Our Bar Provides Assistance to Members in Need
Armando E. Batastini, Esq.
President, Rhode Island Bar Association
Most lawyers see themselves through difficult days with a mix of perseverance and foresight. However, some of our fellow lawyers, are not as fortunate, and struggle with significant mental health issues exacerbated by the stress intrinsic to our profession.
I consider myself fortunate to have a career in the law. The law has given me an interesting and gratifying profession that provides for me and my family. Even for someone like me who enjoys being a lawyer, some days can be an oppressive grind. My personal and anecdotal understanding is that most lawyers see themselves through difficult days with a mix of perseverance and foresight so the practice carries far more upside than downside.
Some of our fellow lawyers, however, are not as fortunate, and struggle with significant mental health issues exacerbated by the stress intrinsic to our profession. This point was brought home during a recent meeting of the Rhode Island Bar Association’s Executive Committee and the Chief Judges of our state and federal courts. The Executive Committee and the Chief Judges meet on an annual basis to discuss issues of common interest like e-filing, judicial vacancies, staffing of sheriffs, and pro se litigants – all important topics.
This year, the discussion turned to mental health and substance abuse issues affecting lawyers. Frankly, I was surprised at the ubiquity of the problem. Many of the judges acknowledged they deal with these issues frequently. One Chief Judge reported dealing with a matter involving attorney substance abuse or mental health on an average of once a week. More encouragingly, I can pass along that our Chief Judges are attuned to these issues and handle them with incredible sensitivity and confidentiality.
A recent national study, conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, reported similar results. The findings of that study disclosed troubling levels of problem drinking and other mental health problems amongst lawyers. The study also found that attorneys in the first ten years of practice exhibit the highest incidence of these problems.
Our Bar Association has programs currently available to assist those lawyers in need of help. The Rhode Island Bar Association’s Lawyers Helping Lawyers Program and Committee, in partnership with professional health counselors Coastline Employee Assistance Program, provide free, confidential and rapid help, including professional clinical assessments, and will facilitate appropriate treatment for Bar members and their family members.
The Bar Association also provides free loss prevention programming each year with the support of AON Affinity, our professional liability provider. This year, the program will present James Blackburn from North Carolina, who will discuss how personal issues with stress created grave ethical problems for him, and he will provide some suggestions as to how lawyers may avoid these same issues. He is a highly sought and widely admired speaker on these topics. The August sessions sold out, but seating for sessions on September 13, 14 and 15 remain available.
The practice of law can be trying enough on its own. I strongly encourage any of our members who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse problems to please reach out and seek assistance to address these issues.