Ethics Counsel on www.OKbar.org

Committee Revitalizes Lawyers Helping Lawyers Foundation

By Travis Pickens

Substance abuse and menta lhealth issues are challenges the legal profession struggles with, and tough economic times mean the number of lawyers coping with anxiety, stress and depression are on the rise.

The Lawyers Helping Lawyers Foundation Inc. was formed as an Oklahoma nonprofit corporation in 2003, but since then, the work has largely been done by the OBA Lawyers Helping Lawyers Committee through its contract with CABA Inc., a private company that coordinates and provides mental health services to OBA members.

Given the growing demands and requests for help from the committee and CABA, coupled with the increasing willingness of lawyers to seek help, additional funding is necessary to broaden and deepen this important work. The revitalized foundation will take assisting lawyers to a higher level than ever before – providing grants to supplement payment for specific treatment or services for lawyers in crisis. And that’s only part of the vision. Now planning for a major fundraising campaign is underway seeking to establish substantial, long-term financial support for efforts to address these issues head on.

The foundation will get its boost through the work of the  LHL Assistance Program Committee and its leaders Tom Riesen and Clif Gooding along with 2012 OBA President Cathy Christensen. President Christensen has declared the foundation and the work of LHL to be among her top priorities for 2012.

LHL Committee Chair Tom Riesen said, “No lawyers should have to end their careers because they are dealing with stress, depression or addiction. Our goal is to intervene before members become impaired, and then to help them begin and continue recovery.”

The work of the LHL Committee and CABA to date includes a 24-hour assistance hotline, case assessment,referrals to licensed health providers or mentors, ongoing support for lawyers through separate monthly meetings for men and women, and in some cases,responding on an emergency basis to lawyers in distress and in immediate need of counseling or intervention.  Licensed professional counselor Rebecca Williams, who serves as the director of employee assistance services for CABA, is the initial contact point for lawyers making confidential referrals and has worked closely with the committee since 2007.

Several other leaders of the legal community have stepped forward to become involved and assume either a leadership or support role for the foundation. The needs are well known and growing. A kick-off event to benefit the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Foundation Inc. is planned for the evening of March 27 at the Oklahoma Bar Center in Oklahoma City and will feature an auction and dinner CLE. More details about the fundraiser will be coming in the Feb. 11 Oklahoma Bar Journal.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- Jan.14, 2012 -- Volume 83, No. 2

Travis Pickens is the OBA Ethics Counsel and a LHL Assistance Program Committee member. He can be reached at ethics@okbar.org