Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

News & Events

Happy Birthday to Us!

 
 

Happy Birthday to Us!
 

Do you remember what you were doing in April of 1996?

I know what was happening at Assist back then--Assist  was incorporated pursuant to the Societies Act on April 19, 1996, thanks to a group of lawyers in the recovery community who believed that all Alberta lawyers should have access to free and professional psychological counselling.  This means that it is Assist’s 25th Birthday in a couple of weeks! (And a special thank you to Bob Philp QC who has served on our board of directors this entire time!)

Some law students, articling students and potentially even lawyers may not have been born by April of 1996. If you fall into this group, please bear with us for a bit of nostalgia.

I remember what I was doing, generally, in the spring of 1996, I had two young children (4 and 2—and the third one was more than a year away) and I drove a 1991 Nissan Pathfinder, one of my all-time favourite vehicles. I job-shared a Senior Corporate Counsel role at NOVA Corporation which was a wonderful opportunity—top quality legal work, three days a week with a hand-off to my partner who thought just like I did. In fact, in April of 1996, our job share was featured in Canadian Business Magazine in an article on non-traditional work arrangements, complete with photo so I can tell you that I am nostalgic for that haircut.

And at some point, I remember small ads in a Law Society publication highlighting professional counselling for lawyers, and I was intrigued. At that point, I didn’t know any lawyers who had used Assist, but for some reason, it registered in my memory. Perhaps, on a subconscious level, I was concerned that I would become one of the lawyers who needed help, but it may also be because I was shocked that a kind and caring community of lawyers banded together to provide support, which was certainly outside of what I had personally witnessed in my ten years in the legal profession.

Those of you who are younger may not know this, but we didn’t talk about lawyer mental health in the 1980s and 1990s. We acted as if lawyers only had two states of mental health: perfect, and “shouldn’t be practicing.” I worked at a national law firm until 1994 and while we had excellent benefits for the time, psychological counselling was not a component of our benefits plan. It was very much “if we don’t talk about it, it isn’t real.”

So introducing Assist’s first program was ground-breaking: free professional counselling services for all lawyers and their families. It was the first step in implementing Assist’s object, as stated in our application for incorporation as a society:

To provide meaningful assistance on a wholly confidential basis to members of The Law Society of Albert and their immediate families seeking help with personal problems.

Pretty radical—it recognized that lawyers might have personal problems! And it proposed that confidential help would be provided.

Our current psychological services provider, Forbes Psychological Services, has supported our program since 2008. Since that time, more than 21% of Alberta lawyers have accessed psychological counselling through Assist!

Assist became a registered charity in 2007. The CRA has a rigorous process for organizations seeking charitable status. We had to revise our objects to properly reflect a charitable mission. Providing counselling services in and of itself was not a charitable purpose—the CRA’s definition of charitable purpose is very narrow! Our objects were reformulated to include education, a well-recognized charitable purpose, which had the benefit of allowing us to focus on proactive initiatives.

We launched our best-practices peer support program in 2010, recognizing that not all issues require psychological counselling—talking to another lawyer who has been through the same or a similar issue can be very valuable.

And in 2018, we launched AssistCommunity, a suite of programs designed to gather lawyers around a common interest or experience since loneliness and isolation—precursors to mental ill health-- are common in our profession.

Not only does Assist offer more programs and resources, the message about well-being has spread, and been well-received, in the legal community. This week, Assist is delighted to collaborate with LESA and the CBA Alberta in the following initiatives:
 
  •  Monday, April 12th: we are sponsoring LESAs webinar on Mindfulness and Lawyer Well-Being: https://www.lesaonline.org/event/mindfulness-and-lawyer-well-being-webinar/.  It is $29—great value if you want to learn about mindfulness and how you can use it to reduce stress and improve your health.
  • Tuesday and Wednesday, April 13th and 14th : we are participating in CBA-Alberta’s first Well-Being Jam.

You may well be asking what a well-being jam is. Here’s how Assist and CBA Wellness volunteer Glen Hickerson describes it:

Think of it as two days when experts and those of us who are merely curious will be sharing ideas, resources and tips that we have come up with to manage the pressures of practicing law in 2021.  There will be opinion polls, articles, shared video and a whole lot else to check out.  You can log on as much or as little as you want to. We will even be doing yoga and a session on mindfulness at lunchtime. 
 
