Find out how Lawyers’ Assistance Programs can be helpful as we all Pave the Path to What's Next.
By Elizabeth Eckhardt, LCSW, Ph.D. and
Jackie Cara, Chair of the Nassau County Lawyers Assistance Committee
Excerpts reprinted from the Nassau Lawyer, May 2021
As more and more people get the Covid Vaccine, there is a lot of conversation about things getting back to normal. Yes, it is true that more and more people are returning to their workplaces and kids are going back to school full time and in person, but are things normal? Will things ever go back to the way things were before Covid upended all of our lives more than one year ago? There remain so many questions: Are the vaccines effective? Do we have to continue wearing masks and being socially distant? What about the new variants? Will we need to get a booster, and when? Just to name a few.
Many fear that things will never go back to the way they were and others quietly hope that they don’t. Some feel that the slowing down of life and the ability to spend more time with family and less time running around, has been a hidden blessing during this challenging time. One thing we do know is that we don’t know what the future looks like.
Not knowing what to expect and feeling a lack of control over the events in one’s life can wreck havoc on our mental health. Those of us in the mental health field have seen a sharp rise in the numbers of people reaching out for services and we anticipate that this number will continue to rise as the long term effects of the pandemic show themselves. Between March 2020 and July 2020 Bar Associations across the country noted an increase in calls from Lawyers’ in need of relief from the stresses and pressures of the pandemic’s impact on family and business. “We’ve experienced a sharp increase in the number of attorneys reaching out to the Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) and the number of monthly callers remains significantly higher than in years past.” Said Beth Echkardt, Director of the Nassau County Bar Association Lawyer’s Assistance Program.
Many callers have expressed concern about the amount they have been drinking since the beginning of the pandemic and others have experienced feelings of depression and anxiety in ways they never have before. As a result of these calls, Nassau, New York City and New York State Lawyers Assistance Programs have collaborated and expanded programming to provide additional Mental Health and Substance Use Programs geared toward prevention and early identification of problems, peer and professional support, Virtual Town Hall meetings, Wellness Programs, and continuing Legal Education and outreach programs on Coping and Survival Skills.
A recent study, published on May 12, 2021, examined the risk factors for mental health problems and attrition among licensed attorneys. Recapping many statistics already reported, the study states that 28% or attorneys report symptoms of depression, 23% indicate mild to extremely severe stress and 20.6% report problem drinking. Studies also suggest that levels of depression, stress and problem drinking are more prevalent among female attorneys. There is a clear connection between increased mental health concerns and the issues surrounding Covid-19, such as unemployment, isolation, work and family related stress, increased child care education duties and potential illness. (read the full study, here.)
Nassau LAP has increased the frequency of recovery meetings from monthly to weekly. These weekly virtual recovery meetings have been consistently well attended and have provided a safe and supportive place for attorneys in all stages of recovery. LAP has also increased its supportive services to law schools. NYSBA LAP now offers a weekly lawyer to lawyer roundtable where attorneys can speak to their colleagues about challenges and tools to overcome obstacles.
The New York City Bar Association also offers a weekly recovery meeting for lawyers on Thursdays at 6:30 pm as well as a Gamblers’ Anonymous Meeting. For more information, click this link or reach out to the confidential hotline at 212.302.5787
One of the tragic outcomes from the pandemic is that many attorneys have found themselves unemployed or underemployed. As a result, Nassau LAP has restarted its’ Un/Underemployed Support Group. This group is currently being held virtually at 6pm on the second Tuesday of each month. This group provides support and guidance to attorneys struggling with finding or maintaining work as a lawyer. The Un/Under Employed Group provides an opportunity for attorneys to discuss their difficulties and support one another. LAP intends to gain feedback from group members to determine what additional assistance can be provided, e.g. LAP may invite attorneys to present to the group on topics like networking, resume writing, job searches and transitions.
In honor of National Mental Health Month Nassau County LAP will have a four week Wellness Wednesday Program. This program will be held each Wednesday at 6pm during the Month of May and will focus on wellness, mental health, stress reduction, increasing motivation and resilience, wellness, nutrition and women’s health. The Lawyer Assistance Program has several programs available to lawyers, judges, law students and their immediate family members. Elizabeth Eckhardt, Director of LAP provides individual, professional supportive counseling to help attorneys through difficult times. Dr. Eckhardt provides needs assessments to assist in determining what services are needed and can provide referrals to outside treatment for mental health and substance use services. In some cases, Dr. Eckhardt provides supportive counseling for just one session whereas others may see Dr. Eckhardt for up to 6 supportive counseling sessions. Lawyers often find it very difficult to reach out for help. Many attorneys see themselves as problem solvers and find it difficult to be the one with a problem. Sometimes speaking to another attorney who understands the unique challenges that attorneys face, can be the very assistance they are looking for. The Lawyer Assistance Committee is the backbone of LAP and committee members are committed to providing peer support to attorneys struggling with substance use or mental health issues.
LAP is available to members of the bar as well as to attorneys who are not part of NCBA. Most people don’t know that LAP is also here to assist family members of attorneys who may be struggling with a wellness issue, substance use disorder or a mental health issue. LAP has helped thousands of attorneys over the years.
The NYSBA LAP is offering a Virtual Spring Retreat. For those interested, you can contact Sharmin Woodall, LAP Assistant at email@example.com to register, while Nassau LAP is looking forward to what will hopefully be an in person retreat in October, 2021.
“The Lawyers’ Assistance Program has supported me throughout law school and my legal career. I took medical leave from law school to seek treatment for my alcoholism and drug addiction. When I got home and was faced with what came next, the LAP was there for me. Through the LAP, I met lawyers in recovery who helped guide me every step of the way—applying to restart law school, dealing with the stresses of law school and a legal career through my recovery, choosing when and how to disclose my story, submitting my character and fitness materials as part of my application for admission to the bar, and helping other law students and lawyers in recovery who I met both inside and outside of LAP. I’ve regularly attended LAP meetings since getting sober almost five years ago, and I would not be where I am today—clerking for a judge in the Southern District of New York, a job that previously was well beyond my wildest dreams—without the help of the LAP and its members.”
The rates of substance use, mental health issues and even suicide are higher among attorneys than most other professions. The Lawyer Assistance Program is committed to reaching out and educating members of the legal profession about why lawyers often struggle more than other professionals and what services are available. LAP conducts presentations and workshops in large and small law firms, to solo practitioners, law schools and legal departments. Programs can be tailored to Managing Partners and Human Resources to discuss topics such as how to address impairment, information about LAP’s Attorney Monitoring Program, what to look for in an attorney struggling with substance use or mental health issues and when and how to intervene. Other programs are directed to Partners, Associates and staff and include information about mental health and substance use among lawyers, coping skills, resiliency, well-being and information about LAP services.
To register for this or any of Nassau LAP’s programs or for additional information, please contact Elizabeth Eckhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 526-512-2618. To participate in NYS Bar Association Lawyers Assistance Programs, click this link or contact Stacey Whiteley, NYSBA, LAP Director, Stacey Whiteley at email@example.com. (518) 360-2352. To learn more about The New York City Bar’s LAP programs, click here.