Oklahoma Bar Association

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November 2018 President's Message

Make Yourself a Priority

By Kimberly Hays

The practice of law can be energizing, challenging and stressful. Each day in the office we are faced with deadlines, managing client emotions and interacting with opposing counsel. At the same time we are seeking balance for our family time, outside interests and attempting to maintain our own physical and mental health. We are tethered to our phones and laptops 24/7. That can increase our stress and lead to a feeling of never getting off the “hamster wheel” of the practice of law. We accept the high-stress atmosphere as a cost of doing business in the legal profession.

Attorneys need a reminder to stop and take care of ourselves. How can we perform our best on behalf of our clients if we are not at our personal best? A good example of the importance of prioritizing yourself in order to help others can be heard during the flight safety instructions before aircraft takeoff. The flight attendants share with us the very important life lesson – take care of yourself first so you are then able to help the people around you who depend on you.

The speech is recited each time before takeoff. “If the airplane loses pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling. Always put your mask on first before helping others.” The act of putting your mask on first can take many different forms for attorneys, such as turning off the electronic devices in the evening, exercising or reaching out for help in dealing with a mental health concern.

It is an unfortunate reality that our chosen profession has a high occurrence of depression, substance abuse and anxiety. “Lawyers are 3.6 times as likely to be depressed as people in other jobs, while the landmark 2016 American Bar Association and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study found that 28 percent of licensed, employed lawyers suffer with depression. The study also showed that 19 percent have symptoms of anxiety and 21 percent are problem drinkers.1

The OBA Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program (LHL) assists OBA members who are having difficulties that adversely affect their practice. Difficulties can be from a variety of sources – not just drugs and alcoholLHL provides CONFIDENTIAL help to an impaired lawyer.

Important LHL facts that may be new information to you:

  • The OBA offers all bar members up to six hours of free short-term, problem-focused or crisis counseling. The service is strictly confidential. For help with stress, depression or addiction, call the 24/7 Lawyers Helping Lawyers hotline at 800-364-7886 to be referred to a counselor in your area.
    If an attorney cannot afford the needed treatment, he or she may qualify for a grant from the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Foundation to help pay for treatment or medication.
  • An attorney can be referred to a peer mentor who can work with you on specific issues.
  • Information regarding a lawyer is often received from the lawyer personally or from family, friends, partners or even clients. If you fear another lawyer has become impaired and you want to get confidential help to determine whether a problem exists and/or to get help for that problem, call the LHL hotline or confidentially email onelife@plexusgroupe.com.
  • All calls to the LHL hotline are confidential and are handled by a counseling/mental health service, which reports numbers of those utilizing services but no names.
  • LHL hosts a monthly meeting led by a LHL Committee member. The small group discussions are intended to give group leaders and participants the opportunity to ask questions, provide support and share information with fellow bar members to improve their lives – professionally and personally.

To see more information about what LHL offers, visit www.okbar.org/LHL.

The OBA LHL program offers lawyers the tools to “put on their own oxygen masks first.” A special thank you to the hard-
working attorney members of the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program.

1. Dina Roth Port, “Lawyers weigh in: Why is there a depression epidemic in the profession?” ABA Journal, May 11, 2018.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 89 pg. 4 (November 2018)