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Suicide and Our Profession

By Robert S. Brandt

"Heavy duty stuff," I said to myself. I was crowded into a small room at Vanderbilt Hospital listening to a doctor tell three twenty-something-year-olds that there was no hope for their father, one of my good friends. Machines were keeping him alive. They had to decide whether to pull the plug. This decision was forced on these young adults because two years earlier, cancer had claimed their mother. Now they had lost their father as well. He had succeeded in his mission. He had taken his own life. He committed suicide.

It made no sense. Sure, he had lost his spouse, but that happens to every couple sooner or later. And he loved his children more than anyone can imagine. Yet he had hanged himself in the family home while his two sons slept nearby. They found him early in the morning. But I suppose suicide doesn’t make a lot of sense to most of us.

That’s the closest I’ve been to a suicide. It’s not the only time, however, that I’ve known someone who committed suicide. Two of my fellow judges took their lives with firearms when I was a judge. A college student who I knew through my church did the same recently. And last year, 2006, three Nashville lawyers committed suicide.

After the third, I called Sheree Wright, then the NBA president, to suggest that we as lawyers can’t just sit and watch this happen. We should try something. I had no idea what. Sheree was already working on it. She had attended the memorial service for Charlie Williams and had been inspired by the remarks by Charlie’s psychiatrist. She knew, too, that some lawyers in the crowd had contacted the doctor about their own problems, and that still others had contacted the Williams family seeking help. I accepted Sheree’s invitation to serve on the task force she was convening. I joined several lawyers who had already been in touch with Sheree.

We gathered initially late last fall. The first thing we learned was that there is already a program in place to help lawyers with mental health problems. It’s the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program, or TLAP, an official arm of the state supreme court. I had some vague idea that there was something out there that helped lawyers with addictions, but I wasn’t aware of what it is called or where it is. I had forgotten about the excellent article Nancy Corley wrote about it in the November 2004 Nashville Bar Journal. It just so happens that the TLAP office is a few doors from my own office on Fourth Avenue in Nashville. I learned that TLAP assists lawyers with all mental health issues, not just addictions.

Our NBA task force does not need to reinvent the wheel. We do, however, need to support TLAP and make it known to all Nashville lawyers. I’m in my 41st year as a member of the Nashville bar. If I was unaware of TLAP, perhaps others are too. I’m on a subcommittee that is charged with the task of making Nashville lawyers aware of TLAP and its services. That’s why I’ve written this article.

The accompanying box provides the contact information for TLAP. If you or someone you know is struggling, get in touch with TLAP. Retain this contact information in a convenient place so you can use it if the need arises.

None of us knows whether the recent lawyer suicides could have been prevented. None of us knows how to prevent it. We are, though, accustomed in our profession to seeking outside expert help when we need it. If there is a problem, use the experts who are there just for our profession.

Robert S. Brandt is a retired Chancery Court judge who is a mediator and arbitrator with the law firm of Trauger & Tuke.
Robert S. Brandt, 615-265-8585,
First published in the Nashville Bar Journal, March 2007, Vol. 7, No. 2.

Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP)
If you, or an attorney you know, need assistance, TLAP professionals will listen to the issue presented, recommend appropriate options, and help you develop a suitable plan of action. All communications with TLAP are confidential. Don’t just hope things will get better, CALL: 615-741-3238 or toll free: 877-424-8527.
Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network:
615-297-1077 or 1 (888) SUICIDE
Web Sites: Accurate, current, and relevant information about clinical depression. American Psychological Association. Mental health services available in your community, myths and facts about mental illnesses, details about specific mental illnesses.

Inside Board Notes
Coping with Stress - By Henry L. Klein
Ethics Opinion Spotlight - By Laura L. Chastain
Suicide and Our Profession - By Robert S. Brandt
Disciplinary Actions - By William W. "Tripp" Hunt, III

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