Building a Culture of Caring
The Perspective of a Young Lawyer

In this edition of Assist in Your Community, we focus on addiction and the impact it can have on the legal profession. As we see all too often with mental health disorders, the term "addiction" can harbour an uncomfortable feeling, that "oh no, not me" knee jerk reaction, and perhaps we shrug off any information or resources we receive because it does not apply to us directly at this time in our life.

I would like for us as the legal community to re-think this response, if it does indeed apply to you. Here's why: as Judge Philp states in his video interview[1], we are in a helping profession. There is a very real chance that at some point in our careers, either ourselves, our colleagues, or our clients will experience addiction. Wouldn't it make a world of difference to encounter such a scenario with some background knowledge and at least some tools to know what to do, what to say, or who to turn to for help?  
Click here to read the full article ‘Building A Culture of Caring’, by Anna Gillespie, Editor

Work Hard Play Hard?
The Perspective of a Seasoned Lawyer

By John Gulak, Vice-President, Legal & Fun at Prairie Merchant Corporation

It’s not uncommon to hear a lawyer say ‘we work hard but we play hard’. Usually this means we put in long hours, but we also know how to have fun. One of my colleagues who practiced briefly after law school, sees practicing law differently. She describes it as the profession that fun forgot.  
Somewhere deep in the rulebook of life is the crazy idea that growing up involves the sacrifice of fun. If true fun (as children experience it) is not quite dead on arrival with young adulthood, we nail the coffin shut with law school. By then, for many of us, fun starts to involve blowing off steam on the weekend by getting drunk with friends. We begin to equate drinking with fun as if drinking somehow gives us permission to have fun. We begin to laugh at ourselves because we were drinking when we did something silly. 
As we move into middle age, we might forego the cheap keg parties and migrate to expensive wines that better reflect our more refined tastes. But is the reason for imbibing any different than it was in law school? Is it still just a little something to take the edge off and get us through another day? Is it to give us permission to have fun?
Fun is a challenge for many members of our profession. As lawyers, we experience higher rates of addiction and other mental health conditions like anxiety and depression than the general population.
We feel conflicted about fun. On one hand, we remember how alive we felt experiencing true fun as children, but at another level, fun becomes a guilty and frivolous pleasure.  We struggle to make room for it when so much of our adult energy is expended in our serious work environments.
Whatever form fun takes for us, it is worth remembering that we don’t need permission to have fun. And although we do serious work as lawyers, there is no point in taking the fun out of life.
Click here to read the full article.

Treatment and Resources

The recovery process involves identification of the substance abuse problem, intervention (where necessary), treatment, continuing care, and support, all on a confidential basis. For many, recovery will require a life-long commitment to a twelve-step group, and peer support, and may include residential treatment and Narcotics or Alcoholics Anonymous.
The Alberta lawyers’ assistance program (Assist) has trained psychologists to identify, assess, and treat addiction issues.
For a professional, confidential assessment, at no cost to you, or if you would like coaching to help a colleague, friend or family member, call Assist’s Professional Counselling Services at 1 877 498-6898.
For access to free, confidential, professional counselling, twelve-step or peer support, call Assist at 1 877 737 5508.


5 Myths about Alcohol Addiction

Myth #1: I can stop drinking anytime I want to.
Myth #2: My drinking is my problem. I’m the one it hurts, so no one has the right to tell me to stop.
Myth #3: I don’t drink every day, so I can’t be an alcoholic OR I only drink wine or beer, so I can’t be an alcoholic.
Myth #4: I’m not an alcoholic because I have a job and I’m doing okay.
Myth #5: Drinking is not a “real” addiction like drug abuse.  
For more information see ‘Signs, Symptoms, and Help for Drinking Problems’.


Alcohol Addiction

It’s not always easy to see when your drinking has crossed the line from moderate or social use to problem drinking. But if you consume alcohol to cope with difficulties or to avoid feeling bad, you’re in potentially dangerous territory. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can sneak up on you, so it’s important to be aware of the warning signs and take steps to cut back if you recognize them. Understanding the problem is the first step to overcoming it. Here are some signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction:

  • Excessive and frequent drinking, possibly drinking in the morning, during business hours, alone, or hiding alcohol consumption
  • Inability to stick to a limit while drinking
  • Exhibiting withdrawal symptoms (nausea, shakiness, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, mood swings, etc.)
  • Trouble at work or home due to alcohol use
  • Past attempts to quit drinking have failed

5 Myths about Drug Addiction

MYTH #1: Overcoming addiction is a simply a matter of willpower. You can stop using drugs if you really want to.
MYTH #2: Addiction is a disease; there’s nothing you can do about it.
MYTH #3: Addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can get better.
MYTH #4: You can’t force someone into treatment; they have to want help.
MYTH #5: Treatment didn’t work before, so there’s no point trying again.
For more information, ‘Signs, Symptoms, and Help for Drug Problems and Substance Abuse’.


Identifying Addiction

As members of the legal profession, we spend time dealing with client problems, and can sometimes dismiss, or be unaware of our own. An individual may turn to a substance to escape the stresses of life or personal problems, and there may come a time when the dependence on the substance feels normal. Addiction does not discriminate against small, medium or large firm lawyers, government, in-house, or even the judiciary nor does it respect age or status.  Behavioural addictions can be more difficult to identify, here are some of the signs;
Identifying Possible Signs of Addiction in Colleagues

  • Routinely late, or early
  • Returns late from lunch (or fails to return at all)
  • Missing appointments and meetings
  • Frequent sick days, unexplained absences
Job Performance
  • Procrastination
  • Neglects prompt processing or return of calls 
  • Decline in productivity (not meeting billable targets or not performing at previous levels)
  • Overreacts to criticism, shifts blame
  • Client complaints
  • Missed deadlines
Personal Behaviour
  • Deterioration of personal hygiene or appearance
  • Loss of professional decorum
  • Dishonesty
  • Fails to make financial filings or payments on time

What has Assist been up to?

March 14 & 21: As a result of recent training sessions, Assist has 84 peer support volunteers available to offer peer support across Alberta.
March 19 & 26: Assist volunteers and Board members presented at the Practice Fundamentals Day for CPLED in Calgary & Edmonton, resulting in higher use of Assist’s services by articling students.
April 16: Assist's Annual General Meeting was held on April 16 at Davis LLP in Calgary wherein Assist reported serving 30% more individuals over the previous fiscal year.
April 29: Assist’s Executive Director presented a guest lecture on Compassion Fatigue to Student Legal Services at the University of Alberta.
May 29: Peer Support Training was held in Iqaluit, Nunavut where we now have eight peer support volunteers.


If you found this content helpful, please consider donating to Assist. 

Please Join Us for these Upcoming Events

August 14-16: Canadian Legal Conference, Calgary. Assist will chair a panel on Compassion Fatigue and speak on a panel for Balancing Life and Law.
September 17: The Assist Annual Walks for Wellness will be held in Edmonton on September 17, Calgary on September 24 and Lethbridge TBD.
October 20-22: Assist will attend the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
October 28-30: Assist will attend the Canadian Society of Association Executives National Conference and Showcase, Calgary.


Vote for Assist!

Assist has advanced to the voting stage of Field Law’s Community Fund Program. Please vote for Assist to proceed to the judging panel stage. The project is to take peer support training online.

Click here to register your vote by 5:00 pm on June 18, 2015.

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