My story starts during my first year away from home to attend college. I went to a school that was notorious for binge drinking and quickly made friends who were part of the “party crowd.” Although I seemingly drank just as much as the people I surrounded myself with, I ended up in a lot more legal trouble as a result of my drinking than many of my friends. In the five years that led up to law school, I made repeated bad decisions regarding my alcohol use.
When I first began to consider law school I was nervous that my criminal record would deter me from getting accepted into a school. At that time, I had four drinking violations. Much to my surprise, every school I applied to accepted me. It eased my anxiety regarding my past drinking problems.
However, four months later, and only two months before I was supposed to start law school, I found myself making the same bad decisions I made in college and was convicted of my second DUI. I immediately informed the school I was originally going to attend of my second DUI and they ultimately decided to defer my acceptance for a year. I was so ashamed and disappointed in myself. I had no idea how to tell my family and friends that I was no longer going to law school that coming fall or how I was going to overcome my criminal history.
Fortunately, I had a great friend behind me who urged me to contact the other schools that accepted me to see if they had an open spot. My first call was to a school in Chicago. After a lengthy conversation about my second DUI and my past drinking violations, the school told me they had a spot for me. I had three weeks to figure out where I was going to live, how I was going to get to Chicago, and how I was going to sub-let my apartment in the city where I was originally going to go to school. I could not have done it without my siblings. Not only were they my rock and shoulders to cry on, they helped me figure out every detail of the move from finding me an apartment to getting me and my belongings to Chicago.
It was not until after I had a detailed plan for the move that I told my parents about the second DUI and that I was going to school in Chicago. Understandably, they were extremely upset. I am still working on dealing with the guilt and shame I feel for letting them down and I vowed as soon as I started law school, I was going to do everything I could to make them proud again.
Once I got to Chicago, I felt like I was getting the chance to start anew. I dove into my studies and worked hard. Although it was difficult being far from home in a city where I knew only a couple of people, it allowed me to become focused on what was most important — having a healthy lifestyle and doing well in school. My second year of law school, the realization of having to disclose my years of drinking problems to the National Board of Bar Examiners began to sink in.
After not thinking about any of those problems for over a year, my anxiety was overwhelming. I spoke with a character and fitness advisor at my school hoping she would calm my nerves, but she only made me feel worse. I was told my chances of getting admitted to the bar were “Okay, at most.” I left the advisor’s office and immediately looked up the Lawyers’ Assistance Program online. I knew of LAP, but was not aware of the services they could provide me. Within a few days I had an appointment to discuss my issues and the possible services LAP had for me.
I cried through almost the entire initial meeting. In fact, I cried at almost every group session I attended at LAP until the last few months of law school. It took some time to understand these tears were the product of shame, guilt, and fear about my future. Group helped me work through my emotional issues regarding my past. Listening to other people’s stories, helping them work through their problems and have others do the same for me proved to be very therapeutic.
The Bar Application was my biggest hurdle to get over. I was practically paralyzed with the fear that my past was going to ruin my chances of becoming a lawyer. It took me almost six months to get through the entire application because every time I went to fill in the criminal history portion, I would break down and cry. Once I sent the application in, I waited for a letter or a phone call asking for further information. I began to breathe easier with each month that passed with no word from the Board regarding my drinking. By the last few months of school, I was feeling much more confident about my future.
In early September, I found out I passed the Bar. A couple of days later, I learned the Board recommended me for admittance to the Bar and I was sworn in a few weeks later. I am currently employed with a small law firm primarily practicing family law, estate planning, and involuntary committals. I was ill-equipped to deal with my emotional issues and, without LAP, I honestly do not know how I would have moved through my last two years of law school or the Bar Exam. I owe a lot of my success today to Lawyers’ Assistance Program.