You’ve Got A Friend

By James Dimos

As I mentioned recently in Res Gestae, I am an Aaron Sorkin fan. Of course, by definition this means that I am a West Wing fan as well. In season 2, episode 10, Leo McGarry shares the following story with Josh Lyman as it is clear that Josh is struggling with post-traumatic stress following a recent assassination attempt on the president where Josh was wounded:

This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you, can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up ‘Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. ‘Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.’

While this parable speaks of friendship, it also speaks of compassion and support for those who are struggling by those who have been there before. Those friends are hard to find but lawyers in Indiana have such a friend in the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (JLAP) administered by the Indiana Supreme Court.

In its most basic form, JLAP is a network of peer support provided by dedicated volunteers—both recovering and non-recovering—who assist judges, attorneys and law students in their struggle with physical or mental disabilities that result from disease, chemical dependency, mental health problems, or age that may impair their ability to practice in a competent and professional manner. The help offered varies with an individual’s needs or a particular case, but ranges from information and referral to assistance with the organization of an intervention. The program’s work is confidential under Rule 8.3(d) of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct and Rule 31 of the Indiana Rules of Admission & Discipline.

Why is JLAP necessary? Well, to be blunt, lawyers struggle more with these issues than members of the general population:

  • Data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that lawyers rank fourth in proportion of suicides by profession;
  • According to the American Psychological Association, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than the general population;
  • While it is estimated that 10% of the general population is addicted to alcohol or other drugs, the estimate for attorneys is as high as 18-20%.

In addition, as the legal profession begins to see the “Baby Boomers” move toward retirement, age-related infirmities continue to become more prevalent and lawyer assistance programs across the country are seeing more of them.

So, what does this mean to you? It is quite possible that you or someone you know may benefit from talking to a JLAP volunteer. You do not need to make a diagnosis or confront someone who you think needs help. Rather, you can find information about the program and how to contact it at http://www.in.gov/judiciary/ijlap/. Use that information to educate yourself or someone else about what JLAP can do to help.

If JLAP can provide assistance, make the call. It may seem difficult to take that step on behalf of yourself or a lawyer you know that needs help. I know as I have made the call myself on behalf of a lawyer who needed help. Yet, let the friends from JLAP jump in that hole and help guide them out. It is what friends do.

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