Law and History

MAY IS NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH MONTH

MAY IS NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH MONTH

Early during my first year of law school, I remember listening to a speaker who shared with my classmates and me the “harder”, not so glamorous sides of the legal profession.  The speaker was a practicing attorney, who had owned a tavern in Milwaukee prior to attending law school.  He explained that lawyers and judges suffered increased levels of stress, depression, anxiety, suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, and divorce[1] when compared to the population at large. In several of those categories, the rates were two to three times that of the non-lawyer population in the United States.  The speaker encouraged us to be mindful of our mental health and to seek assistance before things got out of control.

As first year law students, we were hopeful and optimistic that we would be exempt from those ills and the corresponding statistics.  We were convinced that the attorneys and judges in New York and California were skewing the numbers and that being in the Midwest things would be different.  Since that time, I have learned that none of us, including me, are exempt from the hardships of the profession.

It is my belief that if caught early enough, the symptoms of these ills and the ills themselves could be decreased substantially or eliminated altogether.

First, we as a profession need to acknowledge that such ills do and will continue to impact the individuals that make the law their calling.  I do not begin to pretend to know why our profession experiences increased levels of the aforementioned ills, but we do know that legal professionals have endless deadlines to meet, pressures to bill and increase business, offices to run, successes and failures to contend with at every turn, pressures from family and friends to spend more time with them, and feelings of guilt for not being able to “do it all”.

Next, we need to remember that as humans we are not only susceptible to the common cold, but also mental illness.  Abraham Lincoln and Fighting Bob La Follette[2] are two of the most famous attorneys to ever practice law in the United States (certainly the Midwest).  Both of them were excellent attorneys, leaders, and elected officials.  Amongst their commonalities, both Lincoln and La Follette suffered from severe bouts of depression during their lifetimes.  Unfortunately and unfairly, our society places a negative stigma on mental illness.  Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and will likely impact most of us at one time or another during our lifetimes.  In order to address the issues related to mental health within our profession, we need to rid ourselves of that stigma and realize that mental illness is similar to the common cold in that it is not something we hope to get, but when it arrives we need the tools to deal with it.

Finally, we need to support each other and not look the other way when we see a colleague in need. Because we are required to be strong in so many aspects of our lives, it is extremely difficult for most of us to reach out for help.  We believe that such an act would show weakness.  Mental health professionals will be quick to tell you that seeking help for depression and anxiety is essential.  One reason is that untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide in our nation.  When faced with that reality, untreated mental illness can be a life and death matter.  Do not be afraid to ask for help.

RESOURCES:

Several resources exist for lawyers and judges licensed in Wisconsin.  Linda Albert heads up the Wisconsin Bar Association’s WisLAP (Wisconsin Lawyer Assistance Program), which is based on the premise of “Lawyers helping Lawyers” and “Judges helping Judges”. For a confidential consultation call (800) 543-2625 or email Linda directly at lalbert@wisbar.org.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness (“NAMI”) of Dane County is another local resource that is willing to assist in helping you find competent mental health professionals to assist you.  www.namidanecounty.org/resources/ or (608) 249-7188.

If any of you ever wish to have a confidential conversation with someone who cares, please feel free to contact me on my direct work line at (608) 318-4952.  I am not a mental health professional, but I would be happy to talk with you and point you in the right direction.

Remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

All the Best,

Josh Kindkeppel, President
Dane County Bar Association

 


[1] This list is not meant to be exhaustive of all ills that plague the legal profession.

[2] Robert M. La Follette, Sr. (1855-1925) passed the Bar in 1880 and went on to one of the greatest careers in public service in Wisconsin history.  He served as District Attorney of Dane County from 1881-1895, served three terms in the U.S. Congress, Governor of Wisconsin, and as U.S. Senator for Wisconsin.  He is considered the founder of the firm that has become Boardman & Clark, L.L.P.  Source: Lawyers Who Shaped Dane County: A History of the Practice of Law in the Madison Area.

Thoughts on Black History Month

The month of February is designated as Black History Month, or African-American History Month. African-American historian Carter G. Woodson is widely credited for creating and championing the original celebration in 1926, which was known as “Negro History Week”. This week-long observation was held during the second week of February because it covered the birthdays of both President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.  Woodson hoped that the holiday would someday be eliminated when African-American history was recognized as fundamental to American history.  In 1976, the federal government recognized the expansion from Negro History Week to Black History Month. In doing so, President Gerald Ford encouraged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”[1]

In addition to recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of African-Americans, Black History Month is an important reminder of how far our Nation has come and how much remains left to be done to ensure equality for all.  The year 2013 marks two significant anniversaries impacting African Americans and the United States: the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, thereby proclaiming that all slaves in the confederate territories be forever free. Because the fight between the Union and the Confederacy was raging on, Lincoln’s Proclamation did little to immediately free those enslaved, but it progressed the self-emancipation movement and further cemented the idea for the Union that the war was one against slavery.

Even though the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, having studied cases like Strauder v. West Virginia, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, and Loving v. Virginia, in law school, we know that for the next 100 years and beyond, the majority of African-Americans were not treated as equals in daily living or under the law.  On August 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands of Americans of all races, ages and religions came to Washington, D.C. to march for the end of legal segregation and discrimination in the United States.  Ultimately, they marched to the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 followed shortly thereafter.

President Barack Obama’s January 21, 2013 inauguration ceremony on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was a wonderful reminder that the ultimate glass ceiling in this country for African-Americans has been broken.  While we can all agree that our Nation has a long way to go to achieve true equality on issues of race, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and religion, we are moving forward in the right direction.

I’ll end with my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quotation – “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

— Written by Joshua J. Kindkeppel, President of the Dane County Bar Association and shareholder at Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C.



[1] The following sources were used in preparing this column: Association for the Study of African American Life and History website, www.asalh.org; Paul Brest, et al., Processes of Constitutional Decision Making: Cases and Materials (4th ed. 2000); and Wikipedia articles on Black History Month, Carter G. Woodson, the Emancipation Proclamation, Frederick Douglass, and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

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