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The Ethics of Attorney Wellness

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The Ethics of Attorney Wellness

Attorney Wellness has become a popular topic and one which is moving into the mainstream when practicing law. No longer a sign of weakness, addressing and adopting wellness strategies in your life can be an attribute that improves your practice and your life. In this 1 hour course, Jackie Cara, a practicing attorney and long time member of the NYS and Nassau County Lawyer Assistance Committees shares insight into why “wellness” is important now, why it’s becoming a professional imperative, and how to spot a problem with yourself or a fellow practitioner.

Transcript

Hi, everybody. My name is Jackie Cara. I am the most recent past chair of the Nassau County Bar Association Lawyer Assistance Program. I am currently the vice chair of that program. I am a member of the New York State Bar Association Attorney, Wellness and Attorney Assistance Committee, and I am the founding partner of Cara Law an Estate Planning and elder law firm. So today, I want to talk to you a little bit about what wellness is and how it impacts attorneys. So what is wellness? You know, years ago, people might have thought of wellness as yoga or exercising or meditating. But really, wellness is much more than that. Wellness is a continuum that extends from illness to a state of maximum vitality. Wouldn't we all love to live in a place of maximum vitality? Attitude and lifestyle that prevent disease, improve your health and enhance your quality of life? These are all things that define wellness. Now, wellness is different from health care, in that wellness is what we do to lay a solid foundation for prevention, lifestyle. Holistic treatment and individual responsibility. So if you look over at the at the diagram I have here on the screen, you'll see that there are eight dimensions of wellness and they sort of intersect with all of the parts of your life. The ideal condition is to have wellness feel Well, in all of these areas, if one is out of balance, you'll feel it in the other parts of your life. So that's a basic definition of what we mean by wellness today. Things like living a healthy lifestyle. Work life balance, which is super hard as lawyers. Stress management. Another tricky one as lawyers. Addiction treatment, mental health care, physical and self care are all examples of wellness tools that you have at your disposal. So there's again, a difference between wellness and well-being or happiness. Although all are often used synonymously, they're really quite different. So we want to talk a little bit about what wellness is versus what happiness is, right? So wellness is your intention, your actions and your activities where happiness is a perception of your state of being and you can see how the two are related, but a little bit different. Wellness has a prominent physical dimension, right? If we start from a place where we feel physically well, we're going to feel much better in the happiness part of our lives if we feel, well, physically, we're going to have a really rich mental and emotional dimension. We often associate wellness with healthy lifestyle choices, you know, um, organic food. A gluten free lifestyle. Not drinking. Not smoking. You know, things like this, exercising regularly, being active. But on the happiness scale, we're looking at it feeling like satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. Right. Something maybe you can't exactly define, but a feeling that you have on a day to day basis. So we're a bunch of lawyers. Assume everybody watching this is a lawyer here to get some credit. And so why is wellness important? Why should we as lawyers pay attention to this wellness boom, if you want to call it that? Why are we all of a sudden seeing programs like this one throughout bar association programs, maybe at attorney conventions and programs and things like that? Why is this focus on wellness coming to the forefront? The reality is that attorneys disproportionately suffer from substance abuse disorders and mental health problems. So think about that. We are a profession of people who who suffer from substance abuse disorders and mental health problems more frequently than members of the general population, which which might not be a surprise to you, But let's look at this pyramid and some of the the percentages or statistics we have. 19% of lawyers suffer with anxiety, which is not terribly surprising given the lifestyle of working as a lawyer. 21% suffer from substance abuse and 28% of lawyers suffer from depression. And as you'll see. As you'll see throughout the program, these these can be co-occurring. So the numbers are not going to add up to 100% necessarily, but they're going to you're going to see people with substance abuse who also have anxiety, also have depression. So how many lawyers are we talking about? Right. In the United States, there's about 1,338,678 lawyers. I was surprised by this number. I thought it would be higher. Maybe you thought it would be higher, too. But that's about the statistical number of lawyers we have in the country between 28,000. And 400,000 working lawyers are considered problem drinkers. Those are really big numbers. This is not, you know, something that shouldn't be paid attention to. It's not something that's unimportant. These are a lot of people and a lot of working lawyers that are considered problem drinkers. Around 425,000 suffer from mental disorders like depression, and over 800,000 identify themselves with struggling with anxiety. And if you speak to law students or you remember being a law student, these numbers are even higher, with over 40% of law students suffering from depression. So why? Why are we, as lawyers more susceptible and less likely to experience that feeling of wellness? Our lawyers more likely to be depressed or are depressed people more likely to become lawyers? Right. What's the chicken and what's the egg? So contributing factors for attorneys. These are some common on the left. You'll see some common attributes within our profession. And on the right you'll see some common attributes of practicing lawyers. So. Right. This is an interesting look at what our profession provides and what kind of people tend to practice law. So some common attributes in our profession. As lawyers, we often experience what's called vicarious trauma. So vicarious trauma is this is another term you might start to hear more frequently. In fact, I just sat on a on a committee for the NASA, for the New York State Bar Association about dealing with vicarious trauma in your clients and how it changes your representation. But basically what vicarious trauma is, is we feel the trauma of our clients experiences. And this may be really prevalent if you have a practice in divorce law, if you have a practice in family law, if your practice deals with landlord tenant issues and tenants being evicted, if you work with the mentally ill or you work with a disabled population where what they've experienced. Is traumatic. And that translates to you from hearing, hearing about it, representing them, about it and being involved and exposed to this traumatic experience over and over and over again. This could be extremely prevalent or more frequently prevalent in people practicing criminal law, dealing with violence and things of that nature. So dealing with other people's trauma, sort of like you might think about with a psychologist or social worker is one of that's one of the factors that our profession has built within it that can cause us stress long hours. Enough, said Bill. The pressure of billable hours, the pressure of long hours, constant demands, emergencies not of our making requirements of the court that are out of our control. All of these things lead us to be practicing for long hours, whether we want to or not. For much of my profession, I can tell you that my hours were not my own. It's one of the reasons I decided to become my own boss and start my own practice is because I have better control and flexibility to deal with things outside of my practice. Being on my own, practicing on my own large caseloads again was a trial attorney early in my career, and I had a tremendous number of cases, and every day I felt a little bit like bombs were going off around me. Depending on what the court decided and what was scheduled the next day. So we deal with a lot of caseloads, a lot of demands, a lot of