Oklahoma Bar Journal
The Evolution of Lawyers Helping Lawyers
By Deanna Harris and Ben Rogers
The Oklahoma Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program has a long history of supporting legal professionals through difficult times. From the beginning, as an informal network of attorneys in recovery to the current structure of a formalized committee, the purpose and mission has remained a constant – be there for each other.
In the early days, an Oklahoma City lawyer named Bob Looney got sober in the late 1960s or early 1970s. He determined there might be other lawyers with the same problem that he could help, using what he had learned in Alcoholics Anonymous. Bob made it known throughout the Oklahoma legal community that he was willing to be of assistance to other lawyers struggling with alcoholism, so they might also have sobriety. Bob got calls from judges and lawyers around the state concerned about impaired lawyers. He would practice law all week, then spend his weekends traveling all over the state, helping fellow lawyers in need.
With the help of Executive Director John Morris Williams, Bob’s committee of one became Lawyers Helping Lawyers of Oklahoma, an official committee of the Oklahoma Bar Association. Starting out, the program’s sole focus was helping those with addiction issues. As awareness increased around dual diagnosis, the focus broadened to include mental health. Currently, the committee has expanded to roughly 40 volunteer members, many of whom serve as mentors to attorneys with mental health issues, addiction, work-related struggles and a variety of other problems confronting attorneys. This broad approach encompasses a more global perspective of overall lawyer well-being.
As is often the case, LHL comes into contact with attorneys when a problem or issue has taken over and becomes out of control. The workload that has now led to burnout and depression, the drinking that is now causing trouble at home or work or the casino trips that now occupy the mind daily.
As part of the well-being initiative, through LHL, the OBA offers confidential access to addiction and mental health professionals as well as resources to support well-being efforts.
MEMBER BENEFIT: FREE COUNSELING
OBA members get six free sessions every year as part of their benefits. That is six free sessions to collaborate with a therapist on setting goals, focus on minor behavior change to reduce stress, problem solve an issue or get coaching with a certified life coach.
Lawyers Helping Lawyers has contracted with A Chance to Change in Oklahoma City to answer calls and to provide counseling services statewide. A Chance to Change is a local nonprofit counseling agency with a long history of providing services in Oklahoma. When an OBA member calls the confidential 800 number, an intake is conducted to determine what services are desired. Based on this information, a member will be referred to a therapist, certified life coach and/or peer support/mentor. A Chance to Change provides telemental health or video sessions as well as face-to-face sessions. This also applies to members in non-metro areas. If counseling is requested, therapists are selected based on presenting issues, specialty areas and location. Every effort is made to accommodate requests and make the best referral possible.
The overall idea is taking care of yourself along the way prevents the unmanageable crisis point. Another option is calling and getting connected with a mentor or peer support. This is also confidential and can be a great way to connect. At no point in the process do you have to be in crisis. The services are there, confidential and available, at any point.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Deanna Harris is a licensed clinical social worker in Oklahoma City. She has worked with the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program for nine years as a clinician and the past five years helping the committee administer the program. She also manages her own private practice.
Ben Rogers is a practicing attorney and business consultant in Norman. He has mentored men and women struggling with substance abuse, eating disorders, gambling and depression for more than 35 years. Additionally, he has been a member of the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program Committee since 2017.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 91 No. 10 (December 2020)