is every reason to address it head-on now. It is time for us to take immediate steps toward preventing suicide from occurring within the profession.

Remove the Stigma

One of the first steps to addressing the problem is removing the stigma of suicide. This is a matter of perspective that can easily be overcome.

Following 9/11, there were many unnecessary funerals, brought on by the unnecessary tragedy. I was fortunate not to lose anyone close to me on that fateful Tuesday fourteen years ago. I suppose that is one of the benefits of being landlocked in Colorado and never venturing too far from home. Nonetheless, the events of that day shook me to the core. One horrific aspect of that tragedy that has continued to plague me was the images of people high up in the towers who were forced to step out into nothingness toward a certain fate, as opposed to waiting for a more horrible and fiery death. Searching for meaning in the face of those deaths brought no answers.

Months later, I heard (I think on NPR) the story of a eulogy for a person who had committed suicide, unconnected to 9/11. The eulogist discussed the stigma attached to suicide. He discussed the disbelief, shock, and anger of the family and friends left behind, the impolite rumors and whispers that follow the death, and the speculation and judgment about the reasons for the act.

He discussed the spiritual conflict felt by many survivors trying to mediate the feelings of loss of their loved one and bear the pain of a belief that the person must now suffer a form of eternal damnation as a result of the act. The eulogy compared death by suicide with death suffered by victims of 9/11—the former victim chose a known fate and the latter waited and suffered an unknown one. The eulogist went on to say that the person who had taken his own life was really no different from those who chose to jump out of the building rather than remain inside and burn. On 9/11, each person was in a horrified and desperate state, with the fire licking at their heels. Instead of staying to face the fire, they chose temporary freedom by stepping out into the air; yet, there is no stigma attached to those who jumped from the towers.

The eulogist concluded by saying that the death by suicide was no different. The person who had died was in the throes of intense personal struggles he felt he was unable to successfully battle, which forced him to the brink. The eulogist ended by stating, “God help me that I could not see the flames.”

There are fires licking at the heels of many of our colleagues. As members of the profession, it is our job to try harder to see the flames and to do all we can to help put them out. If we are to effectively fight and prevent suicide, we must adopt the perspective expressed in the eulogy above. It is often said that depression is not a sign of being weak, but a sign of having been strong for too long. We must take a stand together and commit ourselves to helping others be strong when they can no longer be strong on their own. We cannot let others be isolated. We need to be a resource to either provide them guidance or get them the help they need.

Know the Warning Signs

The warning signs for suicide range from seemingly subtle and common to open and obvious. It is important to know what they are. Here are many warning signs:

  • feeling hopeless
  • experiencing dramatic mood changes
  • feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
  • acting reckless or engaging in risky activities—seemingly without thinking
  • feeling trapped—like there’s no way out
  • withdrawing from friends, family, and society
  • feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • increasing alcohol or drug use
  • seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life
  • threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself
  • looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means.

We should all be mindful of these warning signs, both in ourselves and in our colleagues.

Prevention

Prevention strategies do exist for suicide. The most effective strategy is to identify the warning signs of suicide and to take the signs seriously. Once these warning signs are identified, an individual struggling with depression and contemplating suicide should be encouraged to receive professional help. We also have to be willing to talk about suicide. We must increase professional and public awareness through dialogue and education to eliminate the stigma associated with suicide.

The National Suicide Prevention Helpline (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org) recommends the following when someone is threatening suicide:

  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
  • Be nonjudgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Don’t dare the person to do it.
  • Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available, but do not offer glib reassurance.
  • Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills.
  • Get help from individuals or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

Helpful Resources

If you believe a colleague may be at risk for suicide, encourage him or her to seek help. If you are facing these struggles yourself, it is important to know that you are not alone. There are people and resources available to help you during these difficult times.

A very good resource for lawyers is the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program (COLAP). One of the most important aspects of COLAP is confidentiality. COLAP was established by Colorado Supreme Court Rule 254. Pursuant to Rule 254(6)(a), information and actions taken by COLAP are privileged and held in strictest confidence and will not be disclosed or required to be disclosed to any person or entity outside COLAP, unless disclosure is authorized by the member. COLAP will not release any information without a signed release. Therefore, when a person contacts COLAP (whether a person is calling for himself or herself or to express concern about a colleague), the interaction will remain confidential.

COLAP provides assistance for any career challenge that interferes with the ability to be a productive member of the legal community, including but not limited to: practice management, work/life integration, stress/anger management, anxiety, depression, substance use, and relationship issues. COLAP provides referrals for a variety of personal and professional issues, assistance with interventions, voluntary monitoring programs, supportive relationships with peer volunteers, and educational programs. More information on COLAP can be found at www.coloradolap.org.