things to remember and know. We often work in stressful workplaces, so if you think about working in a firm where you have a boss that yells or you have very unhappy complaining clients or you have difficult people, you can have all of these factors in any job that you have. But in law, it seems that our workplaces are particularly stressful and unreasonable expectations. Let's call it what it is. Very often billable requirements are unreasonable. What work needs to be done versus how much we can bill for it? Often that's unreasonable. How frequently clients expect to hear from you? What bosses expect you to handle on your desk? Sometimes these expectations are unreasonable, and I think it would be my observation that they've become more unreasonable with cell phones, texting, instant messaging, where clients expect an immediate response. I'm very frequently contacted on weekends from my clients, and some of them will follow up with an email on Monday saying, I never heard back from you. So the balance of what our boundaries can be versus what our clients expect and how we can be successful are often unreasonable. So who goes into the law? You know, is it the chicken or the egg? So common attributes that have been found in lawyers are maladaptive perfectionism. And what does that mean? We tend to be a profession of perfectionists and we tend to be a profession of perfectionists who don't see an alternative. We believe we have to be perfect all the time. We believe we have to have perfect presentations, perfect client behavior, perfect outcomes. We become responsible for outcomes. These are all things that make our perfectionism maladaptive. So while perfectionism can be helpful in detail orientation, having a view that you have to be perfect all the time or you're expected to be perfect all the time is maladaptive. We are solvers of other people's problems, right? Think most of us come to the profession because we want to help people. All right. Fair. To be fair, a lot of people come to the profession to make money. A lot of people come to the profession because they have a passion about a particular area of law. But all in all, we are solvers of other people's problems, right? We become responsible for problems other people have created. We develop the ability to hide our mask, our emotions. Right. We've all heard there's no crying in baseball. There's no crying in court. There's no crying with clients. There's no crying with your boss. So the ability to hide and mask how we truly feel is also a common attribute and a skill, if you want to call it a skill that we develop through practicing law because we are solvers of other people's problems and we feel we need to be perfect. We have a resistance to seeking help, right? There's a lot of stigma around seeking treatment for either mental health issues or substance abuse issues. And we also feel like we're supposed to know everything. So there is a resistance among the profession to seek help. Sometimes lawyers and especially law students even feel that if they seek help, their license will be in jeopardy or their job will be in jeopardy. So there's for many good reasons, there's resistance to seeking help, and we're competitive. I don't think there's any way of working around the fact that lawyers are competitive by our nature. And sometimes that doesn't work to our advantage because we're overly competitive and maybe we're competitive where there's no need to be competitive. These are all traits that cause a very stressful environment. So here are some possible causes of all of this maladaptive perfectionism and extra stress and things of that nature. So we work in an adversarial business, right? No matter what we're doing. Mostly, I should say, sometimes it's not so adversarial, but. Mostly it's it's an adversarial nature. So we're in that fight or flight mode all the time. We have difficult clients, difficult adversaries, difficult judges. We all know them. We can all name them. Let's not for now. But having difficult people around you all the time and always feeling like you have to defend yourself is very, very stressful. We have a lot of deadlines that we don't have a lot of control over. So how many of you have experienced canceling vacations and disappointing your families and having to work on weekends because of deadlines that are not of your own making? Practicing law can be very serious work. A lot of times we're dealing with life and death situations for our clients, and they're very serious repercussions for not getting things done and getting them done well. So the work can be very serious for younger attorneys. There's certainly much more of a lack of control over your caseload and tasks. This was especially true when I started practicing law. And I'm curious, you know, to hear how people feel about this now. But being a lawyer, being in a law firm, building business, creating a book of business, have all involved the culture of drinking. I know for a lot of my career to in order to get to know your colleagues, you had to go out drinking with them. That was the activity that was central to all social activities in the profession. So a culture of drinking that makes it almost necessary to engage in when you're working with maybe your partners or maybe clients or prospective clients or wooing business isolation. As a solo practitioner, I can say as a solo practitioner, how important it is for me to build community. I do a lot of things every week to make sure that I'm not working in a vacuum to make sure that I'm working with colleagues who are in my profession and and other solo practitioners just so we build in that camaraderie. And certainly stigma. There's a lot of stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse treatment. And while I think that's getting better, it still exists for sure. And the perception of weakness, you know, I go back to that no crying in baseball theory. There's a perception that if you need this kind of outside assistance, that you're weak. And that's not at all the case. But that is a perception that sometimes keeps people from getting help. So let's talk about some common disorders that face attorneys regularly. Right? Alcohol use disorder. Substance use disorder, gambling. So. What's the difference between these things? Some of it's obvious, but maybe somebody's viewing this doesn't know. So when we talk about alcohol use disorder, we're talking about alcoholism. When we talk about substance use disorder, we're talking about drug use. Right. It could be prescription drug use where you've developed an addiction to something like oxycodone or other painkillers. And it could be harder drugs. It can be addiction to serious illegal drugs and gambling disorder, like it sounds is is a, you know, an addiction to gambling. But that can come up in many ways. It doesn't mean that that person is at the track all the time. You know, they can be gambling online. They can be in card games. They can be doing all sorts of things that bring that gambling feeling that risk into their lives. So young lawyers are at particular risk. There's a krill study that deals with these issues of wellness and attorneys. It was released a number of years ago and might have been the starting point of all of this wellness talk in the legal profession. Attorneys in the first year of practice are now suffering from the highest rates of problematic use. Almost 29% of lawyers in the first ten years are suffering from problematic use of alcohol and drugs, followed by attorneys practicing from 11 to 20 years where it's 20% and continuing decrease to decrease excuse me, slightly from 21 years or more. Correspondingly, junior associates have the highest rate of problematic use and the rates decrease as secure as seniority increases. So why might that be? The first ten years are the most stressful. You're trying to build a career. You're trying to keep a career. You're trying to figure out who you are as a lawyer and who you want to be. You may feel the most pressure around drinking and. It's just a time of very high stress in the profession. Maybe attorneys who are practicing a little bit longer feel a little bit more comfortable getting the help that they need or they're starting to get some help or they have some level of peer support. And those numbers can go down a little bit between 11 and 20 years. You may not feel so vulnerable to the stigma of getting help and your practice might be more established. So you're not so worried about losing your job