Volume 18, Number 3
In the Solution
GPSolo proudly presents a new standing column, "In the Solution," focusing upon lawyers' experiences with substance abuse, mental health, stress, and quality-of-life issues. For more information, please call the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs at 312/988-5359. The call is confidential.
North, South, East, and West
In the early '80s, state and local bar associations around the United States started, very gingerly, to look at "possible problems of substance abuse" within their memberships to determine what, if anything, the bar should or could do about alcoholism and drug addiction within its ranks. The Louisiana experience is typical of most states.
In 1982, Eldon Fallen, then-state bar president (now federal district judge), returned from another state bar's annual meeting much impressed by a session put on by that bar's "impaired lawyer committee." He quickly appointed such a committee, chaired by a nonalcoholic lawyer who had been chair of the Ethics Committee, composed primarily of lawyers recovering from alcoholism. The committee members talked to other lawyers with similar problems, and were successful at influencing those with alcohol and drug problems to stop drinking and become part of ongoing recovery programs-before they lost their licenses or became involved in the disciplinary process.
This fledgling group (like so many others around the country) struggled with issues of confidentiality, immunity from suit, relief from the "snitch rule," and other barriers to providing help from within the bar association context. Much to their surprise, the members of this group found that their newfound state bar friends were supportive of their efforts inside of and on behalf of the bar.
The snitch rule was modified to exclude reporting information secured during the course of "committee work"; a privilege was granted to the impaired lawyer concerning information he or she provided during the course of the committee's work with the lawyer. The Louisiana Supreme Court through rule and the Louisiana Legislature through statutory enactment confirmed this privilege and bestowed immunity from civil suit upon the group. The committee members worked as dedicated volunteers for a number of years.
In 1988, the Kentucky Bar Association, urged on by Kentucky lawyers Billy Hoge and Al Welch, authorized $3,000 for a national workshop on problems of the impaired lawyer. That same year, the American Bar Association created the Commission on Impaired Lawyers, chaired by Stelle Huey of Atlanta. Appointees included recovering lawyers and some venerable ABA regulars. The commission joined forces with the Kentucky Bar Association and produced the first workshop addressing problems of substance abuse within the legal profession. The workshop has become an annual event and the primary education and training site for Lawyer Assistance Programs (LAPs). In 1988, nearly 20 states were represented at the workshop in Nashville. At the time, only four programs around the country had paid staff at their helms. Since then, through the work of the commission, its workshop, and the ever-growing national cadre of state bar volunteers, this number has grown from four to 40, and all 50 states have volunteer organizations addressing addiction problems.
Over time, the committees on alcohol and drug abuse became Lawyer Assistance Programs and broadened their scope of work to include compulsive gambling, mental health and stress-related problems, as well as quality-of-life issues.
Funding for these programs has come from as many sources as there are "pockets" within the profession. In some states, including Louisiana, the IOLTA program provided initial funding, with the admonition that groups should secure additional funding elsewhere. State bars have participated in the funding of these programs, as have state judiciaries. Insurers doing business on behalf of and with state bar groups have made contributions to the operations of the lawyer assistance programs. Incidences of malpractice and healthcare claims among the "newly and long time recovering" lawyer community are greatly reduced. Few state bars provide actual treatment, but the LAP programs work with lawyers to secure treatment available through commercial insurers, state-sponsored programs, self-help groups, and others.
Compulsive gambling seems to be on the rise and is recognized as an addictive problem that can be treated. Louisiana provides state-funded treatment for compulsive gambling, with fees based on the person's ability to pay. The facility is located in Shreveport, Louisiana (the home of numerous riverboat casinos).
Staff directors in most states are supported by volunteer recovering lawyers from around the state. Once a lawyer is identified as someone who might have a problem, the volunteers swing into action. Together, the volunteers and staff director provide local, quick, confidential, accurate assessments of whether the involved lawyer actually has a problem. If so, the locals work on a confidential basis with the LAP director toward whatever the appropriate level of help for the involved lawyer may be.
LAPs are not shields that protect lawyers facing disciplinary charges because of things done while drinking, drugging, gambling, or depressed. They may, however, provide information to disciplinary authorities regarding a lawyer's recognition of a problem and commitment to recovery. LAPs become involved as a reporter or monitor only at the request of the involved lawyer. These services may be used by state bar discipline and admissions committees, law firms, and other employment-related situations, but only at the request of the involved lawyer. Louisiana has approximately 17,000 lawyers in its integrated bar. During an average week, four to five lawyers receive significant help from the LAP. More than 10 percent of the state's lawyers have received help from the program.
Help has been accepted by lawyers from every walk of life, including small, medium, and large law firms; government offices; state offices; corporate law departments; and trial and appellate courts.
As a result of the intervention done by my law firm and my involvement in a 12-step program and a LAP, I enjoy of counsel status with my law firm and delight in chairing the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs for the past three years. I have had the joy of speaking to hundreds of people about confidential help for lawyers with problems. Best of all, I get to spend many happy hours with my grandsons, Daniel and Robert, as well as my wife, Julia.Ed Blewer graduated from LSU Law School in May 1957, entered private practice with a Shreveport, Louisiana, law firm, and has been a partner in that firm since 1960. He was active in local and state bars for 20 years, serving as secretary-treasurer of the Shreveport Bar Association and chair of its ethics committee from 1976 through 1979. Sometime in the 1970s, his drinking got out of hand. In 1980, three of Ed's partners invited him to a conference room and told him they loved him but if he did not stop drinking completely and immediately, he would no longer be associated with the firm. He was hospitalized in the only local hospital offering "drying-out treatment" (a 28-day treatment program was initiated while he was there). He accepted help from a 12-step program. Since sobering up, he has been active in Louisiana's Committee on Impaired Lawyers (now Committee on Lawyer Assistance Programs). He has also been active in the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, which he has chaired for the last three years.
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