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Three Missouri lawyers recognized for well-being in the profession efforts

The legal profession can be stressful, but lawyers don’t have to face burnout, substance issues, depression, and other personal concerns alone. Each year, The Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program (MOLAP) recognizes individuals who have contributed to well-being in the profession through service and support for others. This year, MOLAP honored three individuals: Charles “Chuck” Lonardo, Tara Moreland, and Patricia Susi.

Charles “Chuck” Lonardo of Joplin received the 2021 James T. Britt Memorial Award, which is presented to a lawyer in recognition of their pioneering contributions over the years to advance the cause of relief and recovery for lawyers in Missouri. Lonardo has supported MOLAP-affiliated committees for 37 years, including serving on the planning committee for the annual meeting of The Missouri Bar.

“It reminded me – and still does – of the collegiality of our profession and the drive of a 40-person committee to reach the common goal of educating our brother and sister lawyers and judges and making it a memorable experience for the people we serve,” Lonardo says of the experience.

Lonardo, who has been diagnosed with bipolar depression, wants Missouri lawyers to remember that they are all in this together.

“Don't be afraid to ask for help,” Lonardo says. “Talk to a professional you trust: a psychiatrist or licensed professional counselor to whom you've referred others in the past (or even know socially); your doctor; your spouse; a trusted friend. Also, know that MOLAP is available 24/7 for Missouri lawyers and their families as a benefit.”

Tara Moreland was chosen to receive the 2021 Warren Welliver Award, which is presented to a member who has best exemplified compassion and concern for lawyers in Missouri during the past year. Moreland, who practices in Kansas City, understands the challenges of practicing lawyers who are living with depression and anxiety -- because she is one.

This year, Moreland stepped up to serve on the stigma subgroup for the Lawyers Living Well Special Committee. She says advocating for de-stigmatization, education, and change has made her feel more empowered.

“When you suffer from a mental illness or substance use issue, you can feel like you are on an island by yourself and that no one could ever fathom what you are experiencing,” Moreland says. “In reality, there are many people who feel that way or have felt that way before or know someone who has. You are not a failure because you are struggling, and your struggle does not define you.”

Moreland also thinks it’s important that others join her in having honest conversations about mental health, substance use, and other personal concerns.

“I believe it is through these frank, sometimes difficult, discussions that understanding is borne, stigma is reduced, and people are helped,” Moreland says. “If, by sharing my experience, I can help even one person, then it is worth it — even if sharing that experience makes some people squirm a little. At the end of the day, we must save lives. We must let people know that they matter, they belong here, and the world is better with them in it.”

Patricia Susi was selected to receive the Dorothy Kaiser Award, which is presented to a member in recognition of their pioneering contributions in the field of chemical dependency, recovery, and continuing, compassionate care for women lawyers in Missouri. She practices in Clayton.

"The major challenge for all of us prior to recovery is acknowledging the issue and asking for help," Susi says. "As women lawyers, we do not want to appear weak, imperfect, or vulnerable. In my opinion, we, as female lawyers, hold ourselves to impossible standards so that we feel equal to our male colleagues."

Susi says her own sobriety and success drive her passion to advance the cause of relief and recovery.

"Having the courage to accept and acknowledge my imperfections made me stronger," Susi says."I want to inspire strength, hope, and faith to other women in our profession."

These three lawyers will be celebrated during the annual Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Conference taking place virtually on Nov. 5, 2021.