or your credibility. And as we go further along in our careers, I know I can say now in my career and as a solo practitioner, I'm not so worried about the things I was worried about at ten years and at, you know, five years or my first year. So the further along we get, we become partners. We have more flexibility with our time, we have a little more power, we have a stronger book of business. So the pressure may be lower, but also the ability to feel comfortable getting help may be lower. So let's talk a little bit about why discussing discussing ethics is so important in the legal profession. And I think this is the part. That may be people aren't aware of. So I've worked with a number of people. Through the lawyers assistance programs and committees throughout the state that really feel like wellness is a mushy, gushy issue. Right. It's touchy feely doesn't belong in the legal profession. It's unimportant. Why are we worried about this? There are some real consequences to putting your health and your wellness on the back burner and not. Changing your perspective to figure out how important wellness is and how it can really impact your ethics. So these are some common misconduct that result from being impaired. Right. And you can be impaired in a lot of ways. You can be impaired from depression. You can have lack of focus from an anxiety disorder. You can be abusing alcohol and actually be drinking on the job or not able to perform your tasks on a daily basis. And the same goes for drug addiction. So let's talk about things that happen when lawyers are impaired, right? Very often with impaired attorneys, no matter what the impairment is, is neglect. Right. I mean, we've all been there with the case we procrastinate on because we don't know quite how to handle it. Or maybe we don't like the client or, you know, maybe we just hate what we have to do on it. And, you know, that can cause some short term, maybe an initial neglect or, you know, procrastination on a case. But these are this is neglect of matters for a long period of time, like systematic neglect of of matters. Part of what we do through the lawyers assistance program is closing law firms for attorneys in need. And that might be because an attorney needs to go to rehab or they may need to take time off to address a medical issue, or they may pass away with no succession plan in place. Very often in those cases, we find a lot of neglected cases, a lack of. Uh, keeping good records. Escrow accounts that are out of order. So neglect of cases is a very, very real concern, and it does not need to be purposeful. Right. Life gets in the way, and people don't know how to get themselves out of the hole. Financial misconduct. You know, we always think about financial misconduct as the bad guy sort of coming and stealing the old lady's money and things like that. And that's true. But a lot of times financial misconduct happens when somebody gets themselves into that hole we were talking about with the neglect and they figure they'll they'll just take a little money as a bridge and they'll be able to put it back next week. Inevitably, that gets out of control. The attorney didn't intend to steal the money, although some do. But we see a lot of cases of financial misconduct or escrow account imbalances or things like problems with record keeping coming from somebody either having an addiction disorder or a mental health disorder that is affecting their ability to to do their job on a daily basis. And then, of course, if we talk about. Criminal. If we talk about being impaired, right, we're talking about lower inhibitions and you can get yourself involved in criminal or sexual misconduct. You know, something like a DWI falls into criminal misconduct. And that can definitely affect your license and your ability to do your job. And then there are frequent bar violations that happen when attorneys aren't paying attention, when they're not able to function on a regular basis. So let's talk a little bit more about what neglect is and what it means. Um, neglect can be incompetent effort like we talked about. It could mean that you're going to work and you're either impaired or you're depressed, or you're so anxious you can't get the work done. It can be a failure to respond to client inquiries. You know, if you think about that, it makes sense, right? If you've been neglecting cases and procrastinating and you feel like you can't do your job, you're going to avoid the client inquiries about their matter. Failure to appear. This happens all the time with attorneys who are. Let's call it starting to have dementia symptoms or they're suffering from a real physical disorder like Parkinson's disease, and they've lost their ability to properly track or they're addicted to substances and they're just not keeping track of their of their firm and their work. Failure to prosecute cases is a big one that goes back to incompetent effort and procrastinating, missing statutes of limitations, providing false information to clients. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's been filed. It's all taken care of and poor office and file management. And you can see how all of these things work together. So let's talk a little bit about the rules of professional conduct. Right? What rules are we breaking? Um, so, you know, we're supposed to be competent. That that's that's easy. We're supposed to provide competent representation to a client, which requires that we have legal knowledge, the skill, the thoroughness and the preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. Right. And these are rules that can go back to our conversation about feeling we have to be perfectionists, but these are also rules that get very easily violated when we're just not feeling well, when we are suffering from addiction, when we're suffering from a physical ailment, um, heart attack, stroke, personal problems in our families, things of that nature. The second requirement is that we're supposed to act with diligence, which of course we're not doing when we're procrastinating on cases and neglecting our work right? We're supposed to act with promptness and diligence and representing our clients, and sometimes we do better than others at that. But the reality is, when we're suffering or struggling with something very serious in our lives, our diligence might wane. Communications. This is a big one. So these are all the things we're required to do. Communicating with our client. Right. We're supposed to give them informed consent, which means that we're keeping them updated on what's happening in their case. Right. We're supposed to tell the clients how we're accomplishing their goals. We're supposed to keep them informed about the status of the matter, about court appearances, upcoming court appearances, papers that we prepare, papers we receive. We're supposed to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information, and we're supposed to consult with the client. Um. With regard to things that are going on, limitations, problems with our own conduct, aspects of assistance that were not allowed to do. Right. We're supposed to explain the matter to the extent reasonably necessary so the client can make good decisions. Again, going back to that procrastination, that inability to get to the office, the inability to focus on our work. These are all things that can cause us not to communicate properly with our clients. So now let's talk a little bit about financial misconduct. Financial misconduct can be a lot of things, right? It can be conversion of client funds, which is a nice way of saying we use the client's funds. It can be co-mingling client funds, which is another nice way of saying we misuse clients funds. But co-mingling is one of those things that happens when we're not paying attention, right? A staff member can accidentally co-mingle funds. We can accidentally deposit a check into the wrong account if it's supposed to be an escrow and it's not. Failure to promptly refund fees. Again, this gets back to the idea of so just take that little bridge loan from the client funds and I'll pay it back immediately and or you're not able to refund the fees because you used money in an escrow account over billing and bill padding. Right. If you start to think about these things. In the context of not being well, you can feel the panic almost that goes on when somebody gets themselves into a situation where they're. Messing up their records, for lack of a better way of looking at it, and