Thursday, June 11, 2009

Helping hands for the legal profession

By Hilary Russell
In the legal community, rates of mental illness, including depression and substance abuse —especially alcoholism — are rising, according to the National Law Journal. The economy is part of the problem, but demand for treatment also is increasing because more people are finding out about services that are available.

The nonprofit Lawyers’ Assistance Program, which offers interventions and support when someone in the legal community hits bottom, conducted a training session today in Springfield. Services range from counseling with a clinical director to one-on-one peer counseling or referrals. Interventions involve three trained volunteers, one of which is a judge.

This year marks the first time that psychological problems were more common than drug and alcohol abuse, according to the Lawyers’ Assistance Program.

“This is about the recovery part,” said former Cook County Judge Daniel Welter. Recovery, he said, doesn’t end when someone stops drinking. “I’m an alcoholic, and the important part is that I am recovering, not recovered.”

Welter said that his own experiences with alcoholism propelled him to get involved with the non-profit agency. The same is true for many of the volunteers, who often are from the legal community and are recovering from an addiction or illness.

James Faught, associate dean at Loyola Law School in Chicago, began volunteering with the Lawyers’ Assistance Program in the late 1980s.

“Often people come to us when their impairments or issues are not at the stage that requires intervention,” he said. “Sometimes, they’re just depressed. … And we’re able to provide a good ear from lawyers and judges who have been through the same thing in their own careers.”

The numbers have gone up regularly since early 2000, added Faught, in part because the program has been gaining publicity. “When we started getting funding from the [Illinois] Supreme Court and the lawyers’ fees, we started seeing more people coming to us for help.”

The program began in 1980 with a small group of judges and lawyers and funding from the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association.

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