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The pressure starts on the first day of class. Law students face an onslaught of assignments and discover the workload is bigger than expected. Some question if going to law school was the right choice. They worry about the money they just paid for tuition and books. They wonder about the effect their busy schedule will have on their relationships. But help is available. Students can turn to law school officials, their universities’ counseling centers or the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP) to get some guidance on academic difficulties or to receive long-term counseling for depression or substance abuse. About 10,000 to 15,000 lawyers in Texas suffer from alcoholism, chemical dependency or a mental illness, according to TLAP, a confidential program of the State Bar of Texas. Christine Long, the program’s assistant director who is a lawyer and a licensed social worker, says problems can start in law school, and students should deal with them right away. TLAP volunteers give talks about their services at the law schools, sometimes at the beginning of the school year and sometimes in professional responsibility classes, Long says. TLAP emphasizes the importance of getting help as soon as possible so that students who medicate themselves with drugs or alcohol don’t become lifelong substance abusers. “We also give them talks about how to take care of themselves,” Long says. TLAP operates a 24-hour confidential hotline, (800) 343-TLAP, and has a network of referrals available to help law students who need help. BALANCE IS IMPORTANT Sister Grace Walle, campus minister for St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, emphasizes the importance of balance for students and offers workshops on how to handle the pressures of law school. “You really have to tell them their options for maintaining their physical, spiritual and emotional well-being,” says Walle, who has a doctorate in pastoral counseling. Michael Olivas, associate dean for student life at the University of Houston Law Center, says all graduate students, not just those studying law, are confronted with a lot of pressure. “It’s not unique,” he says. “A number of students develop drinking or drug problems as undergraduates or in high school. Overall, virtually every university makes available substantial counseling for financial, academic and personal problems.” The student affairs office refers students with serious problems to the Counseling and Psychological Services team, which helps students, faculty and staff. Susana Alem�n, assistant dean for student services at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, says she sometimes gets a tip from a professor or a student about someone struggling with substance abuse. Students sometimes deny such problems. “Many times they don’t want us to know if they think it’ll impact their admission to the bar,” she says. However, getting help before substance abuse leads to an arrest or a severe problem is better than ignoring it, Alem�n says. Julia Vaughan, executive director of the Texas Board of Law Examiners, agrees. The board requires applicants to the bar to report if they’ve abused or been addicted to alcohol or drugs or been treated for substance abuse in the past 10 years. They also are required to report if they’ve been diagnosed in the past decade with bi-polar disorder, paranoia, schizophrenia or any psychotic disorder, but not if they’ve been treated for depression or other situational problems. When an evaluation by a chemical dependency expert shows there’s no current problem, there’s no problem in getting a law license, Vaughan says. Even applicants who still have a chemical dependency will get a probationary license that may include requirements such as continuing treatment and having their work supervised. “It [the reporting requirement] is designed not to put a chilling effect on the person,” she says. “It’s designed to say getting help is good and to protect the public from potential harm. We want to encourage people to seek the mental health help they need.” Patti Gearhart Turner, assistant dean of student affairs at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth, and Maggi Kautz, vice president of human resources of South Texas College of Law in Houston, inform their students about TLAP and the help available at their respective universities. “The biggest stressors are family and personal relationships because law school takes such a great amount of time, and those relationships are shortchanged,” Turner says. Kautz says it’s important for students to ask for help. “The seriousness is not in having the problem, the seriousness is [in] not doing anything about it,” she says.

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