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Advocate’s View: Forging ahead to the future despite serious personal problems


Paul Leclair

Attorneys help their clients forge a path to the future, and nothing is as affirming as when a client says their attorney gave them hope in what was an otherwise indecipherable dilemma. Helping people with problems is what attorneys do. Sometimes, though, attorneys have their own serious problems and are unable to find their way.

The American psychologist Rollo May described depression as “the inability to construct a future.” Apparently, attorneys are oft unable to construct their own future and suffer from depression more than most. A Johns Hopkins University study published in 1990 found that lawyers suffered depression more than 100 other occupations.[1] The personal paralysis caused by depression can cause serious problems for lawyers.

While citation to a particular case is not necessary, the decisions from New York’s appellate divisions on petitions filed by the Attorney Grievance Committee are sobering and illustrative. Depression and related chemical dependency and stress disorders have been at the root of many acts of attorney unprofessionalism, including repeatedly missing appearances or deadlines, failing to communicate with clients and dishonesty. Serious penalties are imposed when attorneys are found to have engaged in misconduct; while the courts thoroughly consider the attorneys’ defenses raised of serious personal problems, which may mitigate the penalties imposed, those problems do not absolve the attorneys from significant penalties. Attorneys who battle depression, debilitating stress, or alcohol or chemical dependency do, however, have real reason to be hopeful.

The Monroe County Bar Association has several programs that help attorneys construct a future when met with significant personal problems. Provided with discretion and utmost confidence, these programs offer support and counseling.

Counseling: For lawyers struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions, the MCBA offers free and confidential counseling through the Tree of Hope, a local collaborative network of private practitioners offering individual, group and family therapy and psychiatry services. The MCBA and TOH have a dedicated Helpline that any lawyer may call for help on a wide range of subjects, including anxiety/depression, grief/loss, parenting, men’s and women’s issues, relationships, divorce, stress and LGBT issues.

Any call will be returned by a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) within 24 hours. The LCSW will help the attorney during the call and, if needed, refer the attorney for additional assistance to the most appropriate therapist at TOH. The MCBA will pay for the call, as well as up to four follow-up visits with a TOH counselor. TOH maintains the strictest confidentiality and the MCBA is not told the name of the lawyer seeking assistance.

The Tree of Hope Confidential Counseling Helpline is (585) 353-1541.

Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers – Assistance with Alcohol/Substance Addiction: Using the 12-step approach of Alcoholics Anonymous, the MCBA’s Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Committee provides a safe environment for legal professionals suffering from alcohol or drug addiction and for family members concerned about their loved ones. The committee assists attorneys, family members and colleagues affected by the diseases, referring those in need to competent professional help and self-help support groups. Assistance provided may include going with the lawyer to an AA meeting and helping the lawyer with their practice issues.

Help can be accessed 24 hours a day/7 days a week through any Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers committee member or its Confidential LCFL Helpline at (585) 234-1950. All communication with the committee is confidential and privileged pursuant to the Judiciary Law section 499.

SOLACE: This MCBA program assists any lawyer, judge, law firm, courthouse or bar association employee — or other member of the legal community and their families — who suffers a loss or has needs as a result of a sudden catastrophic event, injury or illness. Upon receipt of a request for assistance, the program is implemented by an email alert notification requesting assistance sent to all MCBA members. Needs can range from a fire loss (clothing, food or housing) to a unique medical condition requiring specialized assistance or a professional referral. Examples of assistance have included gift cards, food, meals, a rare blood type donation, transportation, household chores and dog walking. Supporting each other is the objective of the program. SOLACE can be reached by calling Paul Leclair at his firm at (585) 327-4100.

No one in the profession should feel alone, in fear of or unable to construct a future for themselves. One simple phone call can assist greatly, provide hope and forge a path to the future.

Paul Leclair is a partner in the Rochester law firm of Leclair Korona Cole LLP, where he concentrates his practice in civil litigation with an emphasis on business/commercial, construction and personal injury. He thanks Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Frazee for her considerable assistance in writing this article.

[1] Eaton, W.W. (1990). Occupations and the prevalence of major depressive disorder. Journal of Occupational Medicine, 32 (11), 1079-1087.