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Two years ago, a psychiatrist with three decades of experience told Buffalo attorney Daniel Lukasik that a quarter of his clientele were, just like him, lawyers suffering mental illness. Regrettably, however, the doctor knew of no peer support groups to augment the medical and psychological treatment that was helping Lukasik climb out of a well of depression. “We’re supposed to be the ones in charge,” said Lukasik, managing partner at Cantor Lukasik Dolce & Panepinto, a personal injury firm. “We’re not supposed to be vulnerable or broken people.” Despite a landmark 1991 study by Johns Hopkins University, in which lawyers ranked first in incidence rate for clinical depression among 105 professions surveyed, Lukasik added, “Lawyers don’t talk about it.” So he set himself a mission: In partnership with the Erie County Bar Association, Lukasik helped create the Committee to Assist Lawyers with Depression. He created a Web site � www.lawyerswithdepression.com http://www.lawyerswithdepression.com  � offering a wealth of information on the disorder, geared to the interests and fears of attorneys. Further, in association with the Erie County bar, he organized what may be the first national seminar on attorney depression, set for April 11 at the Ramada Inn and Conference Center in the Buffalo suburb of Getzville. Former Monroe County Family Court Judge Michael Miller, who suffered bouts of severe depression in the recent past, is among the seminar speakers. “I’ve gone the whole nine yards � therapy, drugs, electroshock treatments,” said Miller, of counsel at the Rochester firm Chamberlain, D’Amanda, Oppenheimer & Greenfield. “It’s hell on earth.” He added, “There’s a stigma. Lawyers are scared. I know of [depressed lawyers] who are paying therapists in cash because they don’t want a paper trail. And there are kids in law school who refuse to go and get help because, inevitably, they would have to answer truthfully on some form that asks, ‘Have you ever been treated for mental illness?’” Kathryn Grant Madigan, president of the state bar and a partner at Levene Gouldin & Thompson in Binghamton, calls Lukasik a “remarkable pioneer” whose willingness to “step out front” has encouraged New York lawyers to finally think of depression as a treatable mental problem. But why do such debilitating illnesses strike the legal community so fiercely? “Lawyers have a pessimistic style of thinking, more so than the average occupation or person. In most areas of life, the pessimistic attitude is discouraged. But with lawyers, it’s encouraged,” said Lukasik. “Pessimism becomes one of our skills – a weapon. Then you have lawyers’ personality traits: overachieving, somewhat neurotic, detail-oriented. Put all that into a stressful, competitive environment and you’re just begging for depression to bloom.” He added, “Lawyers walk around like Atlas, thinking the world is on their shoulders. And so their bodies break down, their minds begin to break.” ‘HUGE OBSTACLES’ Indeed, Miller nearly broke. For two years, he said, “I was hopeless,” walking the streets of downtown Rochester with his head down, as if hiding from Internal Revenue Service agents he was convinced were pursuing him as a tax delinquent. “Getting from the bed to the couch was sometimes all I could do,” he said. “Getting my clothes on and brushing my teeth were huge obstacles. Before getting into my car and driving downtown, I’d sit in a chair for an hour, summoning my courage. Sometimes I’d turn around and come back home. Or I’d sit in my car for 45 minutes before going into the office. And when I got in, what would I do? I’d stare out the window.” He added, “I was certain that I owed a huge amount of money to the IRS. Maybe I’d go to jail. My accountant said, ‘What are you talking about? You’ve got a refund coming.’ But nobody could talk to me. I was convinced I was totally penniless. I started going to a [homeless shelter] with my Medicare card so I could get a hot lunch for two dollars. “So one day, a TV crew comes into the shelter � and there I am, one of the most recognizable faces in town. What did I do? The perp walk. I put my coat over my face and ran out.” Toward the end, the former judge said, “I came very close to taking the ultimate step.” But like Lukasik, Miller was rescued by the combined compassion of his wife and colleagues. “I told the partners at my firm that I couldn’t do anything. I offered my resignation,” said Miller. “They said, ‘No, your place is right here.’” After a period of trial and error, Miller was prescribed the proper combination of drugs and availed himself of psychological counseling. Among other things, he came to recognize that suicide is “a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” as he put it. Lukasik was similarly paralyzed for a time, and, like Miller, submitted his resignation. Lukasik’s partners � Mark Cantor, Marc Panepinto and Frank Dolce � refused to let him go. Speaking for the firm, Dolce wrote of the episode in the summer 2006 issue of LAT News, a publication of the New York State Lawyer Assistance Trust: “I have been fortunate to have over the last several years a skillful, hard-working and successful law partner in Dan Lukasik. It just so happens that Dan suffers from severe clinical depression. This psychological illness affects not only Dan’s personal life, but also his professional practice. By courageously dealing with his depression, he has actually enhanced his practice and magnified his positive contribution to our law firm. Over the years, my two other partners and I have been able to effectively grow our practice while assisting Dan on his steady path toward psychological wellness. To help him successfully deal with his illness, we have focused on reducing the considerable stressors that accompany civil litigation. Strategies include implementing flexible work and trial schedules, thoughtfully staffing trial teams and carefully planning out-of-town work assignments. Depression cannot be simply ignored or kept in the closet. . . . The steady growth of our practice and Dan’s continued effectiveness and wellness are a testament that depression can be managed successfully within a vibrant civil litigation practice.”

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