Arkansas Judges & Lawyers Assistance Program: Serving assistance to all legal professionals
October 21-27, 2019
By Cait Smith
Mental health in the legal profession has been a growing concern since the early 1990s. Legal professionals are expected to tackle complex cases, work long hours, display emotional intelligence with clients as well as colleagues, all the while maintaining a social life outside of work. Due to these pressures, ongoing studies show that lawyers and attorneys suffer from problems with alcohol and/or substance abuse, depression or anxiety. In response, the Supreme Court of the United States told every court in each state to develop a task force for well-being.
As a result, the Arkansas Supreme Court created the Arkansas Judges & Lawyers Assistance Program (JLAP), a nonprofit organization that provides behavioral health and substance abuse services to Arkansas’ judges, lawyers, their family members and law students. According to JLAP, it is estimated that 40 percent of Arkansas’ attorneys and judges suffer from addiction or mental illness. However, JLAP is actively working to combat these issues by providing clients with the necessary resources and coping skills to live a happy and healthy lifestyle.
While JLAP services focus on treatment for addiction and mental illness, they also treat those suffering from grief and loss or stress. “Law students are certainly dealing with a ton of stress, from finals to public speaking. Sometimes it can be too much,” said Jennifer Donaldson, Executive Director, LCSW of JLAP. In some cases, these issues can affect spouses and family members. “Whether it be a wife, husband, cousin or daughter they feel that pressure as well,” said Donaldson.
The great thing about JLAP is their ability to treat legal professionals and family members cost free. “Cost is a huge barrier when it comes to treatment. Our main goal is to eliminate these factors so professionals can receive necessary care,” explained Laura Laser, Assistant Director, LCSW of JLAP. For those in need of long-term treatment, the staff will work with a client’s insurance company to find providers that will be low cost. JLAP only treats clients 18 and up, however, they will refer to a child therapist for children needing therapy.
Since there is a lower level of awareness for well-being in the profession, Donaldson stated that it’s important to “educate the legal community about not just getting treatment but also how to engage in preventative measures.” Symptoms such as irritability, trouble sleeping, tiredness, sadness, having trouble concentrating and feeling hopeless/worthless are all issues that can affect your mental health. In turn, JLAP is using social media to their advantage to help spread awareness. “Aside from our website, we use Facebook and Instagram to let the community of Arkansas know that we’re here and have the resources if they need them,” said Donaldson.
More importantly, JLAP is here to show professionals that your daily lifestyle can impact your mental health. “We don’t look at that negatively because if circumstances come up, you need help. JLAP is here to provide you with that help,” said Laser.
JLAP also has the Arkansas JLAP Foundation which benefits clients in places such as Fayetteville, Jonesboro and Texarkana. “We raise money through donations and fundraising so that the JLAP foundation is able to give grants for services and treatments,” said Laser. One of their biggest fundraisers is the Annual Advocates Dinner - a dinner that honors the communities whom support JLAP. “The Advocates dinner is a great thing because it’s a way for us to say thank you for the constant support and involvement,” explained Donaldson. The 2019 Annual Advocates Dinner will be held on Oct. 25 at the Embassy Suites in Little Rock, Arkansas at 6 p.m. This year honorees include Michael S. Moore, the 2019 Justice Brown Community Support Award and Friday, Eldredge & Clark, 2019 Distinguished Service Award. Another form of fundraising they wish to grow are their recurring givers. “We want people to go to our website and sign up to be a donor. They can do a one-time or monthly donation,” Laser explained. After donating, supporters become JLAP advocates and are promoted on the website. Looking beyond the funds, JLAP’s main goal is to expand their services to make the delivery and continuity of care much more effective for clients.
Donaldson and Laser both agreed on one thing, “We want to move from the realm of treatment services to community education – battling the stigma of mental health, recognize those underlying symptoms and how to be a healthy person overall.”
Arkansas Judges & Lawyers Assistance Program is located at 18 Corporate Hill Dr. 201, Little Rock, AR 72205. Normal hours are Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You can reach them via phone (501) 907-2529 or by emailing Jennifer Donaldson at email@example.com, or Laura Laser at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram at Arkansas JLAP or Arkansas JLAP Foundation.
The staff of JLAP includes Jennifer Donaldson, Laura Laser, Amanda Canant and Therese Skinner. “We’re a small staff but we’re very compassionate and we all have a heart to help,” said Donaldson. (Photo provided)