News Releases
May 03, 2024

LCL on the (Well-Being) Movement


By Kevin Maynard, Esq., LCL President and Stacey A. L. Best, Esq., Executive Director

Stacey: So, Kevin, how did you first become involved with LCL?

Kevin: I am an attorney in long-term recovery, which in my case means I haven’t had a drink, or a need to drink, for quite a few years. LCL didn’t help me get sober –I became involved with LCL only after a bit of time in recovery—but it has definitely helped me stay sober.  I have found fellowship and support in a certain program I practice, but no one fully understands what life as a lawyer is like better than another lawyer. And certainly no one understands what it is like to be a practicing attorney with the issues I was dealing with better than other attorneys dealing with the same or similar issues.

Before I found sobriety, a nurse practitioner in my doctor’s office became one of the few people other than my wife with whom I shared my alcoholism and a desire to stop drinking. She gave me the name and phone number of a local attorney who had retired to Florida but whom she knew to be a guy who had helped other lawyers with the same problems I (and he!) had. When I gathered the courage to call Tom, he told me there was a group of lawyers who gathered once a month in the back room of a local restaurant in a sort of support group. I knew lawyers often lunched with lawyers, but this seemed to be a well-kept secret.

Those who share my disease or anything similar will not be surprised to learn that having been tossed a life preserver, I pushed it aside. There was no way I was going to “out” myself to another lawyer, never mind a bunch of peers and colleagues who would at once recognize the fraud I was feeling I had become. It took me many months and another path to finally get sober. But Tom’s revelation stuck with me, and one third Tuesday of a certain month I made my way to that local restaurant and, over the course of a nice lunch and listening to others share and (gasp!) sharing myself, I learned that my delusion that no one thought the things I thought or felt the things I felt or had to deal with the things I dealt with was just that—a delusion.  As I had first learned in the rooms of non-lawyer fellow-sufferers, I discovered again that sharing myself with others who are trusting enough to share themselves and listen to you was a tremendous comfort and support. It has remained so ever since. The restaurant has changed, and some of the attendees roll in and some roll out, but that comfort and support is constant.

Kevin: And you, Stacey? How did you first become involved with LCL?

Stacey: As an assistant bar counsel between 2003 and 2020, I was aware of LCL through presentations they did for our office and pamphlets they supplied. LCL actively asked us to refer lawyers to them saying they could help. Later, occasionally, I would do presentations with LCL staff educating lawyers on the connection between the lawyers’ ethical obligations and lawyers’ mental health. I was vaguely aware that LCL worked in the areas of mental health, addiction recovery, and law office management. For some reason that is hard to articulate, I was somewhat wary of LCL.

However, whenever I had a case, if a respondent seemed to struggle with addiction or a mental health challenge, I would recommend that the lawyer consult with LCL. Usually, whenever the lawyers returned, the lawyers, who had also disclosed that they had gone to LCL for services, were well prepared to appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct and express remorse. Still, on one occasion that I recall, I was prosecuting a lawyer, and I was sure from his conduct and appearance that the lawyer had a problem with some sort of substance. As part of the disciplinary process, I required him to consult with LCL. I was shocked, and the prosecutor in me was annoyed, when the staff member at LCL did not agree with me. Nonetheless, I recognized that LCL and its staff were independent professionals, who were going to exercise the best professional judgment, which I appreciate.

Stacey: While our introductions to LCL were different, I note that each of us had a bit of wariness, at first. How did you overcome your wariness? And do you think there is anything LCL can do to help lawyers get over that?

Kevin: Some of the wariness was the result of my own internal denial —seeking any kind of help meant that I needed it. Part of it was my delusional sense that nobody thought like me or was dealing with anything like what I was dealing with (i.e., “near-terminal uniqueness”). And a good part was shame and fear of letting other lawyers know I wasn’t perfect and perfectly strong. I think some ways to limit the wariness going forward is to better publicize the resources available through LCL, to emphasize the confidentiality around the use of those resources, and to work to make sure law students, lawyers, and judges understand that whatever you are dealing with or going through, you are not alone!

Kevin: How about you, Stacey, what are your thoughts about what LCL can do to help lawyers get past their wariness?

Stacey: One of the things I hear you saying and that I had to confront in taking the job of Executive Director is stigma. I was coming from an area of practice that doesn’t always hold lawyer assistance programs in high esteem, and sees them as permissive, so taking on the role of Executive Director posed some risks to my “reputation.” Stigma, though, as you observed is internal and external. Stigma and unwanted identity live at the intersection of bias (subjective) and conduct (objective). Each of us must deal with our self-talk and must come to the point where the opportunity in front of us is more important than the discouraging or shaming messages that are holding us back.

