As director of the State Bar of Michigan Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program (LJAP), I often wrestle over how to answer one frequently asked question: “So, what do you do for a living?” In fact, directors from lawyer assistance programs all over the country grapple with the complexities of this answer.
Simply put: We save lives. But there’s a more elaborate response. The services LJAP (and programs like it) provides are abundant, personalized, comprehensive, and confidential.1
In the world of lawyer assistance programs (more commonly referred to as LAPs), it’s been said that if you’ve seen one LAP, you’ve seen all LAPs. In other words, lawyer assistance programs are like snowflakes, similar to one another but unique in what each provides. LAPs across the country exist to help lawyers, judges, and law students not only with substance use and mental health concerns, but also offer a hand to those looking to maximize their overall well-being and thrive both personally and professionally.
We know from research that legal professionals face a unique set of stressors and, therefore, need specialized programs to address the strenuous nature of the practice of law. For example, the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in 2016 published a study of nearly 13,000 practicing attorneys and found that statistically significant elevated rates of depression, anxiety, stress, and substance use existed within the legal culture.2 What’s more, the Survey of Law Student Well-Being, also released in 2016, found similar statistics among law students.3 Lawyer assistance programs are positioned to play an essential role in lawyer well-being and address these pressing concerns.
The SBM Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program serves law students, bar applicants, lawyers, judges, family members, colleagues, and other concerned parties.4 We offer free telephone consultations for legal professionals and their family members, perform our own clinical assessments either on site or via a HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform, and provide short-term counseling for law students. LJAP also offers professional monitoring services, referrals to properly trained and credentialed providers who are effective in their jobs, free virtual support groups for law students and lawyers, and regular wellness seminars with nationally renowned keynote speakers at no cost to attendees. LJAP is here to provide professional training and educational outreach to your law school, firm, local or affinity bar, court, employer, or legal-related organization on topics pertaining to well-being for law students, lawyers, and judges. The assistance LJAP provides is both preventative and curative — in other words, we work to both thwart the difficulties so many legal professionals face and promote recovery from impairment.
Michigan Court Rule 9.114(c) states that if an attorney’s alleged misconduct is significantly related to mental health or substance use, discipline can consist of contractual probation in lieu of sanctions while noting that contractual probation does not constitute discipline and shall be kept confidential.5 The Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program works in this fashion, supporting recovery and helping struggling attorneys get well. While this has been — and will continue to be — a core mission of LJAP, attorneys and others do not need to encounter a problem before contacting our confidential program and utilizing the many services we have to offer.
We have come to understand that wellness is not simply the absence of illness, but rather a continuous process of seeking to thrive in all of life’s dimensions6 while recognizing the importance of being able to cope with day-to-day stressors in a positive manner and flourish as individuals. Managing one’s mental and emotional health is integral to competence7 and LJAP is here to support wellness in the legal community.
The support and services LJAP provides are many. If you are struggling, or perhaps just looking to maximize your overall well-being, call our confidential help line at (800) 996-5522 or email us at contactLJAP@michbar.org today.