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
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
"The key to Richard's effectiveness in his counseling position has been his
credibility," notes MSBA Executive Director Paul V. Carlin. "His direct personal
‘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
"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."