As I think about the external part of stigma and how we can address it, I find myself tapping into how I learned to deal with the challenges of being a Black woman in a world of bias and discrimination. I recall years ago, I asked a Black woman who had become a judge; she had been appointed and subsequently elected, how she dealt with the bias of juries, as she was a former prosecutor. Her response was that she made her cases unassailable so they could not deny her request for a verdict. It took a while because I was stuck in the offense of bias and prejudice, but eventually, I learned that biases were associated with narratives connected to conduct. Focusing on the conduct allowed me to reject the shaming narrative and achieve more of the results I wanted by following the judge’s advice and producing an excellent product.

Looking at being associated with LCL and addiction, I recognize that the bias that creates stigma misaligns recovery and mental health with being ineffective. So, while it is undeniable that when a person is in the throes of an addiction or a mental health struggle, they engage in ineffective behavior; the addiction or mental health struggle does not define them as ineffective. Similarly, while LAPs often have the reputation for being ineffective and indulgent where bar discipline authorities were concerned, I understood that LCL Massachusetts, which I considered one of the best in the country, would be defined by its conduct. I realized that LCL was poised for even greater impact.

I am leaning into a vision of LCL with undeniable impact. I am focused on improving our processes to enable us to respond consistently to the challenges of our clients, connecting empathy and compassion to our processes, and improving education, which in addition to the education itself, has the added benefit of elevating LCL’s stature in the legal community. If I’m successful, more lawyers will want to be associated with LCL, take advantage of our great suite of services, including recovery support, and LCL will be a significant voice in the well-being movement.

Stacey: What led you to a leadership role with LCL?

Kevin: As I attended more LCL support group meetings and got to know better through one of those, an attorney friend who had become an LCL staff member, I began to learn much more about the scope of LCL services and resources. I heard fellow attorneys talk about their own problems, which were not limited to alcoholism or other substance abuse, but included other addictions, mental health issues, the effects of trauma and more. When I was invited to serve on the LCL board of directors, I gratefully accepted the opportunity both to learn more about the help available to lawyers who needed it and to shoulder a responsibility to help ensure that the necessary help and support, some of which had so freely and confidentially been given to me, continued to be available.

I discovered that I had joined the Board at an exciting time to be involved, as the increasing recognition within our own profession of the need to both broaden the definition of and attend to the well-being of lawyers had led to productive initiatives of the SJC, bar association, law schools and LCL itself to raise awareness and address a broader range of issues. I became an officer of the LCL Board just as we hired and welcomed you, Stacey, as our Executive Director. I am grateful to have been recently elected by the Board to serve as its President just as Stacey and the Board collectively have become more aware of the full panoply of issues that can be put into the “well-being” bucket, and more deliberate about discussing which of these issues LCL can and should be involved with, and how it can best help lawyers cope and thrive.

Kevin: Given your wariness, what led you to pursue the role of Executive Director?

Stacey: I think the answer goes back to my childhood, but since we have a limited time, I will focus on the events leading to a shift in how I thought about improving the profession, and society as a byproduct. At the Office of Bar Counsel, I began to see issues society struggled with in the cases I was litigating. For instance, I had an immigration case where the lawyer was defrauding his clients, as neither he nor his associate was doing the work the firm had been hired to do. His clients were vulnerable because of language and their immigration status in this country. And in another case that received significant media attention, defendants were convicted of crimes without due process. In other words, lawyers who behaved badly were having a negative impact on society.

I realized that what I really wanted to be doing was helping to change the culture of the practice of law, and thereby, helping the community. While I enjoyed the litigation, I recognized that the tools of an assistant bar counsel were too limited to make significant headway in my mission. First, I turned to the E, “equity,” in DEI. I became the inaugural DEI director for the BBO. In that role, I began working on how to improve equity within the profession leveraging the BBO’s mission and position as a leader in the legal community. The timing, which was shortly after the murder of George Floyd, coincided with the burgeoning of the well-being movement. That bit of separation from my identity as a litigator, as I was also exploring well-being as a strategy for improving the profession, prepared me to take the next step in my career and put me on the path to becoming the Executive Director of LCL.