Take a Minute to Help Others and Yourself

If you are an attorney reading this article and feel as though you need support regaining strength, I encourage you to reach out to a friend or to COLAP. If you are an attorney and begin to see the signs of someone facing or nearing this struggle, take the time to reach out to that person.

Take a minute to help yourself or someone else. Take a minute to ask for help. Take a minute to connect with an old friend. Take a minute to ask how others are doing. Take a minute to listen (and really care) about the response. It may take only a minute to save a life.

Loren M. Brown is a founding shareholder with Ciancio Ciancio Brown, P.C. His practice is focused 100% on litigation, providing representation along the Front Range, and throughout the State of Colorado. Loren focuses on Wrongful Death and Personal Injury, Criminal Defense (ranging from traffic violations to homicide), Liquor Licensing, and Commercial Litigation. Loren is also actively involved in the Colorado Bar Association. Currently, Loren serves as the President of the Colorado Bar Association focusing his term on young lawyer involvement in the bar association, access to justice, and improving the image of lawyers.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Winds of Change (Part 3)

rhodesMy wife is used to the kinds of research I do for these articles, but even she raised an eyebrow when I brought home James Hillman’s book Suicide and the Soul. “Is there something I should know?” she asked. Yeah, I think so. I think there’s something we all should know, not just about individual lawyer suicides, but also about how they mirror the collective, transformational death occurring in our profession.

Hillman called suicide “the urge for hasty transformation” – referring to the death of an individual psyche under the stress of personal transformation. In a postscript written 40 years later, Hillman added insights about the communal nature of suicide:

Once we have grasped that involvement [in relationships with others] is fundamental to the soul, we would be inescapably connected by definition, turning and twisting the threads of our fate with the souls of others. Others are entangled in your death as you are in theirs. Suicide becomes a community matter.

No suicide dies or takes his life alone; the rest of the community dies and takes his life with him. We don’t want to hear that. We quickly deny any personal responsibility, avoid the topic, turn away when it comes up. Hillman explains our response this way:

This [community aspect] helps account for the common reaction against those who attempt suicide. They are not welcomed with sympathy by family, friends or clinic, but rather are met with anger and disgust. Before we sympathize with a person’s plight or pain that may have occasioned the attempt, we blame; we find ourselves spontaneously annoyed, outraged, condemnatory. I do believe this all too common response points to the enduring strata of the psyche that we all share, call it our archetypal humanity. We are societal animals, as well as having individual destinies. Something insists we belong to a wider soul and not to ourselves alone.

This is why lawyer suicide stories are so disturbing to those left behind – such as the CNN story that prompted this series, or this one about a prominent Washington, D.C. lawyer who shot himself in his office after changing his voice mail greeting to say, “As of April 30, 2009, I can no longer be reached. If your message relates to a firm matter, please contact my secretary. If it concerns a personal matter, please contact my wife.”

Can’t you just see yourself doing that? I can. Change the voice mail message, set up an out-of-office email reply, write a memo about the status of pending cases… be the consummate professional to the end. A comment in that story is illustrative of Hillman’s individual/community insight:

To some his final act was a rebuke to what his beloved profession had become—a statement made in the very office he had been told to vacate.

The legal profession is a controlled access community, and once we’re in the club we have a lifetime membership. (“Once a lawyer always a lawyer.”) When one of our members is lost, we all lose. We can gloss over the statistics and get back to work, but we cannot remain unaffected.

Concerned bar leaders have written monographs such as this one, detailing the causes and signs of individual psychological distress and exhorting us to notice who’s not bearing up so well. They have their place in promoting help for the afflicted individual, but they do not reach the terminally fearful dynamics of communal transformation. For that, we need to also examine the systemic context which allowed – or maybe even promoted – that level of individual distress in the first place.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Winds of Change (Part 2): When Change Becomes Transformation

rhodesIt’s been a windy winter in Colorado. As I write, the wind is once again blowing in another cold front.

Wind signals change. Change is The Docket dedicating an issue to wellness. Change is when law schools initiate wellness programs, when Lawyer Assistance Programs adopt new, broader missions (see my last post), when bar association leaders appeal to lawyers to watch out for each other. Plus some of the other developments I’ll write about in this series.

