Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

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Moving While Being Busy Making Other Plans

Moving While Being Busy Making Other Plans

I love the quotation “life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans”—it sums up how my life develops in different directions from what I think is going to happen. I have had to learn to embrace the change and give up my hopes to control all aspects all of my surroundings and circumstances. This is especially true right now, as Assist is busy heading into our AGM and financial review in April, on top of our regular programming, and, as you saw in our Upcoming Events, we are moving offices!
A move is usually exciting—you are going somewhere new, and it is fun to think about how you will arrange your office and explore the new neighbourhood. But to get to the fun and exciting part, there is a lot of work to do, and sometimes you are sorry to leave your previous home.
At Assist, right now, we are running the gamut of emotions, and we will likely have to factor exhaustion into the equation soon, too, since we all know that moving is always harder than you think it will be, even when you don’t have much to move. Assist doesn’t own very much property—our computers and printers, one large filing cabinet and a lot of convenience copies of (non-confidential) documents I want to keep, like my collection of articles that could be relevant to future blogs.
We will be moving on Tuesday, April 2nd. There will be no disruption to our professional counselling office or services—just call 1-877-498-6898. The 24/7 crisis counselling service continues uninterrupted. This is because our provider, Forbes Psychological Services, is based in Edmonton and they are not moving.
It is the Assist office in Calgary where Eileen, Bao-Hoa and I work, that is moving. Our work phones will be routed to our cellphones so we hope that calls will continue to flow unimpeded. Our emails should continue to work so please email us if you can’t reach us by phone for any reason:

Loraine Champion 587-779-7205
Eileen Lesko 587-779-7200
Bao-Hoa Hong 587-779-7203