deliberate destruction of financial records. Think things are getting a little more serious when we start to see things like that and failure to get fees in writing. Right. How important have. Has it become to get an agreement with your client about what you're covering and what you're handling for them? And failure to do that is really a big no no, and it can get you into a lot of trouble. So when we talk about fees, we're talking about rule 1.5, right? The lawyer shall not make an agreement for charge or collect an excessive or illegal fee or expense. It's excessive when, after review of the facts, a reasonable lawyer would be left with a definite and firm conviction that the fee is excessive. Now, these are tough rules, right? Because we all know big firms that are charging over $1,000 an hour for partner time. And then we know the general attorney with their solo practice is charging much less than that. So when is a fee excessive? But I would say a fee is excessive if it's way out of line with what you've charged in the past. What do you charge other people for this and are you getting yourself in trouble and then starting to overcharge people? Um, you're also supposed to measure the fees that you charge within the scope of the of the representation. If what you're doing is reasonable in light of what you're charging. We're also supposed to preserve the identity of the funds and properties of others, right? We're fiduciaries with regard to our clients money so we can have a violation and a complaint filed against us for co-mingling or misappropriation of funds or property. So if we're holding on to our clients money, we must act as a fiduciary. And that does not mean borrowing the money to pay a bill that we can't pay. So these are things that we can really get ourselves in trouble with and risk our licenses and our reputations for. So criminal and sexual misconduct. What does that mean? Right. Maybe when you see sexual misconduct, you're thinking, oh, maybe that's a little over the top. But really, there are a lot of ways that people get themselves in trouble. But as lawyers, we have a different set of responsibilities. So lawyers with addiction issues get in trouble with drunk driving, possession or sale or purchase of narcotics. If your inhibitions are lowered and your behaving erratically, you may get involved in assault or domestic violence where you wouldn't have before. You may be involved in a vehicular homicide if you're involved in a drunk driving incident. We've seen people forge drug prescriptions. We've seen people get involved in sexual assaults again because their inhibitions are down. They've been involved in harassment because often when people are in the midst of an addiction, they're just not thinking the way they would normally think. Cyberstalking. All of these things that go with harassment and perjury are all things that we see through lawyers assistants that happen to lawyers when they are not paying attention to their wellness and seeking help when they need it. So Rule 8.4 covers misconduct, Right. So the first part of this is, of course, if we violate any of the rules. So the first rule is don't violate the rules or if we knowingly assist or induce another to do so so we can be guilty of breaking this rule through the acts of another committing criminal acts that reflect adversely on our honesty, trustworthiness or fitness. As a lawyer, if we engage in conduct that's dishonest, fraudulent, deceitful or misrepresentative, or we engage in conduct that's prejudicial. Sorry about that. To the administration of justice. Right. These are pretty vague. And you can see where if you are being brought to the attention of your local bar or, you know, the committee, the grievance committee or the committee on professional conduct. Something is going to fit into one of these. If you're handling yourself in a way that you wouldn't necessarily want to handle yourself and your law firm. So bar violations, there are things you can do just by, again, not paying attention, not having the bandwidth, not keeping good records. But all of these things are bar violations. Failure to pay dues. Failure to respond to the grievance committee or cooperate or be truthful when a grievance is received. Failure to meet your requirements. False statements to a bar. Disciplinary authority. Failure to cooperate and false statements on reinstatement questionnaires. So you have to be very careful of making sure, not just that you're handling your client's cases competently, but also that you're managing your business competently. And these things become compromised. When we are unwell, they become compromised not just when we're involved in substance use or mental health issue or a physical ailment, but they become compromised when we're not managing our stress. When we're overly anxious, when we feel like we just don't have the ability to pay attention to what's going on, to show up for work every day, to work a full day to respond to clients. Right? All of these things become exacerbated when somebody is overly stressed. Feeling overwhelmed. Suffering with anxiety. Depression. Suffering with a substance abuse or a gambling addiction and or suffering with something like dementia or a physical ailment that very is very real and keeps you away from practicing law. So these are all violations that can escalate to a point where our license becomes in jeopardy. There are a lot of relevant rules of professional conduct. Right? Listed a bunch of them here, so you can see how you can pretty easily get yourself into trouble if you're not paying attention to your work, which becomes difficult to do if we're not paying attention to how we feel and how well we're doing and manage physical and mental ailments and and take care of ourselves, it becomes very easy to fall behind and all of these things. See? There's a lot of them. So then we have to talk about discipline, right? We can't talk about rule violation without talking about discipline. So private discipline can range from a letter of caution to a private censure. Public discipline ranges from a brief suspension to a disbarment. Many states, though, and you should all be aware of this. Many states now have diversion programs for impaired attorneys. Diversion usually consists of the respondent attorney agreeing to a set of requirements like drug treatment, mental health treatment, law practice management, education and something called monitoring, which is a task that the local lawyers assistance committees generally participate in. And monitoring can come into play. When we're talking about substance abuse, mental health or practice management. And basically what it means, at least in my experience, has been that a peer. A pure attorney works with the attorney who is the respondent in a particular matter and make sure that they're following whatever program has been put in place for them, hopefully with the end result of them showing they've taken the steps necessary to overcome whatever challenges led to a complaint filed against them. And hopefully that will result in reduced discipline on that particular attorney. So diversion programs are different in different states and treated differently even in different counties. But generally speaking, the respondent has to make an application. The attorney must demonstrate causal connection between the mental health or substance abuse issue and their misconduct. So they have to explain why it was the substance use that caused me to neglect my files and sort of explain that to the Committee on Professional Responsibility. What obligations do we have for other members of drinker and associates? Right. So. If I know a partner in my firm is abusing prescription drugs and we're finding him asleep on the couch or the floor at the office or an attorney is slurring their words or an attorney becomes violent or reactive. And that's out of character for them. You know, what are our obligations to report? You know what? If we see an attorney who's mismanaging the escrow? What if we see an attorney who's, you know, not showing up for court appearances and we're getting notices from the court? What is our obligation with regard to those issues? So. As partners, managers and supervisory lawyers. Under Rule 5.1, we have the the requirement. We have the responsibility to report these incidents to the Character and Fitness Committee. Now, what's the reality of that? Right. And when would when would that come up? So this comes up when the lawyer gets in