 It's all free with your CBA membership.   Just go to https://www.cba-alberta.org/Home to Log onto the CBA Alberta Website and select “LOGIN TO COMMUNITY” which is located just to the right of our logo. You will then use your CBA credentials to access the Community site for the first time. 


Both Glen and I will be logging on from time to time during the Well-Being Jam—I hope to see you there!

The lawyer well-being movement is gaining momentum internationally. This week, I attended an excellent international (online) conference coordinated by the Institute for Well-Being in Law featuring experts from the UK and North America with about 400 registrants. I will be sharing valuable information and resources from this conference over the coming weeks, but want to invite all of you to participate in an important survey about burnout and well-being in the legal profession conducted by the Institute for Well-Being in Law (formerly the National Taskforce on Lawyer Well-Being). The deadline for completion is April 16th, so that they can announce survey results, and their implications, during Well-Being In Law Week, May 3-May 7, 2021.

If you would like your voice to be heard, please complete the survey here: https://lawyerwellbeing.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Recruitment-Communication-to-Legal-Employers-w-Link.pdf.

What a difference 25 years makes!

I started thinking about Assist’s 25th birthday more than two years ago. I visualized teams of Assist volunteers serving cake at courthouses across the province, surrounded by silver balloons, so that lawyers could join us for cake and conversation. When we went into lockdown last March, I was glad that our significant birthday was a year away and wasn’t going to be impacted by the pandemic….

However, the best-laid plans of mice and men (and microscopic viruses) often go awry. We won’t be serving cake in person this April, but here are some ways that you can celebrate our 25th birthday with us:
  • Join us for our Annual General Meeting on Wednesday, April 28th at 5 pm. We will be conducting required business, sharing our 2020 Annual Report, and receiving the Buddy Up Trophy from the Centre for Suicide Prevention. We hope to be able to accommodate in-person attendance in Edmonton and Calgary at Field LLP’s subject to prevailing public health orders but if not, please put on your best cat filter and join us via Zoom.
  •  Participate in our $25,000 for 25 Years Silent Auction, June 4 - 14. There will be more information to come in the next couple of weeks but we will be seeking contributions as well as sponsors. And silent auctions need buyers, so please plan to visit our site in the lead up to opening or during the open period. Would you like to volunteer for this event? Please email Eileen at program-manager@lawyersassist.ca. Wondering what you might find at our Silent Auction? How about an electric guitar signed by James Taylor….
 
  •  Bring your own cake and afternoon beverage to Red Mug Coffee Circle on Monday, April 19th. We will toast Assist and perhaps sing Happy Birthday (but no birthday bumps!) We will chat about lawyer mental health generally as well as tech and podcasts that support lawyer mental health. If Monday doesn’t work for you, please come to Mindfulness or Yoga—no cake, but plenty of good feelings.
  • Consider becoming a peer support volunteer. We are planning training sessions for this summer.
  • Send us a birthday present (aka a donation) at Canada Helps
  • Plan to help us celebrate with cake and balloons at your local courthouse, either in the fall or at our 25 +1 Birthday next fall!

You may have detected a theme of fundraising in our birthday celebrations. We are grateful to the Law Society for providing sustainable base funding and the CBA-Alberta which makes a generous annual gift, but we raise money to support our proactive programs, and to bridge the gap between anticipated and actual usage of our professional counselling program.

Research suggests that as many as one in three COVID survivors experience neurological or psychological symptoms. Assist wants to ensure that we are ready for this potential tsunami of new cases.

And we have another important birthday on April 20th—Red Mug Coffee Circles turn one! Since we will be focusing on Assist’s 25th birthday on Monday, April 19th, we will celebrate RMCC’s anniversary on Monday, April 26th. Over the last year, we have worked with more than 30 lawyers and students. Articling students who joined us early on are now waiting for PREP results, so we will celebrate even more when we hear about upcoming bar calls.

If you are an RMCC alumni, please come out to say hello and tell us how you are doing! But newcomers and the curious are welcome to celebrate an amazing year for our online supportive community!

Confused about which birthday is when?

                Assist Birthday Party: Monday, April 19th at noon (RMCC)
                RMCC Birthday Party: Monday, April 26th at noon
                                                            ******

Please join us in our birthday celebrations in whatever way works best for you. And remember: Next Year, With Cake
 
Loraine