Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : March 2005

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New MSBA Lawyer Assistance Foundation to Help With Treatment
~LAP to offer financial assistance to lawyers in need~

by Janet Stidman Eveleth

For the last 23 years, attorneys coping with everything from substance abuse, depression and chronic stress to mental health problems have turned to the Maryland State Bar Association’s Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) for help. This confidential counseling service assists troubled lawyers, offering guidance and counseling to support them through treatment and recovery. While many attorneys fully recover, others do not. Some simply cannot afford the necessary treatment.

To assist lawyers struggling to pay for needed treatment for substance abuse, mental health disorders, depression, physical disabilities and other impairments, MSBA and LAP have created a charitable foundation to provide financial support. Now, through the David N. Bates and Richard B. Vincent Foundation, Maryland attorneys demonstrating financial need for inpatient and outpatient treatment for drug and alcohol dependency, gambling and/or debilitating mental health disorders may be eligible for financial loans to assist with the cost of treatment.

Unfortunately, there is a small percentage of Maryland attorneys whose ability to practice law is impaired by alcohol and drug addiction, depression, gambling, grief or other emotional or physical disabilities. LAP’s network of support services assists these troubled lawyers. Through assessment, intervention, counseling, peer support, referral, treatment and rehabilitation support, LAP serves as a “beacon” offering attorneys a “guiding light” down the road to recovery.

However, the expense of treatment can be a roadblock to some attorneys who are suffering serious financial difficulties as a result of their impairment. “The troubles of many referred attorneys are not sudden; they develop over the years,” explains Richard B. Vincent, LAP Director. “They are debilitating to the attorney’s health, family, professional life and financial stability.” Thus, many lack the resources to pay for treatment but need immediate help.

LAP does support these attorneys, giving them attention and help through weekly support group meetings. But it is unable to finance their treatment; hence, some lawyers have no access to formal, professional treatment and continue to struggle. To rectify this situation, MSBA’s LAP Committee recommended the creation of a special foundation to financially assist these distraught attorneys.

On October 15, 2004, MSBA’s Board of Governors endorsed the formation of this new Foundation as a corporation organized exclusively for educational and charitable purposes which will be managed by a Board of Directors. As approved, the Board will have the authority to determine the standards for demonstrating financial need and the LAP Committee Chair and Staff will have the authority to review applications to determine whether the applicant qualifies for a financial loan.

“This Foundation will give lawyers the immediate attention and treatment they need,” reports Vincent. “It will fund whatever kind of treatment the attorney needs and pay the treatment source directly. There will be a six-month relief period. Then, the attorney will begin to repay the loan.” The maximum dollar amount for a loan is $7,500, and the applicant will execute a promissory note for a term not to exceed three years.

“These are honorable people who have come into situations in life that they are emotionally and/or physically unable to handle,” asserts Vincent. “There are a number of attorneys out there who need this type of help, and I think many will apply for help through the Foundation immediately.”

“When an alcoholic or addict expresses a willingness to change and accept help, a small window of opportunity opens,” adds Mark Jensen, a member of MSBA’s LAP Committee who spearheaded the effort to create the Foundation. “The Foundation will address the issue of financial need so the window of opportunity does not close due to lack of funds for treatment. This need is all the more pressing as insurers retreat from this area.”

The funding base for this Foundation is financial donations, which are tax-deductible, and all Maryland lawyers are encouraged to donate to this worthwhile cause. There are many attorneys who have taken advantage of LAP’s valuable resources over the last 21 years and enjoyed a measure of success through this lawyer support network. MSBA’s LAP Director hopes many will be willing to give back and offer donations to support this fledgling foundation.