Our emotions are mixed because this means saying goodbye to our friends at JSS Barristers who have generously provided us with complimentary office space for the last nine years, a truly awesome contribution to lawyer well-being.
Why are we moving? Because our wonderful host, JSS, needs the offices back that we currently occupy. You know that saying that houseguests, like fish, start to smell after a few days. We have been a guest (in a confidential back corner of their offices) for nine years. Perhaps they collectively have a poor sense of smell because they have always been kind and welcoming to us.
Before Assist came to reside with JSS, Assist moved every year or so. We all know how stressful and disruptive moving is—so JSS’s stepping up with what turned into a long-term home was an incredible gift. They included us in their birthday celebrations and educational events, but we worked in our little cocoon at the back. I have met so many talented lawyers and staff from JSS and I will always be personally grateful to them for their gift to Assist.
Where are we moving? We are moving to a tiny unserviced office suite in a building called 520-5th Avenue in Calgary. It is located at 525-5th Avenue SW, of course. We were able to secure an excellent rate for our offices and we hope that we will have many happy years there as well.
Can Assist afford this? When we look at where Assist was nine years ago, when we last looked for an office home, both the real estate market and Assist were very different. Office space was quite expensive—and the vacancy rate in downtown Calgary was 6.1% as opposed to the current 30% vacancy rate. And Assist provided professional counselling services to 545 individuals in 2014, compared to 938 in 2023. We had only three lines of programming (professional counselling, peer support and education and awareness—community programming was developed in 2018.) Our peer support program has more than doubled over that same period, with 21 peer support matches in 2014 increasing to 65 matches in 2023, and we now offer three regular weekly (and free) programs. It appears that we may have emerged from our adolescence into a mature organization.
We began to realize that we may not be the smallest legal community not for profit organization in the sector, and that perhaps another organization should be the recipient of the largesse of our community. Don’t get me wrong—funding is still a serious issue, and we will be engaging fully with our fundraising activities—but as we began to gather pricing information about small office space, we began to see that we could afford to have our own space if we keep our belt tightened in other areas.
Over the years, lawyers have asked how we could operate Assist from within the confines of one law firm. Let me explain: Assist’s professional counselling program is contracted through Forbes Psychological Services Inc., an Edmonton provider, and this will not change. When a lawyer or student calls the Assist professional counselling service, the phone is answered on the other side of a confidentiality wall, wholly within the realm of our Registered Psychologists. Everyone who calls in is assigned a unique four-digit code number, and this is all that I see as Executive Director of Assist. I do not see the names of anyone using our counselling service and I do not have access to personal information regarding the individuals whose identities are hidden behind the four-digit codes I see for billing purposes. We were able to operate from within the premises of a kindly law firm because our office didn’t have access to the most personal confidential information.
We maintain minimal information about peer support calls, and we have always been careful to keep our doors closed while on confidential calls.
Let’s face it, as lawyers we deal with confidential information, and we know how to protect it. Many years ago, I worked in-house at an international public corporation housed in Alberta. The corporation had entered into extremely confidential negotiations involving a merger and spin off transaction with another large public corporation. The existence of these negotiations was a closely guarded secret and the number of people in the corporation who were aware of the deal was small. I remember it well because it landed on my first day back from maternity leave, when I was thinking I would ease my way back in but was called into the deal team.
We had to be extremely careful that employees within the company—who generally had access to all of our floors—did not inadvertently overhear or see information which might have confirmed rumours that were beginning to circulate. Employees have a sixth sense about a change that may be happening that could affect their job security. Many meetings started late as people speculated about what might be going on. It is challenging when you are in on the secret but can’t let anyone know that you are even in on the secret!
As we progressed from finalizing the term sheet and through due diligence (all being done offsite), I began to notice that employees from other groups and divisions started to drop by the legal department floor instead of phoning us, and that these employees seemed to be looking around for clues when visiting us--everyone wanted to know what was going on, and we actively kept them from finding out! I was relieved when the deal became public (after, apparently, having been leaked to the press by an executive’s spouse, but not by the legal or business teams.)
I bring this commitment to confidentiality to Assist’s operations—so operating a confidential service within the walls of a firm has been treated the way I handled my confidential knowledge of an impending material transaction.
Confidentiality of lawyer support programs was highlighted as a barrier to use by lawyers in the National Study on the Psychological Health Determinants for Canadian Legal Professionals. The Study showed that fears that “Law Society assistance programs” were not fully confidential was a barrier for lawyers to access programs. Study Researchers recommended that lawyer assistance programs continue to explain that their services are highly confidential so that more of us will be comfortable using our services.
Given the confluence of JSS needing our offices back, the realization that we could afford our own small office, and the need to highlight that our services are confidential, obtaining our own offices is just the right thing to do.
We want all Alberta lawyers, articling students, law students, PREP students, and their dependent families to know that our new space will be very secure and that we will continue to take our confidentiality assurances seriously. As I mentioned above, the National Study highlighted that concerns that personal information might be shared with legal regulators was a reason lawyers were reluctant to use “Law Society” assistance programs, so let’s test how the concept and the term “Law Society assistance” programs apply to Assist in Alberta.
Did you know that the lawyer assistance programs in most provinces are contracted through the Law Society? The only Canadian jurisdictions with independent assistance programs are Alberta, Nunavut (because we provide our program to Nunavut), and BC, which has a hybrid program. When Assist was founded in the 1990s, legal regulators had not yet focused attention on lawyer mental health and addiction. Assist arose out of a lawyers helping lawyers group in the alcohol addiction recovery community and had to source its own funding. Our Registered Psychologists are subject to a code of conduct with confidentiality obligations similar to our confidentiality obligations from our Code of Conduct—Assist and our providers do not divulge personal information except in the very limited circumstances of imminent harm. Period.
Times have changed, and we now received funding from the Law Society through its third-party funding program, but the Law Society does not determine our programming and the only information that we share with the Law Society other than the aggregated data we share on our website is our budget and financial projections.
We are, and always have been, free, independent and confidential.
If you have questions concerning our upcoming move, please call or email me.
And if you are struggling with a home or office move, or another life change, please remember that you can access professional counselling through Assist. We all have a lot on our plates, and it doesn’t take much more for us to feel overwhelmed. Right now, as an example, not only am I moving offices and preparing for our AGM later in April, but I am also supporting an elderly relative’s move into assisted living (fingers crossed that it works) and I learned yesterday that my beloved 14-year-old car may need repairs that cost more than the car is worth, so I have to consider vehicle options, too. You are not alone if you feel like one more thing is going to push you over the edge. I will reach out to the Assist counsellors if I move from being “crazy busy” to “out of control,” two conditions that most lawyers and students in our community know well.
But I, along with the Assist team, will be applying our stress management strategies to our upcoming move, and we will be acknowledging our sadness from leaving the JSS family. We know that denying or suppressing emotions is not a successful strategy—we may think we are effectively burying them, but they will work their way to the surface in ways you do not anticipate! We are excited about our new office and the opportunity to meet lawyers in our new neighbourhood and in whatever part of the province you are reading this blog from. Rest assured that we remain committed to providing excellent confidential service to all Alberta lawyers, students (articling, PREP, and law school) and their families.
Our new offices are minimally furnished. This should work for us since we try to run a minimalistic operation. But if anyone has décor items—or surplus furniture-- that they would like to donate to us, please let us know!
And please bear with us if you encounter any technical issues reaching on the morning of April 2nd! If you aren’t sure what kind of assistance you want that day, please call the counselling office at 1-877-498-6898 or call me on my cell phone at 403-650-0725.