trouble and the grievance committee is looking to find out how was this allowed to go on for this long within a law firm. Right. And then they want to know how the law firm itself is being managed with regard to issues of substance use, anxiety, depression, whatever the case may be. Rule 5.2 tells us that we have responsibilities to subordinate lawyers, right? So if we have lawyers working for us, we become responsible for their performance and for spotting issues that might give rise to their inability to properly handle their cases. We also have a duty and obligation under the the rules to report professional misconduct. So it becomes incumbent upon us to report to the grievance committee when we're seeing professional misconduct in our colleagues. Right. We also have obligations with respect to mentally impaired lawyers, in addition to lawyers that we're seeing breaking the law or not following rules or frequently intoxicated on the job. And that list goes on and on. But there is an affirmative obligation to report these types of problems in other attorneys, in our firms or colleagues we see in court. So let's talk a little bit about what a lawyers assistance program is. So. A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the rules of professional conduct. That raises a substantial question as to that lawyer's honesty. Trustworthy and fitness shall inform the appropriate professional authority. So I'm just posing a question. Right? Who's the appropriate professional authority? If I'm a subordinate attorney, is that going to a partner? Is that going to my supervisor? Does that mean I have to call the bar association? This is a very tricky subject. So also with regard to judges and some of you might kind of enjoy this, but it's not really enjoyable, a lawyer who knows that a judge has committed a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct. Raising a substantial question as to the judge's fitness for office shall also inform the appropriate authority. And just to let you know, in addition to lawyers assistance programs, there are also similar programs for judges. So the help is out there for both lawyers and judges. So this rule does not require disclosure of information that's otherwise protected information. So if you have an attorney client confidentiality with that person or if you function within the confines of what a lawyer's association or judges association does to help other attorneys suffering with some of these issues. You don't need to give up all of that information. Right? So the rules of professional misconduct have carved out a confidentiality between professionals who are working in lawyers assistance programs and lawyers who come to them for help. So in other words, if a lawyer comes to me for help as the chair of the Lawyers Assistance Committee and they tell me what's going on with them, I don't have to disclose that to anybody. So it actually makes seeking help make more sense, right? So you can with confidence, go to the lawyer's assistance or the lawyers helping lawyers or whatever it's called where you are and and expect there to be a confidential relationship developed that is protected by the rules of professional responsibility so you can confidentially get the help that you need. So how do we identify problems and find solutions? Right? How do we know? You know, it might be easy to say, well, of course I'd know if somebody was drunk at work, but maybe not. You know, some people are very good at covering it up. Some people have been drinking for a very long time. Some people have been taking drugs for a very long time. And for sure, by the time you're asking yourself these questions, they've been hiding it and denying it and refusing to accept it. The same thing goes with mental health disorders and physical ailments. You know, a lot of people are scared when they start to feel these things are happening in their lives and they don't want to acknowledge that there's a problem. So knowing how to identify a problem in a colleague is important What to look for, how to ask questions and finding solutions so you can actually be helpful to that colleague are very important parts of this conversation. So the first question might be finding a problem in yourself, right? There's a huge amount of denial in both substance use and mental health disorders and a fair amount of denial and physical disorder as well. I mean, I'm sure you all have a family member who says, I'm fine, I can climb the ladder to the roof when really they shouldn't be or they continue to drive well after the time when they should be driving. So denial comes up in mental issues and physical issues as well as mental and substance use issues. But if you start to see changes in yourself, right, um, a lack of interest in your day to day activities, things that you used to enjoy doing no longer bring you joy, you don't want to participate in them anymore. Changes in sleep habits, right? If all of a sudden you've gone from being a great sleeper, sleeping 8 or 10 hours a night to you're awake every hour, you're awake with the 3 a.m. anxiety, you're not able to fall asleep. You know, this is an indication that there's something to pay attention to or an ongoing illness that, you know, just doesn't seem to go away or is lingering. Um, things that put you at risk. Lack of a support network. Remember earlier I was talking about as a solo practitioner, how important it is to create or build your support network around you, right? If you're isolated, working alone, maybe working somewhere where you're not happy working there, it's super important to create your own support network so that you're not alone with whatever's happening in your life. Um, some people struggle with organizational deficits, and this can come from ADHD. This can come from anxiety. Things like this can come from dyslexia. So there are some really some real diagnoses that can impact your ability to perform at your best when practicing law. A lot of things can also cause memory impairment. An unusual increase or constant stressor in your life. You start to find out that you're just not motivated to do what you used to do. If you love to go to church and you don't want to go or you love writing papers before and you have no motivation to do it now. We can also be at risk for these problems arising if we have deteriorating personal relationships. Right? You're going through a divorce or a breakup or the loss of a family member. And when we let ourselves become isolated, these are all stressors. You know, if if you want to think of them that way, that can cause us to be more susceptible to falling into self-medication or mental health issue. We're not treating or a physical ailment that we're not taking care of. And all of these things can cause us to fall into despair, illness and things that just negatively impact our ability to practice law. So what are what are we looking for when we see addiction in ourselves? Right. There's a lot of people don't see the addiction in themselves right away because people with addiction issues that they're covering. Right. They're trying to act as if nobody knows. They're trying to act as if they're doing a good job hiding their addiction. Right. They're afraid of being found out. So if you find these qualities in yourself, you'll see that all of a sudden you're engaging in risky behaviors you didn't engage in before. Um, maybe you are taking those bridge loans from your escrow account. You've never done that before. Um, maybe you're suffering consequences of drinking or drugging. Maybe you've had a DWI. Maybe your spouse or your partner has asked you to leave the house. Maybe you fallen down and gotten hurt. These are all consequences of drinking or drugging. Do you feel the need to hide your drinking or your drug use? This is usually an indication that you're doing something you know you don't want other people to know about. Are you having obsessive thoughts about drugs, alcohol or gambling? Is it the only thing you can focus on? Are you drinking or using drugs alone? And when we say drinking or using drugs alone, right. We're not talking about having a glass of wine after work. We're talking about purposefully hiding your use of drugs or alcohol. Many. Are you engaging in other drug seeking behaviors? Right. Have you found yourself going to an emergency room and saying you need painkillers? You know? We've heard stories of people who've broken their own arms so they can get access to painkillers. So these are signs