Helping Texas Lawyers Handle Stress and More Serious Issues

 Below is my article published in the November/December 2006 edition of The Houston Lawyer about the State Bar of Texas Lawyers Assistance  Program. 

TLAP: Helping Lawyers Handle Stress, Depression and Addiction

By Janet H. Moore  

Many lawyers deal with stress on a daily basis, while others battle more serious problems. Whether suffering from stress, a full blown addiction or depression, the State Bar’s Texas Lawyers Assistance Program offers attorneys confidential help.

TLAP has its origins in a grassroots organization called Texas Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, an organization that still has chapters throughout the state. By 1989, however, the State Bar formalized TLAP through chapter 467 of the Texas Health and Safety Code; this legislation permits professional associations like the State Bar to offer peer assistance programs with immunity and confidentiality. TLAP originally helped lawyers with alcohol addiction, but now it aids attorneys suffering from drug addiction, depression and even stress.

Ann Foster, a 1985 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law and a recovering alcoholic, now runs TLAP. Ann’s alcohol abuse crept up on her gradually during law school, and became full-blown while practicing law in Galveston. Ann describes how her law firm became concerned when she “just couldn’t make any decisions. I woke up one day and realized that I was an alcoholic and needed to take care of it. And so I did.”

Once sober with the help of relatives, a family lawyer, spiritual support and a 12-step program, Ann got a job in the Travis City Prosecutor’s office—ironically, prosecuting DWIs. In 1997, she moved to TLAP, taking the helm a year later. Since then she has seen the organization grow to help attorneys handle depression and stress. TLAP maintains a toll free phone number that connects 24 hours per day to the office or a paging system, offering crisis counseling and referrals. If a caller wants to talk to another lawyer, there are hundreds of TLAP volunteers across the state to offer peer support.

With Ann’s guidance, TLAP has launched mental health outreach, an effort particularly encouraged by State Bar President Martha Dickie, who lost a lawyer friend to suicide. TLAP is in the process of arranging for low cost, professional, mental health assistance to attorneys through group therapy with trained professionals–a less expensive option than individual counseling. Ann feels that the mental health therapy must be low cost because many lawyers lack financial resources and health insurance. As she explains, “When you’re not feeling well, you’re not making good decisions and not collecting the bills owed you. You might also be afraid of the stigma or be in denial.”

Realizing that stress is often a precursor to more serious issues, TLAP tries to educate Texas lawyers about stress management. However, staffing and budget limitations have restricted TLAP’s stress education efforts to articles posted on the State Bar’s website and occasional lectures about stress prevention. Ann would eventually like to promote mindfulness-based stress reduction for attorneys.

Attorneys interested in learning more about the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program may contact TLAP confidentially by phone at 512-463-1453 or 800-343-8527. To learn more, or to read
articles posted online, access the TLAP page of the State Bar web site at: http://www.texasbar.com/template.cfm?section= texas_lawyers_assistance1.

Information and resources also are available on the HBA Web site, www.hba.org.

Janet H. Moore, JD, executive coach and consultant, helps lawyers compete in a global environment through International Lawyer Coach, Inc. She is a member of the editorial board of The Houston Lawyer.


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