Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : June 2006

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Vincent Marks 25 Years with MSBA

Richard B. Vincent

Richard B. Vincent
MSBA Directory of Lawyer Assistance

In considering the most rewarding aspect of his 25 years as the Director of MSBA's Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP), Richard B. Vincent reads a letter sent by one of the thousands of legal professionals struggling with substance abuse to whom he has offered help.

"‘I am humbled and moved by what you said about me, both professionally and personally,'" Vincent reads aloud. "‘When someone takes the time to support a friend and/or colleague, it should be very much appreciated. In my case, I can only tell you that I will be eternally grateful. Thanks for helping to save my life.'"

I was the first person
in the country to direct
a program like this;
there are now 50
programs like this.

Richard B. Vincent

"That's from an attorney," he notes after a protracted pause. "‘Save my life.' Whew – maybe I can walk on water!"

The author of the letter is but one of the thousands of attorneys, judges and law students, whose professional or personal lives have been impaired by substance abuse, family, health or other mental or emotional problems, who have found confidential help through the LAP.

"The Maryland State Bar Association was advanced in their concept of assisting their attorneys in the state," notes Vincent. "I was the first person in the country hired to direct a program like this; there are now 50 programs like this."

The Honorable David N. Bates – a District Court judge and himself a recovering alcoholic – encouraged Vincent to apply for the position of director of what a quarter-century ago was called the Lawyer Counseling Committee.

"I was a recovering alcoholic," notes Vincent, who credits Bates for first putting him on the road to finally quitting himself; Vincent did so in February 1971, and shortly thereafter enrolled in courses toward becoming a state-certified substance abuse counselor. "Since they felt the majority of (the problems) would be alcoholism, that's why I was hired to start it out."

"I had (held) 26 jobs in 16 years," Vincent admits, citing everything from frontline supervisor in a manufacturing plant to salesman to schoolteacher. "I lost more good jobs because of drinking than most people could have in a lifetime."

"The key to Richard's effectiveness in his counseling position has been his credibility," notes MSBA Executive Director Paul V. Carlin. "His direct personal experience provides ‘street cred' and acceptance by those experiencing similar life difficulties."

In the early years, both Vincent and Bates toured the country, helping other state bar associations to establish similar programs, all the while fostering their own.

"Back then we didn't emphasize stress and depression," Vincent explains, noting that with the addition of LAP Assistant Director Carol Waldhauser in 1998, LAP broadened its scope, emphasizing "that we were available not only for substance abuse, but especially mental health, also."

"The legal profession is the most stressful profession there is," adds Vincent, who acknowledges that there is still a societal stigma attached to substance abuse, although he has witnessed a shift during his tenure in people's willingness to seek help.

"It's recognized as a mitigating situation," he says of the ever-growing number of cases that LAP handles annually. "Also, the profession is becoming much more cutthroat. We're making hundreds and hundreds more lawyers every six months; the more there are, the more tense the profession becomes – the search for the competitive dollar, and the stress that that puts on you. And of course, many times people find out that the easiest and quickest way to deal with stress is alcohol and drugs."

"It's not a disgrace," Vincent stresses. "It's a disease."

"A major advantage of our Lawyer Assistance Program is that all of its dealings and contacts are confidential, which allows help and healing to occur, hopefully without major disruptions or embarrassments," explains Carlin. "Richard can be immensely proud of his service to the MSBA and its members. The MSBA is indeed grateful that the Court of Appeals and the Attorney Grievance Commission have been such longtime, strong supporters of this important program; there is recognition that, by assisting our members, we are also protecting the public."

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: June 2006

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