Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2006

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WORK/LIFE
SUPPORT

MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program

Future Solutions, Now!

"Hello, you have reached the law office of James Doe. I am sorry, but I am unavailable to take your call. However, if you leave your name and number, I will call you back."

The unanswered calls were adding up; this was the 23rd call on James Doe's service. Unbeknownst to the callers, however, James was in his law office – sitting alone, in the corner, with a revolver to his head.

James's thoughts were not on his clients, but on himself: "It will not be long before I lose everything – personally, professionally and financially." Bringing the gun still closer, he said to himself, "I cannot drink my dark moods away anymore." With a sort of smirk, James also thought, "I do not even have the money – nor the health insurance – to find out what is wrong with me."

But just as James exerted more pressure on the trigger, he dropped the gun, having been startled by a hard knock on the door. It was his former law partner, Walter, with the maintenance man, who had a key.

Walter was a lanky, deep-voiced, humble man who had had his own problems in the past. Presently, however, Walter is a successful lawyer and a beloved man. So grateful for a second lease on life, Walter helps other lawyers in crisis. Ironically, today, Walter has no idea of how close he really came to finding his former partner and friend dead.

Immediately, Walter and James began to talk. Needless to say, Walter made James feel better. "James, you have been regarded as a true success story," Walter said. "And you are still brilliant and respected. You just need treatment for your mental health and substance abuse."

"But I have no one, and I have no money for treatment!" James insisted.

Again, Walter offered James hope. "You have me," he said. "Plus, I believe that there is a foundation recently started by the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program to assist lawyers in crises. It's called the Bates/Vincent Foundation. Let's call the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program and find out it you can qualify for treatment funds…"

The Problem
In Maryland, it has been estimated that at any given time 15-20 percent of lawyers face problems that threaten their ability to continue to practice their profession. Sixty percent of those lawyers have problems caused by drug and alcohol abuse; the remaining 40 percent have mental health problems that are often exacerbated by work-related stress.

Over the last 20 years, large-scale epidemiological studies of alcohol, drug and mental disorders (ADM) in the U.S. population have documented high rates of disorders, as well as high rates of unmet needed treatment. Lawyers are particularly high-risk:

  • An estimated 81,000 to 117,000 ABA (American Bar Association) members will have had one or more ADM disorders within the past year. Over 190,000 have had or will have a disorder sometime during their lifetime.
  • Over 56,000 ABA members will have a lifetime alcohol-dependence disorder, and over 30,000 will have a lifetime drug (other than alcohol) disorder. Both drug abuse/dependence and alcohol abuse/dependence are likely to co-occur with other disorders.
  • Almost 45,000 ABA members have had a substance-abuse (alcohol or drug) disorder in the past year, and over 100,000 will have a lifetime substance-abuse disorder and over 40,000 ABA members suffer from depression (within the past year).

Untreated the above disorders can result in substantial impairment in both personal and professional relationships. The health consequences of alcohol and drug abuse and major depression are debilitating illness. Barriers to treatment often include denial that treatment is needed; uncertainty about the availability or appropriateness of treatment; lack of adequate insurance coverage for ADM disorders and the stigma involved in having such disorders.

The Solution
Over 25 years ago, heeding calls from the MSBA and the Court of Appeals, through the Grievance Commission of Maryland, the Honorable David N. Bates and the Honorable James M McAuliffe, Jr., with a committee of volunteers, formed the MSBA Lawyer Counseling Committee.

Judge Bates' contribution was the creation of a committee of lawyers to help other lawyers who suffered from the disease of alcoholism. His idea blossomed into a means for miraculous change in the lives of hundreds of Maryland lawyers and their families.

Thus in 1981, lawyer counseling began as a voluntary organization of lawyers across the State of Maryland willing and able to assist colleagues in need. Realizing the need for a full-time Director, they hired Richard B. Vincent, who became the first paid Director of such a Program in the United States. Soon the Committee of Volunteers, with the assistance of the Director, turned into a new model for other groups to follow throughout the country. Subsequently, Judge Bates' idea spread like wildfire to become an established element of each state's bar.

Today, the program is known as the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP), and the staff has developed a variety of services so that impaired members of the legal profession can receive early treatment and support in their recovery process. To honor the lasting contributions of David N. Bates and Richard B. Vincent, and to sustain the goals of the other founding fathers, the Bates/Vincent Foundation was created.

The Need
The Bates/Vincent foundation is a Charitable Corporation dedicated to assisting Maryland lawyers, judges and law students in need of financial help for treatment of substance abuse/dependency, gambling addiction and debilitating mental health disorders. Through the Foundation, a lawyer, judge, and/or law student in crisis is able to receive emergency loans if their circumstances meet fixed criteria.

Although the MSBA Lawyer Assistance staff routinely explores the availability of public assistance or sliding fee-scale professionals, often the individual who wants treatment for his/her disease is barred from receiving it because of (a) the attorney's lack of adequate insurance coverage and (b) the attorney's lack of financial resources to meet the expenses that would be incurred for treatment (or even the deductible, should the attorney have insurance).

Subsequently, the financial assistance awarded by the Bates/Vincent Foundation is structured as a loan with the condition that, once back on their feet, recipients are expected to establish a "good faith" repayment schedule. Experience dictates that even the most desperate lives can return to normalcy and productivity when addressed. Rarely, however, can individuals do it alone. They need help – your help!

As for James – he met the criteria and was given a small loan from the Bates/Vincent Foundation for a mental health evaluation and out-patient therapy. It was enough to get him started. James was diagnosed with clinical depression – an anxiety disorder – and substance abuse. Today, James is practicing successfully, continues to receive treatment and is supported and monitored by the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program. Furthermore, Walter acts as James's practice monitor – they even attend 12-step support group meetings together.

If you, or someone you know needs help, call the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program at (410) 685-7878 or (800) 492-1964, or e-mail cwaldhauser@msba.org.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: May 2006

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