Irish legal profession in crisis

Irish lawyers have been flooding a crisis line with calls about bipolar disorders, financial worries and alcoholism.

The Irish take-up of the crisis line service in its first 10 months was around twice that of the UK.

Law Care, established in Britain 13 years ago to offer support to lawyers suffering from alcohol abuse, was introduced in Ireland last summer and was promoted by the Bar Council of Ireland as a means to support people in difficulties. Trained in telephone counselling, those who man the phone lines are all qualified lawyers, familiar with the concerns of their colleagues.

"We deal with the immediate crisis and calm them down," explained Hilary Tilby, a trained solicitor and barrister and chief executive of Law Care.

"Some people just want to talk for a couple of hours but other people want to talk over months and if we feel they need further counselling or support we will arrange that."

The more common problems encountered by staff are the collapse in the financial circumstances of those who have been hit by a substantial fall-off in work.

This in turn leads to dependency problems and more extreme manifestations of emotional stress.

Around 0.47% of the country's solicitors and barristers have contacted the service. Since its launch last summer, Law Care has opened 'case files' on seven barristers and 59 solicitors.

"It doesn't sound very much but if you look at comparatives, the Law Society of Scotland was 0.11%, the Institute of Legal Executives in England and Wales was 0.06%, the Law Society of Northern Ireland was 0.03% and the Law Society of Ireland was 0.38%," said Tilby.

"Last year the recession was really biting but next year we don't know what will happen. A lot of the problems were practice related in the sense that the work just dried up."

Law Care is also dismissive of the assumption that everyone who works in the legal field is financially secure and therefore immune to recent pressures.

"The thing is, they are not. If you look at any profession you will get a few who earn mega bucks but most people just earn a reasonable living and I am not saying reasonable in terms of inflated," said Tilby.

"A lot of people in the UK say that a plumber can earn more than a solicitor. You live to a certain income and then that dries up."