President's Page by Brad Hall
Each year the President of the Boulder County Bar Association can elect to focus on a particular area of interest affecting lawyers, be it access to justice, a particular demographic of the bar, professionalism or another area. Last year our esteemed President, Renee Ezer, focused on attorney wellness. It is a topic I found many of our past presidents have touched on as I read through numerous president’s pages on the BCBA website. It is a topic that is always relevant and needs attention. I am sure many of you have found that the practice of law never becomes less stressful or less anxiety-inducing until maybe retirement becomes a realistic possibility.
I had planned to address this issue later in the year, but just before beginning last month’s page I had a dream that convinced me that I better write this column before it fades completely away. The root of the dream is clear. My wife and I are in the planning stages of a bathroom remodeling project. Given my lack of taste in the selection of vanities and free-standing tubs, let’s just say she is taking the lead. As an aside, I was once advised by a friend that if things are just going too well in your marriage, just hang wallpaper together to put an end to that. I always have that in mind when Mary asks if I like whatever she has selected to brighten up the home décor. In any event, in my dream I was making one of the inevitable trips back to Lowe’s (I know because the service staff had on the blue and red vest) to return some part for a different size. When the employee at the service desk turned around I was stunned to see a law school classmate. When I asked him why he was working at Lowe’s rather than practicing law he responded, “The pay is better, and there’s a lot less stress.” Needless to say, that one stuck with me in the morning.
I will not speculate on the reason this nugget manifested itself so vividly at this stage of my career, but I think it is safe to say that the practice of law, while stimulating, can be damn stressful. We all have our own issues that keep us up at night--too much work, not enough work, billable hours, unfavorable rulings, unreasonable clients, unreasonable opposing counsel--to name just a few. If too many of these are heaped on us at once, the effects can be disastrous for the attorney and the clients.
One of the most comprehensive studies conducted on the effects of stress on attorneys found that attorneys suffer ill effects at almost twice the rate of the general population. Not surprisingly, the high level of stress leads to a higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse than suffered by the general population. The rates of stress, anxiety, and substance abuse were even higher among young lawyers.
I have no good answers for these problems. What I can say is that ignoring them or simply keeping them to yourself and hoping they go away is not a good approach. I speak from experience. Several years ago, what seemed like an avalanche of issues in my private life left me almost paralyzed in my professional life. Looking back on it over a decade later can still make me shudder. Fortunately, I had others I could turn to and what I learned from that experience was that I was not alone. The second thing I learned was that if you find yourself in a similar situation, tell someone. In spite of all of our faults, attorneys can be very understanding and helpful.
The Colorado Supreme Court has established the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program which provides assistance from everything from practice management to substance abuse and addiction problems. All communications are held in the strictest confidence. I encourage all of you to visit the COLAP website at coloradolap.org. It can be reached at (303) 986-3345. Finally, I want to pass on a piece of wisdom imparted to me by my late partner, Dan Bernard. He told me early in my career that when the phone is not ringing to go golfing because it will start ringing the moment you leave.
Now back to that remodeling project.