A SUPPORT scheme aimed at helping the growing number of solicitors who have
alcohol and drug problems is currently being considered for funding by the Law Society.
The independently-run scheme would start off by treating lawyers for alcohol dependency, before expanding to provide additional counselling for other forms of addiction.
Jacqueline Davis, a guidance officer with the society's professional ethics unit, told more than 150 delegates at the recent 'Quality of life' conference that the unit received about 53,311 calls for help in 1994.
She said guidance officers each took between 50 and 60 calls a day, and inquiries had "increased dramatically" during the past 18 months to two years.
A number of these calls were cries for help from relatives of lawyers or solicitors who were suffering mental illnesses or addiction.
Davis said that financial problems, increased regulation of the profession, and growing competition for work by non-solicitors, had led to higher levels of stress among lawyers.
European Young Bar Association figures presented at the conference confirmed young solicitors in the UK work longer hours than lawyers in Europe, with an average of 45 hours per week being clocked up by most. Seventy three per cent also work regularly at weekends.
Young Solicitors Group chair Andy Unger, who organised the conference, says although he has no personal knowledge of alcoholism among lawyers, indications from the profession show it is a growing problem.
"By its very nature it's so concealed. The Law Society seems to think it's a problem which is increasing and Charles Elly has spoken publicly on it in the past," says Unger.
"It doesn't surprise me that it's growing. Lawyers are facing ever-increasing workloads coupled with ever increasing uncertainty about the future of their careers and the profession.