that you yourself might have a problem. And what are we looking for when we're talking about signs of a problem in a colleague or family member? Right. One of the first ones might be a change in appearance, maybe unusual or excessive absences from their usual activities, failure to complete their work on time, changes in their usual behavior. They start making a lot of excuses seem unusually distracted, or their personal relationships in the office or with clients are deteriorating. Right? So if if you start to see somebody at work who was always well dressed and they appear unshowered or their clothes are in disarray, this may be an indication of a problem. If you're seeing people all of a sudden absent, but there's not a reason that they're absent. Right. It's an ongoing kind of habitual problem. If you see people becoming assertive or aggressive or even violent in the workplace, when that is not their demeanor, these are all indications that there may be a problem with one of your colleagues or even your friends or a family member that might cause you to want to speak to them about what's going on. And as I say, that that's a really hard thing to do. So what I wanted to impart also is that lawyers assistance and judge's assistance programs do offer services like interventions like speaking to people. When they have a problem, they will talk to family members. So you are also not alone when this is happening to somebody else. So finding help and solutions. How do we identify and treat issues and how do we work on maintaining wellness in our own lives? So if you find that somebody, either yourself or somebody you care about or somebody near you in your professional life has an issue that they're dealing with or comes to you and tells you they have a problem. Right? One of the first places that you can turn is to a lawyers assistance program, and that's available to anybody in the legal profession. Right. Court personnel, lawyers, lawyers, families even can extend to people in law firms. So it's widely available and it's confidential mental health treatment. There are tons of mental health treatment programs. I'm sure there's a local one where you live. If you do a Google search, you'll find out. But also if you call your lawyers assistance program, they'll be able to tell you there are plenty of options with addiction treatment, and that is also a resource available through lawyers assistance. And there's medical treatment available to people if you can just sometimes get them to the first visit. And how do we maintain our own wellness and encourage our colleagues to do the same? We want to work on work life balance, right? And that, you know, maybe that's a little catch phrase. Maybe you work in a big firm and you're saying there's no such thing. You know, there there. But there are opportunities for work life balance that's maybe better than what you're doing now. So maybe you investigate better boundaries. Maybe you purposefully carve out 15 minutes at some point during the day so you can meditate or call a friend. You know, there's a lot of ways to build a little bit of balance into your day to day activities. Find opportunities for wellness. There's lots of opportunities for wellness. I know two programs that do meditation at your desk online twice a week. There are support networks for lawyers with depression. There are support networks for lawyers with addiction issues. And there are lots of programs and local bar associations now that talk about things like meditation, time management practices, firm organization practices, all sorts of resources are now available to you through your local or state wide bar association. You want to build your toolbox, right? You want to create support. You don't want to wait until you have a problem. When you have no tools, you want to start to build the tools now, make them little habits and get into the practice of finding little opportunities to get a little balance in your life and participate in things you might not have previously participated in. So let's talk. For a minute about what lawyers assistance is. I've been referring to it a lot. So their programs, they're called lawyers assistance programs are generally manned by a medical professional or a mental health professional. I know the one in Nassau County is and the one in New York City is and the one at the state level is. So you're actually calling somebody with mental health treatment experience. And the lawyer's assistance committees are where the peer support is. You know, we as members of the committee are the people who deliver educational programs like this. We do peer to peer support for people who come into the program. We work with law students frequently and help them develop good habits before they graduate. We also work with law students who are afraid they may not get their license for things that they did, like a DWI before they went to law school. So there are a lot of resources that might surprise you available through lawyers assistance. We have a confidential help line. The services are generally free or very low cost. There are evaluations for treatment. We do interventions, we do placement assistance, counseling, monitoring, health and wellness programs and provide education to lawyers who want to know more about how to bring more wellness into their lives and how to build their own toolbox and where to go when they get themselves into trouble. So there are a lot of resources available to you professionally. So lab supported. Programming is everything from monthly support groups. Two annual retreats to wellness programs, mindfulness sessions, Anxiety Reducing Programming. Attorney. Attorney. Attorney Monitoring and programs on things like ethics and impairment like this one. Like work life balance Strategies for thriving in the workplace. Programs on vicarious trauma. Programs On things like not every career path is straight and how to navigate trauma. So there's a wide variety of programming in this area that you can avail yourself to. So building your toolbox, right? Resilience and adaptability are the skills that you want to build when you're talking about building your toolbox, right? So you want to encourage or train yourself on resilience, gain some emotional intelligence, find some life balance, bring some fun and creativity and physical well-being back into your life. Develop healthy habits and routines. Good morning routines, good office routines, good sleep routines all encourage us to feel well. And when we feel well, we feel strong and we can function to the best way possible in our lives and our professions. Find activities you enjoy. Find boundaries if you need to. Seek support if you feel it will be helpful. And like the last one, be quiet. Right. We're doers. We're not beers. So learning to sit quietly with your own thoughts, learning to, you know, meditate a few minutes a day. You don't have to do everything at all at one time. Do things slowly and make small changes. Traits to develop for adaptability and characteristics to cultivate. Right? You want to start to develop a positive outlook. You want to have genuine concern. You want to feel like you have a purpose and a support system, right? You want to get away from blaming and be more positive with people. You where people see failure, you want to see opportunity, right? We all fall down. We all get back up. It's what you learn about it. So these are small ways to change your perspective and your way of thinking that will build that adaptability and resistance and resilience, not resistance. Resilience. Um. Here are some tips for working at home. Here are some tips for working at work. Um. You know, set aside regular hours, take time to eat, find co-working relationships, practice good sleep hygiene, try to leave the office at the office. Try to make a relaxing space for yourself. And don't forget about your regular doctor's appointments. So we're coming up on the end of the program and tips for success are the end of our program. And hopefully you'll take a few of these home with you and find ways to engage in them. But, you know, I want to give a shout out to lawyers assistance programs. They're available to all of you and you may find something there that's helpful to you, even if you're not particularly struggling. It's a great place to find camaraderie, CLE programs, and maybe a little help when you need it. So thanks so much for listening today. I hope you enjoyed the program and you took something away from it.

