President's Message

Elizabeth F. McCausland

Elizabeth F. McCausland, Esq.

The Briefs, August 2017

Opening the Door: A Conversation

 

I want to start a very difficult conversation. It's one that, frankly, makes me uncomfortable and that we, as a bar, don’t have the answers to.  But if we are to serve you as we should, then we must at least open the door to the discussion. We need to talk about the mental health and well-being of lawyers, and we need to do it now before we lose more good people to the pressures of our profession.

As lawyers, we deal with pressures and challenges unlike those found in so many other professions. Our profession is based in conflict and is a stressful occupation. We work long hours, handle cases with sensitive matters, and are under constant pressure to find and retain clients.  And let’s face it, the public opinion of our profession is not usually favorable. All of these factors ‒ and so many more – result in lawyers being the most frequently depressed professionals in the United States.  Lawyers as a group are nearly four times more likely to suffer from depression than the general public. Research also indicates that lawyers suffer from higher rates of suicide and substance abuse than those in other professions. Still more studies reveal that lawyers are not likely to seek treatment for substance abuse or mental health issues because of the stigma attached. This must change, and it will change, if we can take this taboo topic out of the darkness and shed some light on it.

We have lost a few very good lawyers to substance abuse and suicide in the last few years. Most recently we lost a very well-respected attorney in Coral Gables, Ervin Gonzalez.  He was, to all, at the top of his game. He had success in business through the handling of high-profile class action and personal injury suits, and he had success in his personal life from having married his high school sweetheart. He also had a firm that knew of his struggles and was supportive of him, and yet, his suffering led him to take his own life. I can think of five other similar stories I can share of lawyer suicide and even more stories of substance abuse. Over the years, I have met attorneys who have shared with me their struggles with alcohol.  It was from one friend that I learned that Alcoholics Anonymous has special meetings for lawyers so they do not risk attending a meeting with a client.  Another friend posts his milestones on Facebook – proudly sharing how long it has been since he has taken a drink and, more importantly, always offering an open door if someone needs to seek help.

The conversation about the mental health of lawyers in our profession has started in bar associations across the country. The American Bar Association offers assistance for lawyers as does The Florida Bar.  But even more than that, these organizations are trying to address the issue on a much larger scale. At the Orange County Bar, we hope to do the same. We understand the pressures of being a lawyer, so we hope to provide you with some tools and resources to turn to when you or someone you know needs them. We also hope to encourage you to be healthy in other ways. We want to support your well-being and, by doing so, we hope to keep you healthy so you can support our community when it needs you. Along those lines, we have some initiatives that we will be announcing. Some will be fun, like a bar-wide Fitbit challenge, but some will be more uncomfortable, such as how to deal with compassion fatigue.  We take on the burdens of our clients and, through our efforts, they gain peace. It seems only fair that we learn how to gain peace as well. I would invite anyone who wants to help enter this conversation to contact me. In the meantime, if you or someone you know needs help, the Florida Lawyers Assistance Program is a good place to start (fla-lap.org).  Here’s hoping that one day this conversation isn’t so difficult to have.

 

Elizabeth Foshee McCausland, Esq., Liz McCausland, P.A., practices in the areas of bankruptcy, mortgage modification, and mediation. She also teaches lawyers across the U.S. on how to modify mortgages in bankruptcy. She has been a member of the OCBA since 1997.

Orange County Bar Association The Briefs, August 2017, Vol. 85, No. 7 All rights reserved.