Sometimes all that’s going on is a mere change in the weather, literally or metaphorically. But sometimes change is only the start, a precursor to something bigger. That something bigger is not just change, it’s transformation. Transformation is when all those smaller changes suddenly stop adding up and start to multiply. Put enough small changes together, and you have a trend. Put a few trends together, and you have a movement. Let the movement gain momentum, and you have transformation.

Change is rarely welcome but usually manageable. Not so with transformation. Transformation is change that’s gotten out of hand. It’s the locomotive that can’t be stopped, the simple act of personal conscience that erupts into social upheaval. Change presents new ideas to be tolerated and accommodated. Transformation is when you wake up one day and wonder how did it ever come to this.

Judging from the research I’ve been doing in connection with this series, I believe the legal profession is on the cusp of transformation. We’ll see, but if so, then we’re currently only in the change phase, and the big one is yet to come.

If and when it does, we’re going to need a more dramatic, drastic metaphor to make sense of it. Psychologist James Hillman writes that “symbols of transformation (as birth, growth, transitions of place and time) all openly indicate a next stage. They present this next stage before the present one is over. They unfold new possibilities, affording hope.”

So far so good, but watch out for what comes next. Hillman goes on to say that transformation is experienced as nothing less than death, which makes death the ultimate transformation metaphor. And the “The death experience,” Hillman warns, “never feels like a transition. It is the major transition which, paradoxically, says there is no future. The end has come. It is all over, too late.”

Consider, for example, the practices chronicled in The Lawyer Bubble that brought several BigLaw firms down. It’s easy to read about it and feel detached and say those firms got what they deserved. But curiously, not all of them did; some continue to skate along, apparently unscathed. Such is the nature of death:  the scythe swings for one but not another. And such is the nature of transformation:  confusing, disorienting, unfair, inexplicable.

Transformation asks more of us than we’ve got to give. For some, that will be too much. We’ll talk about that next time.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

WINDS OF CHANGE (Part 1): Attorney Wellness Leaders

rhodesGoogle “law school wellness programs” and count the hits. Of course you’ll get U of California at Berkeley (Boalt) and  U of San Francisco, but hey, that’s California, you’d expect that. But how about Duke, Harvard, U of Chicago… and closer to home, DU Sturm College of Law.

Lawyer assistance programs organizations like the Colorado Lawyers Assistance Program (COLAP) have changed their mission statements to adopt a far-reaching wellness orientation. They’re also reaching out to law schools, with the idea of helping new lawyers integrate personal and professional well-being into their careers from the get-go.

Beginning January 1st, the Ohio Bar amended its CLE requirements to require classes in “alcoholism, substance abuse, or mental health issues, which shall include instruction on any of their causes, prevention, detection, and treatment alternatives, as applicable.” Also required are classes in ethics that include consideration of “the Lawyer’s Creed and A Lawyer’s Aspirational Ideals.”

Why am I telling you all this? Because it would be too depressing to start by telling you that CNN ran a story last month about how lawyers now rank 4th among all professions in suicide rate. The story also cited the all-too-familiar statistics about how lawyers lead the way in substance abuse, depression, and other mental disorders. Just another tiresome “lawyers are unhappy” story that won’t change anything? Let’s hope not – not if the law schools and LAP’s and CLE Boards I’ve mentioned have anything to say about it.

The “Lawyer’s Creed” and “Aspirational Ideals” aren’t about rules and whether somebody is technically over the ethics line. They’re about ideals, about how to make the world of law safer and happier, more productive and rewarding, and ultimately more competently and justly administered for lawyers, clients, judges, and everybody else involved in the legal process.

Aspirational ideals, wellness education, and assistance programs go way beyond the vague notion we picked up in our mandatory pre-graduation ethics class that somehow we’re supposed to let the authorities know when somebody is struggling so much we can’t ignore their behavior anymore. Instead, they’re introducing a major paradigm shift so radical that it’s hard to get your head around if you’ve bought the conventional “aspirational means optional” point of view.

Among other things, that paradigm shift is based on the stunning idea that the law can be a life-enhancing career. No, this isn’t about holding hands in a circle and singing Kumbaya. It’s about enlightened self-interest, about deciding that it’s not okay anymore that we allow our profession to run us down, stress us out, and sometimes even kill us. It’s about embracing radical notions such as the one on COLAP’s webpage that says, “Problems are not a sign of failure but an opportunity for growth.” That’s not a surprising phrase to see on one of those motivational plaques, but as applied to high-achieving, competitive, alpha-controlling lawyers? Truly stunning.

Can you imagine personal wellness resources being part of normal life when you went to law school? I can’t either. Thankfully, the winds of change are blowing.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.