Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

Editor: W. Patrick Tandy

April, 2004

LAP ZONE

The MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program's
Summary Report for 2003

By Carol P. Waldhauser

It has been estimated that 15-20 percent of American lawyers have problems that threaten their ability to continue to practice their profession. At least two-thirds of those lawyers have problems caused by drug and alcohol abuse; the remaining third has mental health problems that are often exacerbated by work-related stress unique to lawyers.

Consequently, hundreds of individuals within Maryland’s legal community may suffer from the effects of alcohol and substance abuse in addition to other mental/emotional health issues. The afflicted include not only practicing lawyers but judges and law students as well. This circumstance causes incalculable human suffering not only to those who are afflicted but also their families, friends and colleagues. Just as important from a regulatory standpoint, impaired practitioners pose an obvious risk to their clients.

Consider the following:

  • In a survey of 105 occupations, lawyers ranked first in experiencing depression – four times more likely to be depressed than the general public.
  • The number of practicing lawyers with alcohol or drug problems is twice that of the national average.
  • The American Bar Association has concluded that substance abuse exists in at least 50 percent of cases where disciplinary complaints are brought against lawyers.
  • Many states have determined that there is a high correlation between substance abuse and disciplinary cases involving misuse of client funds.

Like other chronic diseases, mental health problems and addiction are treatable, and because of their progressive nature early detection and treatment is overwhelmingly desirable.

The MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) provides a compassionate safety net for impaired members of the legal community, thereby protecting the public from the results of attorney wrongdoing stemming from substance abuse or mental/emotional problems.

Because lawyers spend the bulk of their time attempting to manage other people’s problems, they often ignore their own. Indeed, the “adversarial” legal culture often seems to promote this approach. The day-to-day pressures of effective legal practice coupled with ongoing personal responsibilities often result in chronic difficulties.

Person by person, LAP has reached out to help over 2,000 lawyers, judges, law students and support personnel. LAP does this by identifying problems, facilitating treatment and supporting ongoing individual recovery. In this way, LAP has effectively shielded clients and the general public from the potentially devastating effects of a disease before they reach fruition. To that end, LAP offers the following services:

  • Assessment and Referral – A trained and experienced member of the LAP staff or its Core Group of attorney committee members will meet with the attorney to assist in evaluating the problem and recommend available treatment and rehabilitation options. For referral purposes, LAP maintains an extensive, up-to-date network of licensed health-care professionals, including Marworth in Pennsylvania, the Betty Ford Clinic in California, Father Martin’s Ashley, Crossroads Center, Shephard Pratt and Partners in Recovery, all in Maryland.
  • Interventions – In appropriate situations, a member of the staff or Core Group will plan, rehearse and facilitate a formal intervention to assist with the impaired person.
  • Peers Support Network – The person in need of assistance may be paired with a lawyer from the committee and in the person’s area as a mentor to help them deal with the recovery process.
  • Structured Rehabilitation Program – In cases involving attorney discipline or admissions problems, LAP will implement a structured rehabilitation program which can document a client’s recovery efforts and success.
  • Support Meetings – LAP sponsors weekly and monthly meetings where LAP clients help each other manage their personal recovery efforts.

Moreover, since 2001 LAP has begun to receive formal referrals from the Attorney Grievance Commission pursuant to the Conditional Diversion Agreement (CDA) program outlined in Maryland Rule 16-736. Although received through this program, these lawyers are offered the full range of services and support identified above, subject of course to the terms and requirements of their personal CDA.

While the LAP staff is the backbone and heart of the program, the peer professionals who are members of LAP present a diverse group of lawyers in every sense of the word. LAP members include several Circuit Court judges, while attorney members have a wide-range of practice areas and are drawn from every county in the state.

Confidentiality and LAP

To maximize LAP’s effectiveness, its dealings with its clients are protected by statutorily imposed confidentiality. Absolute confidentiality is one of the cornerstones of the LAP program; it permits willing clients to be completely honest with staff and Core Group members, allowing them on a long-term basis to share in detail the nature of the specific problems with which they struggle, without fear of public exposure. Confidentiality is an integral element that permits the impaired to come to LAP and openly discuss their problems. Without complete confidentiality, the LAP program would be completely ineffective.

2003: the Year in Review

Evaluation and planning are indispensable components of program management. Accordingly, LAP annually gathers and reports operational data on service levels, quality and quantity of outputs and cost-effectiveness of the program’s operations. This information is summarized in this section.

Statistical Evaluation

During 2003, LAP responded to well over 1,000 telephone calls and e-mails from judges, lawyers, law students, their family members and business colleagues. Of these communications, 85 became formal, long-term cases, 36 were formal, long-term re-referrals, and 12 were short-term work/life issues. It is important to note that of these, 30 percent concerned MSBA members while 70 percent did not. Gratifyingly, of the formal, long-term cases opened in the year 2003, the largest number (38 percent) again came from self-referrals, closely followed by lawyer referrals at 30 percent.

From this group, problems addressed were as follows:

  • Alcohol abuse: 48 percent
  • Drug abuse (other than alcohol): 10 percent
  • Mental health: 31 percent
  • Preventative: 11 percent

Education, Prevention & Public Relations

Education regarding attorney impairment, treatment and relapse recovery remains one of the primary goals of LAP. Other topics addressed include stress management, depression, anxiety and retirement planning. Other addiction problems are also being addressed, such as the Internet, sex, food, etc. Ongoing education continues to bear fruit in terms of lives and careers saved. Examples of such outreach by the staff include:

  • University of Baltimore School of Law (orientation, professionalism classes and other functions)
  • University of Maryland School of Law (preparation workshop for Bar Application)
  • Widener University School of Law (orientation workshop)
  • MSBA’s Annual and Mid-Year Meetings (display and program)
  • Professionalism conference
  • Solo-Small Firm Conference
  • New Judges Workshop
  • Public Defenders Office seminar
  • Paralegal Association seminar
  • Miscellaneous small and large firm functions

Most importantly, MSBA’s weekly Thursday night 12-step support group meeting (having recently celebrated its third anniversary) continues to grow stronger, averaging 20-25 individuals each week. Additionally, a Monday Meeting, 12 at 12, has been added, along with monthly brown bag luncheon seminars.

Alcoholism, drug addiction and other mental/emotional health issues continue to challenge the entire legal profession and its quality of life. If you or someone you know needs help, call us (800) 492-1964 or (410) 685-7878, ext. 3040/ext. 3041, or e-mail cwaldhauser@msba.org.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: April, 2004

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