Young Lawyers Journal
Using Lawyer Assistance Programs to Ease Your Transition into a Legal Career
by Ellen Murphy
Transitioning to law practice after law school is difficult. In fact, it can be quite overwhelming.
You may feel isolated. Whether you work in a small firm with few professional peers or are surrounded by fellow new associates, you may find that the nature of your practice can force you to work an entire day without interacting with a single person. You may be struggling with balancing your personal and professional life due to your new responsibilities and professional status. You may suffer from performance anxiety in an environment where excellence is expected and professor-like feedback is absent. You may be struggling in your new practice with procrastination or organization. You may be saddled with student loan debt and feel trapped by the "golden handcuffs." You may be depressed, wondering why you ever decided to become a lawyer. Whatever your concern, you are not alone. And, better yet, there is help. Free, confidential, professional help.
Lawyer Assistance Programs, or LAPs, have been in existence for many years. You probably have heard of them, perhaps having received a pamphlet with your bar registration materials or at a seminar in law school. You may have immediately dismissed the idea, thinking that these programs are only for attorneys with substance abuse problems or severe mental illness. While LAPs do deal with these issues, today's programs are full service, dealing with the unique challenges faced by attorneys in today's legal environment, including:
- Depression and anxiety;
- Stress and burnout;
- Financial problems;
- Career concerns;
- Work/life balance issues;
- Marital and family problems;
- Eating disorders; and
- Substance abuse.
Every state, and many county and local bars, has an LAP, with confidential services available. In most cases, the LAPs are free of charge to all members of the bar and their families. LAPs are staffed by trained professionals - social workers, psychologists and attorneys - who can provide consultation, assessment and, if appropriate, referral to an outside clinician or organization, recommended with your individual needs in mind. Your LAP may also provide support group meetings-recovery and non-recovery based-discussion groups and CLEs.
Confidentiality at any LAP is assured, typically by state statute or court rule. Not only is your identity protected, but the content and specifics of your call, visit and history are as well. Your anonymity, as well as your health and well being, are the LAPs' foremost concerns.
The ABA has developed a Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs, or "CoLAP," which can help you locate programs in your area. CoLAP's website contains a directory of all LAPs. Visit the ABA's directory of LAPs or call (800) 238-2667, ext. 5359.
The practice of law can be isolating, all consuming and even frustrating, but it does not have to result in burnout. Nearly every new lawyer has felt overwhelmed, anxious and stressed. We are not born knowing most things, especially not how to manage the stresses and strains that we encounter in law practice. Acknowledge your vulnerability, and then contact CoLAP or your local Lawyer Assistance Program. Remember Lao Tzu's words: "The biggest problem in the world could have been solved when it was small."
Ellen Murphy is executive director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, a private, nonprofit Massachusetts corporation that is the state's sole lawyer assistance program. She can be reached at [e-mail ellen].