Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : September 2009


Newly installed MSBA President Thomas C. Cardaro kicked off his “Year of the Member” campaign by adding a Wellness initiative to the Bar Association’s Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP). 

“Physical and mental health is something we cannot lose sight of now,” says Cardaro, claiming that the stressful economic climate has damaged every facet of Maryland attorneys’ lives.  “We ought to be doing something about wellness for our members.”


The Lawyer Assistance Program's new clinician, Lisa Caplan

In response to the presidential-initiative, LAP Director James Quinn hired Lisa Caplan, a Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinician (LCSW-C) and Certified Addictions Counselor (CAC), to help lead the wellness program and broaden LAP’s counseling efforts with substance abuse and mental health issues.

“We are now taking it a step further into lifestyle changes,” Caplan says of the new, holistic LAP.

Wellness though can be a fairly abstract concept.  People in the full-time workforce generally know it deals with one’s overall health, but specifics are lost in this umbrella moniker.

“Just the term ‘wellness’ can be mysterious,” Dr. James D. Levy wrote in an article for the Baltimore Business Journal in January 2008.  “It’s one of those words whose meaning erodes through overuse.”

Dr. Levy, Chief, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, further listed some precise services that comprise this new-age program: individual employee health risk assessment, group health screenings, behavioral modifications (i.e. quitting smoking), and promotion of nutrition and exercise.

LAP will emphasize these services during its wellness promotion at MSBA’s Solo & Small Firm Practitioner Conference on November 13 and 14.  Several wellness-booths will host blood pressure screenings, a masseuse, nutritionist, chiropractor, skin care analyst and acupuncturist.  The event will be LAP’s first wellness-outreach to MSBA members, but Caplan sees these legal conventions as the optimal way to present the information to members.

“It’s hard to get lawyers to come to events,” says Caplan, “so we’re going to incorporate it in conferences that already bring them out for their law practice.”

Proper wellness habits are vital to attorneys’ practice.  Simply put: if you’re sick, you can’t be at work helping your clients.  And according to a report released by the Surgeon General on Physical Activity and Health, “millions of Americans suffer from illnesses that can be prevented or improved through regular physical activity.”

The report enumerates how many Americans suffer from health issues incurred due to a lack of activity, including 13.5 million with coronary heart disease; 8 million with adult on-set diabetes; 250,000 yearly hip fractures; 50 million with high blood pressure; and a third of the population being overweight.

LAP’s initiative will provide opportunities for members to avoid these diseases or catch them early.

“Attorneys work in a very stressful world,” says Caplan with a Runner’s World magazine and a Hidden Sources of Law School Stress booklet on a nearby table in her office.  “A lot of the Type-A personalities in that world try to take care of everyone else before they take care of themselves.”

mental health is something we can not lose sight of right now. We ought to be doing something about wellness for our members."

MSBA President

People don’t start making changes, Caplan continued, until after something like a heart attack takes place.

For the employees in Saul Ewing’s Baltimore office, a staff-wide health change began a few years ago when the law firm started its own yearly Wellness Fair at work.  Issues like glaucoma, cholesterol, nutrition, exercise and posture were addressed by professionals.  But the messages were heightened after a co-worker suddenly died of a heart attack in January 2008.

The incident furthered the importance of wellness for the firm’s 20+ year Office Manager, Ruth Fry, who helped organize the Fair and the “Wellness Room”.

The eight-foot-by-ten-foot room was designed into Saul Ewing’s new office space in 2005.  The dimly lit room has a recliner, blanket, refrigerator and sink.  Nursing mothers, over-stressed or ill employees can access the room.

“The healthier your employees are,” says Fry, “the more work gets done.”

Dr. Levy echoed that wellness-presumption in his article.  “The objective was keeping employees healthy rather than spending money on treatment when they become ill,” he wrote.

Through recent Maryland legislation, participation in wellness programs allows small businesses with two to nine employees to take advantage of the Working Families and Small Business Health Coverage Act.  These businesses can cut their health insurance premiums in half.

LAP’s service isn’t aimed at a fiscal bottom line; it’s concentrated on aiding MSBA members.  LAP was America’s first Bar Association-sponsored outlet for defeating substance abuse, then it moved into mental health and now it encompasses living an overall healthy lifestyle.

“They’re all connected,” says Caplan. “They play off each other.”

LAP hopes to further their advancement by diversifying their clientele, which stands at 80% male, 20% female.  Caplan, mother of two, is eager to be the welcoming face for female attorneys in need of assistance.

“She’s professional and always available,” says Denise Perme, who worked in the Employment Assistance field with Caplan and is now Director of the District of Columbia Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program.  “She’s a real together-person.”

That balance Caplan displays is precisely what she believes female attorneys struggle with.  When work and family responsibilities mount, not enough female or male attorneys turn to LAP for help.  Substance abuse and mental and physical health issues stem from this attempt at balance.

“There’s a lot of stress around working and kids,” says Caplan.  “We can help with those kinds of things.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: September 2009

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