Safety net can prevent free fall

Issue June 2005 By Kathleen M. O'Donnell

While I hope most of us still enjoy practicing law and we are still relatively happy with the choice of our profession, being a lawyer in 2005 is very stressful.

The majority of MBA members are in firms with fewer than five members; many are sole practitioners. Each week, these lawyers struggle to meet their expenses and to bring sufficient money home to support their families.

Bar advocates, in particular, have been forced to choose between doing the work they love and supporting themselves. Ever-changing technology presents many attorneys with the economic challenge of keeping current with these advances, which ultimately should make their lives easier. Unfortunately, faxes, e-mails and voice mail have only added to the time pressure already placed on lawyers. There is no lag time because of snail mail; clients expect instantaneous responses.

Our changing roles also place added burdens on most practitioners. Mothers who practice law feel guilty because they do not spend enough time with their children, and they feel guilty because they cannot put in all the billable hours expected of a partner-track attorney. Fathers also face challenges unknown to previous generations. My father never attended a sports event or school program during the work day because he was working. Now fathers, like mothers, are expected to attend events during the school day and make up for the lost time at work on nights or on weekends.

Lawyers are also often called upon to participate in community activities, to be on non-profit boards and to be part of bar association programs. These time-consuming commitments are not even part of our aspirational pro bono work.

Judges are also challenged to move cases through the system at a rapid pace. This forces some to mistreat those appearing before them, which adds to the pressures on practicing lawyers.

For most of us, vacations are rare, and they should be respected as something sacred by judges and fellow lawyers. Instead some judges punish lawyers for taking vacations by deliberately assigning them a trial on the date they are scheduled to return from vacation or by scheduling an event on days such as the day after Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve. Such scheduling power plays do not serve the system well, and they add pressure to the lives of already harried lawyers.

Despite all of these pressures, lawyers are trained to be in control, to be able to handle anything, to be unflappable. We are supposed to help others. We are not supposed to need help.

Lawyers should know that help is available. Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers is a non-profit organization funded by lawyers. A portion of what each of us pays to the Board of Bar Overseers yearly is used to fund this organization. LCL is viewed by many as a group that helps lawyers with substance abuse problems. It is much more than that. LCL is available to assist lawyers in a broad range of areas, including:
• Balancing work and family — including elder and child care issues;
• Financial problems;
• Career concerns;
• Stress and burnout;
• Depression; and
• Marital and family relationships.

LCL is a great resource for us. Please do not be afraid to contact this group before you reach a crisis point. LCL will tailor its services to meet your needs. It can be the safety net when you are beginning the free fall.