TYLA PRESIDENT-ELECT’S PAGE
Editor’s Note: TYLA President Sally Pretorius' column will return next month.
“If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” —African proverb
becoming an attorney, I served as a U.S. Marine in the Iraq War,
patrolling the ghostly streets of Haditha, Iraq. It was on the combat
field, laced with constant conflict and stress, where I first
experienced the purity of togetherness. It’s an experience best
summarized by Steven Pressfield: “A warrior carries a helmet and
breastplate for his own protection, but his shield is for the safety of
the whole line.”
Why is this affinity for togetherness so attractive, even in a non-military setting? It’s natural. From the most primitive tribal communities to our more recent professional work groups, we realize that there are just some things that we can do together that we could never do alone. We aren’t designed to be alone.
Yet, in our professional tribes, many attorneys often feel extremely stressed, alone, and depressed. It comes with the territory, right? Our profession is designed to be adversarial. As legal gladiators, we attack opposing counsel’s pleadings at every uncrossed “T.” We even argue with judges about why prior precedent is incorrect. Each day, attorneys carry their swords of justice into the courtroom and battle with judges and opposing counsel. But which of us is also carrying our shield?
Some studies cite that 25 to 30 percent of lawyers practicing 10 years or less suffer from alcohol or substance abuse or mental health issues, such as depression. Read that again. Currently, 1 in 3 attorneys are in a fight for their lives and feel like no one is carrying their shield.
Last year, our hearts broke as we read multiple headlines about Texas lawyers taking their own lives. Many left wives, husbands, young children, and parents behind to mourn their tragic loss.
One of the principles that I learned in the Marine Corps, and that I still adhere to now, is this: Under no circumstances do we leave anyone behind. Enough is enough. We cannot leave our brothers and sisters in the legal profession to suffer alone like this any longer.
This next bar year, the Texas Young Lawyers Association is making attorney wellness its primary initiative. We are going to establish a permanent TYLA attorney wellness committee tasked with creating and maintaining various wellness projects. This will not be a trend. TYLA is going to join the State Bar of Texas and President-elect Randy Sorrels; the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, or TLAP; and other initiatives created by the American Bar Association to ensure that our work collectively leads to a permanent change in our legal culture.
New TYLA attorney wellness areas of focus will include law student wellness, wellness resources for the bench, discussion panels that create an atmosphere where attorneys are empowered by sharing critical information about mental health to help reduce the stigma that often prevents them from seeking help (Breaking the Silence, Breaking the Stigma), an attorney wellness cost calculator, attorney wellness from the legal malpractice carrier’s perspective, suicide prevention and coaching for friends and family (Are You OK?), and ideas for work-life balance (The Lifestyle Law Firm).
If you’re reading this and don’t struggle with any of these issues, then statistics suggest that the associate or partner located to either side of your office needs your immediate help.
Our TYLA Board of Directors is eager to start this new attorney wellness initiative. We’ve planned to allocate a significant amount of time and resources toward executing this plan. Still, this attorney wellness epidemic will require that all attorneys lock shields together and support those that need our help the most.
TYLA will be searching for additional volunteers to help find venues to present these projects and others to share about their personal struggles with attorney wellness. Using a combination of live panel presentations across the state and a series of web-based videos, we hope to support and educate others about these very important issues.
If you are interested in joining us on the TYLA attorney wellness project, please don’t hesitate to send me a message at email@example.com.
If you’re struggling with burnout, depression, anxiety, alcohol or substance abuse, or other mental health issues, you are not alone. Although I’m not a professional counselor or physician, I’ll be available to listen, and together, we can find the help you need during this difficult time. Feel free to call or text me at (956) 802-5620. Also, TLAP Director Chris Ritter can be contacted with more substantive information at (512) 427-1453. Finally, if you feel like there’s absolutely no hope and need immediate help, then I encourage you to call (800) 273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This lifeline is staffed with trained professionals and provides free and confidential support 24/7.
As you continue to fight for your clients, justice, and the preservation of the rule of law, TYLA and the State Bar of Texas will raise our shields together and do our best to ensure that no attorney, young or old, feels like they are alone.
Let’s be better, together.
VICTOR A. FLORES
Texas Young Lawyers Association