Presenter(s)

JCJ
Jackie Cara, JD
Founder and Managing Partner
Cara Law

Course materials

Handout

Practice areas

Credit information

Jurisdiction
Credits
Available until
Status
Alabama
    Pending
    Alaska
    • 1.0 ethics
    August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Available
    Arizona
    • 1.0 professional responsibility
    August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Available
    Arkansas
    • 1.0 ethics
    August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Approved
    California
    • 1.0 ethics
    August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Approved
    Colorado
      Pending
      Connecticut
      • 1.0 ethics
      August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Available
      Delaware
        Pending
        District of Columbia
          Not Offered
          Florida
          • 1.0 mental illness awareness
          April 30, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Approved
          Georgia
          • 1.0 ethics
          Unavailable
          Guam
          • 1.0 ethics
          August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Available
          Hawaii
          • 1.0 ethics
          August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Approved
          Idaho
            Pending
            Illinois
            • 1.0 professional responsibility
            August 29, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Approved
            Indiana
            • 1.0 ethics
            December 31, 2024 at 11:59PM HST Approved
            Iowa
              Pending
              Kansas
              • 1.0 ethics
              January 9, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Approved
              Kentucky
                Pending
                Louisiana
                  Pending
                  Maine
                    Pending
                    Maryland
                      Not Offered
                      Massachusetts
                        Not Offered
                        Michigan
                          Not Offered
                          Minnesota
                            Pending
                            Mississippi
                              Pending
                              Missouri
                                Pending
                                Montana
                                  Pending
                                  Nebraska
                                    Pending
                                    Nevada
                                    • 1.0 ethics
                                    December 31, 2026 at 11:59PM HST Approved
                                    New Hampshire
                                    • 1.0 ethics
                                    August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Available
                                    New Jersey
                                    • 1.2 ethics
                                    May 1, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Approved
                                    New Mexico
                                      Pending
                                      New York
                                      • 1.0 ethics
                                      August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Available
                                      North Carolina
                                      • 1.0 ethics
                                      Pending
                                      North Dakota
                                      • 1.0 ethics
                                      August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Approved
                                      Ohio
                                      • 1.0 professional conduct
                                      Unavailable
                                      Oklahoma
                                        Pending
                                        Oregon
                                          Pending
                                          Pennsylvania
                                          • 1.0 ethics
                                          January 16, 2026 at 11:59PM HST Approved
                                          Puerto Rico
                                            Pending
                                            Rhode Island
                                              Pending
                                              South Carolina
                                                Pending
                                                South Dakota
                                                  Not Offered
                                                  Tennessee
                                                  • 1.0 ethics
                                                  August 21, 2024 at 11:59PM HST Approved
                                                  Texas
                                                  • 1.0 ethics
                                                  August 31, 2024 at 11:59PM HST Approved
                                                  Utah
                                                    Pending
                                                    Vermont
                                                    • 1.0 ethics
                                                    August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Available
                                                    Virginia
                                                      Not Eligible
                                                      Virgin Islands
                                                      • 1.0 ethics
                                                      August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST Available
                                                      Washington
                                                        Pending
                                                        West Virginia
                                                          Not Eligible
                                                          Wisconsin
                                                            Not Eligible
                                                            Wyoming
                                                              Pending
                                                              Credits
                                                                Available until
                                                                Status
                                                                Pending
                                                                Credits
                                                                • 1.0 ethics
                                                                Available until

