Derek LaCroix, QC, joined the Lawyers Assistance Program of BC as the Executive Director in 1996. With 40 years work experience, he brings a sincere and valued perspective to his commitment to both the organization and to the BC legal profession. He received the designation of Queen’s Counsel in 2004.
How did you first get involved with CLEBC?
I first came across CLEBC attending courses as a lawyer. Once I joined LAPBC, I reached out to CLEBC to be a speaker and have subsequently been invited back to present. One of the earlier conferences I was involved with was the Family Law for Legal Support Staff program chaired by Jeffrey Rose. In the last few years, I have been working closely with CLEBC on programs related to lawyer wellbeing.
What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?
I recently presented the CLE-TV program Increasing Productivity Through Happiness back in May and was involved with the first Lawyer and Law Firm Wellness program last June.
Before joining the Lawyers Assistance Program of BC (LAPBC), you were a litigator. What inspired your transition?
I experienced my own addiction and anxiety problems and did a lot of personal growth work and therapy. So I started doing some training in that area while I was still practicing law. I loved practicing law, but through that process, I met a person who got me involved in a biotech company and that venture enticed me away from my trial work and even led to me getting called to the bar in Portland. On the side, I was also working on building and getting full funding for a part-time 12 step outreach program for lawyers. When the corporate thing didn’t work out, this gave me time to focus on getting the outreach program up and running. On December 6, 1996, I secured funding for the program and on January 1, 1997 the Lawyers Assistance Program of BC opened its doors. Now LAPBC has expanded its services beyond the 12-step outreach program to provide peer support and referral services to help people in the legal community deal with personal problems – including alcohol and drug dependence, stress and anxiety, depression and other issues.
What are some of the rewards and challenges of your work at LAPBC?
Helping people, of course, and watching people turn their lives around. One of the most rewarding things is actually watching the volunteers help other people by passing on what they have learned for themselves and knowing that we are making some difference in the culture of the legal profession in terms of how people with substance abuse and mental health problems are perceived. Building the organization from the ground up has also been very gratifying.
One of the biggest challenges of my work is that lawyers can be very resistant while still being very “reasonable”. It can be difficult to maintain a connection with people who don’t necessarily want to stay connected. There are some lawyers who want look like they are doing something about their problem but don’t actually want do the work. So it can be tough to hang in there with them and try to move them from pretending to acting.
It has also been challenging to get a consistent presence at the law schools which I think is key to shifting the culture of the legal profession toward wellbeing.
What trends are you seeing when it comes to mental health and wellbeing in the legal profession?
One positive trend in the past few years is that people with substance abuse issues are definitely coming to see us sooner. Twenty years ago, lawyers would reach out after they had lost everything – their families, their homes. Some would come to us living out of their car. Now, most lawyers who come to us are still with their families. I think this shows an increase awareness of substance abuse issues.
I think that people with depression and anxiety issues are also reaching out for help a little sooner, but it is harder to assess the problem in these cases. It is easier for people with depression and anxiety to be in some form of denial and point to more superficial causes to their problems, like work. They usually come in to see us when they encounter problems in their practice, often serious procrastination, and/or their life partners that are fed up with them, which leads me to another positive trend that I have been seeing. More and more people are reaching out to LAPBC because their life partners are fed up with them or have asked them to. I think this is very positive as lawyers in the past have just ignored these requests and the key relationships in their lives have already broken down by the time I see them.
There is also a lot more talk amongst legal professionals about how to make practice more meaningful, not just in terms of work-life balance and time management, but conversations about bringing your “whole” self to work. Most of the larger law firms now have an associate/student advisor that is focused on these kinds of issues, and their human resources people are working on mental health issues. These are all very positive trends.
For legal professionals and legal employers who want to promote mental health and wellbeing, what resources would you suggest?
LAPBC has just launched its new website with lots of links to resources. There are also lots of resources on the websites for the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyers Assistances Programs website, CBA National (wellness section), the Mental Health and Substance Use Task Force for the Law Society of BC, and the Canadian Mental Health Association. I also highly recommend coaching for lawyers so that they can thrive in their life and practice.
Other than helping legal professionals, what are you passionate about?
Making the world a better place. I ultimately want to support people to actualize their best self. I am also passionate about being the change when it comes to environmental and social justice issues. I’m involved with the Earth Alliance Charity as well as the Multifaith Action Society.
Any words of wisdom for someone who might be struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues or know someone who is?
The key is to be kind to people and kind to yourself. And don’t hesitate to reach out to LAPBC for assistance. Our services are completely confidential and free.