Still, when I first got a call telling me that the position of Executive Director at LCL was opened, I wasn’t ready; by then, I was aware that recovery was a significant part of LCL’s identity and while I supported recovery programs, I believed that the key to a thriving legal profession was broader than recovery. I called a friend who was the chief bar counsel of another jurisdiction and asked his opinion, and he advised against the switch. I got a second call, and in that call, I learned that LCL was at a turning point; the Board was looking for a leader with a vision that embraced well-being. When I saw that LCL’s mission was “to promote the well-being and resilience in the legal community, improve lives, nurture competence, and elevate the standing of the legal profession,” I thought, “now, that’s a mission I want to be part of!”

Stacey: Earlier, you said, “no one understands what it is like to be a practicing attorney… better than other attorneys dealing with the same or similar issues.”

I’ve heard others say something similar, is that what makes a lawyer assistance program unique? And what are some things you would like to see LCL doing that would leverage its unique position?

Kevin: Yes, that is what makes LCL and other lawyer assistance programs unique. I think LCL needs to expand its outreach efforts by use of a sort of “speakers’ bureau” by which those who have benefited from use of LCL resources talk about, in the vernacular of some 12-step programs, “what it was like, what happened and what it is like now.” And we need to tell our stories not just to those who already recognize they need some help with some (or all) aspects of their professional or personal lives, but to those who haven’t acknowledged it yet!

Kevin: One of the things we asked you in your interview was to share your vision for LCL, can you say something about your vision, and how it has shifted since you arrived?

Stacey: As I observed LCL both from my personal experience and in trying to learn more about it, I noticed that it seemed to be two worlds; one dedicated to mental health and one dedicated to law office management. I also noted that recovery was not the most frequently reported presenting cause for seeking help from LCL. Because there is a lot of space between mental health services and law office management, I thought a lot of lawyers who LCL could help were falling through the cracks, and maybe some lawyers who needed help weren’t getting it because of how LCL was structured. The separation may have inadvertently perpetuated the bias against being associated with a recovery program.

I had been exposed to the world of well-being through coaching podcasts and books, where integration of the whole person is a major part of the work. The first part of my vision was to see LCL knitted together across the spectrum of services it provides educating and sensitizing staff to recognize that issues lawyers faced were mental-emotional and related to the practice of law; lawyers are people, so we’re going to face all the problems people in the community face.

As I got into this work, we became involved in a study of a survey being conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. One of the major findings of the survey was that the biggest reason that lawyers gave for not seeking help was stigma. While stigma had been on my radar in terms of the service reinforced might first access, the survey caused me to think about ways in which LCL could get involved in fighting external signals that reinforced self-imposed shame. As part of that, we recognized that many lawyers didn’t know that LOMAP was part of LCL, and the impression that they were separate had the potential of signaling it was okay to get help for law office management but not mental health or addiction recovery, so we removed the visible distinctions between LOMAP and the rest of the organization. This move is also intended to encourage staff to be more aware of and comfortable with recognizing and addressing any issue a lawyer may be facing.

In terms of what’s next on my vision board, we’re iterating and looking for ways to identify success, which is a challenge because when education and resources are your business, how do you know you’re succeeding? We’re revising our forms and producing more of our own educational content, and we’ll be looking to see what resonates, how our demographics shift, and whether there are shifts in our presenting numbers. We’re hoping to find meaningful ways to track our progress.

As we’ve been developing and sharpening our content, one thing I’ve noticed is that lawyers have a lot of narratives about what it means to be a lawyer. Some of those narratives have misguided ties to a lawyer’s ethical obligations. As a result, lawyers can be unkind, unforgiving to themselves, and place unrealistic demands on themselves and others. There is the false notion that a failure to be perfect will result in the loss of a lawyer’s license; the Rules of Professional Conduct are a sword. Having spent nearly 20 years in attorney discipline, from my perspective, the RPCs can also be a shield or a source of comfort offering compassion; I’m working to embed this knowledge in our educational content. My thought is that by tying the call for more compassion to ethics, the culture of the profession will again elevate the concepts of nobility and integrity.

Stacey: Final thoughts on your hopes for LCL?

Kevin: I am pleased that the recovery community — my recovery community — within the profession, which was the initial and primary focus of LCL when it started in 1978, has largely embraced the notion that recovery is one (very important) aspect of well-being, but others also exist. We need to be lawyers concerned for all Massachusetts lawyers who need the help we are suited to provide, and to be able to address needs as they arise and exist. I enjoy being able to give and get help on an individual basis through my attendance at LCL support group meetings and LCL events, and to work with the Board, the Executive Director, and her magnificent staff at a higher and broader level. At both levels, it’s a great time to be involved with LCL!