                                                                August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                Status
                                                                Available
                                                                Credits
                                                                • 1.0 professional responsibility
                                                                Available until

                                                                August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                Status
                                                                Available
                                                                Credits
                                                                • 1.0 ethics
                                                                Available until

                                                                August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                Status
                                                                Approved
                                                                Credits
                                                                • 1.0 ethics
                                                                Available until

                                                                August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                Status
                                                                Approved
                                                                Credits
                                                                  Available until
                                                                  Status
                                                                  Pending
                                                                  Credits
                                                                  • 1.0 ethics
                                                                  Available until

                                                                  August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                  Status
                                                                  Available
                                                                  Credits
                                                                    Available until
                                                                    Status
                                                                    Pending
                                                                    Credits
                                                                      Available until
                                                                      Status
                                                                      Not Offered
                                                                      Credits
                                                                      • 1.0 mental illness awareness
                                                                      Available until

                                                                      April 30, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                      Status
                                                                      Approved
                                                                      Credits
                                                                      • 1.0 ethics
                                                                      Available until
                                                                      Status
                                                                      Unavailable
                                                                      Credits
                                                                      • 1.0 ethics
                                                                      Available until

                                                                      August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                      Status
                                                                      Available
                                                                      Credits
                                                                      • 1.0 ethics
                                                                      Available until

                                                                      August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                      Status
                                                                      Approved
                                                                      Credits
                                                                        Available until
                                                                        Status
                                                                        Pending
                                                                        Credits
                                                                        • 1.0 professional responsibility
                                                                        Available until

                                                                        August 29, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                        Status
                                                                        Approved
                                                                        Credits
                                                                        • 1.0 ethics
                                                                        Available until

                                                                        December 31, 2024 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                        Status
                                                                        Approved
                                                                        Credits
                                                                          Available until
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                                                                          Pending
                                                                          Credits
                                                                          • 1.0 ethics
                                                                          Available until

                                                                          January 9, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                          Status
                                                                          Approved
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                                                                            Available until
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                                                                            Pending
                                                                            Credits
                                                                              Available until
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                                                                              Pending
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                                                                                Available until
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                                                                                Pending
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                                                                                    Available until
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                                                                                        Available until
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                                                                                                Available until
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                                                                                                Pending
                                                                                                Credits
                                                                                                • 1.0 ethics
                                                                                                Available until

                                                                                                December 31, 2026 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                                                Status
                                                                                                Approved
                                                                                                Credits
                                                                                                • 1.0 ethics
                                                                                                Available until

                                                                                                August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                                                Status
                                                                                                Available
                                                                                                Credits
                                                                                                • 1.2 ethics
                                                                                                Available until

                                                                                                May 1, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                                                Status
                                                                                                Approved
                                                                                                Credits
                                                                                                  Available until
                                                                                                  Status
                                                                                                  Pending
                                                                                                  Credits
                                                                                                  • 1.0 ethics
                                                                                                  Available until

                                                                                                  August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                                                  Status
                                                                                                  Available
                                                                                                  Credits
                                                                                                  • 1.0 ethics
                                                                                                  Available until
                                                                                                  Status
                                                                                                  Pending
                                                                                                  Credits
                                                                                                  • 1.0 ethics
                                                                                                  Available until

                                                                                                  August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                                                  Status
                                                                                                  Approved
                                                                                                  Credits
                                                                                                  • 1.0 professional conduct
                                                                                                  Available until
                                                                                                  Status
                                                                                                  Unavailable
                                                                                                  Credits
                                                                                                    Available until
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                                                                                                    Pending
                                                                                                    Credits
                                                                                                      Available until
                                                                                                      Status
                                                                                                      Pending
                                                                                                      Credits
                                                                                                      • 1.0 ethics
                                                                                                      Available until

                                                                                                      January 16, 2026 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                                                      Status
                                                                                                      Approved
                                                                                                      Credits
                                                                                                        Available until
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                                                                                                              Credits
                                                                                                              • 1.0 ethics
                                                                                                              Available until

                                                                                                              August 21, 2024 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                                                              Status
                                                                                                              Approved
                                                                                                              Credits
                                                                                                              • 1.0 ethics
                                                                                                              Available until

                                                                                                              August 31, 2024 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                                                              Status
                                                                                                              Approved
                                                                                                              Credits
                                                                                                                Available until
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                                                                                                                Pending
                                                                                                                Credits
                                                                                                                • 1.0 ethics
                                                                                                                Available until

                                                                                                                August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                                                                Status
                                                                                                                Available
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                                                                                                                  Available until
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                                                                                                                  Not Eligible
                                                                                                                  Credits
                                                                                                                  • 1.0 ethics
                                                                                                                  Available until

                                                                                                                  August 18, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                                                                  Status
                                                                                                                  Available
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