Lawyers Journal

Turn a financial crisis into a wake-up call for change

This column offers mental health and wellness-related information to the Massachusetts legal community. Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers bases the column on questions frequently asked by its clients and help-line callers. The information is general in nature and not meant for treatment.
Q:I think I may have a problem and I am extremely anxious about it. Due to some personal crises that consumed a lot of my time and attention, I lost control of my IOLTA account and, I now realize, paid myself out of client funds. I’m worried about possible consequences, and desperate to replenish the account. I’ve heard that LCL makes loans to attorneys – can you help me with this?

A:We may very well be able to help you, but not with funding for your IOLTA problem.

On that score, a first step in alleviating anxiety is to consult with an attorney experienced in addressing this kind of predicament. Although the fallout from mishandling of funds can be harsh, getting factual information and developing realistic expectations will ultimately reduce anxiety and help direct your energy toward a useful course of action. (LCL does not provide referrals for legal services, but if needed we can help you find someone who does.)

It is true that LCL administers a Lawyer Assistance Endowment Fund. Its purpose is to assist attorneys in need of medical, mental health or substance-abuse services who have no other way to pay for them. The assistance is in the form of a loan, which is interest-free for one year, to be repaid when the attorney is “back on his/her feet.” Payments are made directly to the service provider(s). A situation such as yours would therefore not be eligible for these funds.

Escalating personal problems can frequently create ripples (if not tsunamis) in one’s professional practice, and our experience has been that this is true for a majority of cases brought to the attention of the BBO’s Office of Bar Counsel. Thus, one of the most important things that you can do may be to consult with a mental health professional concerning your “personal crises.”

While extremely upsetting, such crises can serve as enormously valuable wake-up calls to make necessary changes in self-defeating behavior, attitudes, beliefs, or goals. Clarifying the problem, identifying solution-oriented strategies, and sharing your burdens in an atmosphere of emotional support – all elements of a good connection with a mental health consultant – can contribute to reducing anxiety and its root causes, and to help you achieve more balance. You will then be in a much better position to manage your practice/career, and to address your errors (and any aftermath) constructively. LCL is uniquely designed to assist lawyers in finding appropriate resources.

For more information Questions for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers may be mailed to LCL, 59 Temple Place, Suite 1106, Boston, MA 02111,
e-mailed to [e-mail email], or called in to (617) 482-9600. LCL’s licensed clinicians will respond in confidence.
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