Lawyers’ Assistance Program
The Need for a Lawyer’s Assistance Program
AAs the evolution of this State’s treatment of alcoholic practitioners has advanced, it became clear that the Bar Association and the Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse would need assistance in supervising lawyers who were attempting to recover from the disease of alcoholism. To meet this need, the Louisiana version of the Lawyer’s Assistance Program, Inc. (LAP, Inc.) was created.
Since the formation of LAP, Inc., an ever growing number of lawyers have been accepted for supervision in the hope that the disease process leading to whatever professional difficulties are faced by the attorney can be addressed and remediated. LAP, Inc. operates under the auspices of the Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and those individuals affiliated with LAP, Inc. all sit as members on that Committee. Consequently, all members of LAP, Inc. are legislatively provided with privileges and grants of both immunity and confidentiality so that they can interact with attorneys or members of the judiciary in the open, vigorous and holistic approach endorsed by the Louisiana Supreme Court in Dumaine, supra.
Alcoholism and Chemical Dependency Is More Prevalent Among Lawyers Than the General Population.
Alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental health problems are illnesses that affect a great number of professionals, including lawyers and judges. Reports now estimate that while 10% of the general population has problems with alcohol and other drugs, a greater percentage of the lawyer population battles the same problem. It is agreed that many lawyers and judges are overachievers who carry an extensive workload, and the daily pressures placed on these individuals can lead to inordinate amounts of stress and related difficulties. It is also known that stress, tension and anxiety do not cause alcoholism, although they may be wonderful excuses for drinking. There is no persuasive evidence that alcoholics suffer from more stress before the onset of the disease than do nonalcoholics.
Once the disease has progressed to a certain point, however, the alcoholic is bound to experience more stress than the nonalcoholic as a result of withdrawal symptoms and life's problems. Also, recent reports have shown that a majority of disciplinary problems involve chemical dependency or emotional stress.
Alcoholism, addiction and depression thrive in our midst, taking a tremendous toll claiming practices and lives, and causing devastating harm to clients. An attorney actively suffering from chemical dependency or serious mental illness is generally unable to practice law within competent and ethical parameters, and often does harm to clients. Charged with the onerous duty of protecting the public from errant or unfit lawyers, disciplinary and licensing authorities in Louisiana must address chemical dependency and mental illness in bar applicants and practicing lawyers.
Chemical dependency is clearly a prevalent problem in the legal profession. Lawyers suffer from this illness at more than twice the rate of the public population. In addition, a 1991 Johns Hopkins University study found legal professionals suffer the highest rate of depression of any profession. It remains unclear whether a certain personality type is drawn to the profession, or if the nature of the profession itself leads to the higher incidence of addiction and depression.
For example, a Washington State Bar Association study found that over 18% of the attorneys in Washington experience problems with alcohol. Impaired attorneys who continue to practice law adversely affect themselves, their clients, their colleagues, their community members, their families and the legal profession. The California State Bar believes that over 50% of the attorney misconduct cases that it investigates involve trouble with chemical dependency. The American Bar Association estimates that alcoholism and chemical dependency are a factor in 40 - 60% of professional discipline cases nationwide. The actions of an attorney whose performance is impaired often result in harm to a client's interest legally and economically, as well as injury to the reputation of the firm with which the attorney is associated. Furthermore, attorneys who perform at a substandard level create noncatastrophic losses that require attention. These losses arise from excessive absenteeism, poor productivity, and increased medical claims.
LAP’s "800" number (866-354-9334) continues to be answered on a 24hour basis, and each year the number of calls increases as word of the work of LAP spreads in the legal community and in the homes of lawyers. This includes referrals from treatment centers and private practitioners. Members of the Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse continue to be a leading source of referrals as the lawyers and judges in their areas of the state know these committee members. The members also continue to make presentations at all the law schools in the state.
The LAP Director and committee members continue to monitor lawyers who have had disciplinary problems and have been referred to LAP by the Disciplinary Counsel's Office or the Disciplinary Board.
Characteristically, a professional who suffers from these diseases denies he/she has a problem and is unlikely to seek assistance as the disease progresses. Most often, family, partners and other lawyers are aware of the problem, and their acknowledgment of the problem can often break the denial barrier and lead to effective treatment. The earlier the intervention, the better the chance for rehabilitation. Each of us bears the responsibility to help others who may not recognize the need for assistance, and we must take every step necessary to provide that assistance. Only by recognizing this responsibility can we prevent the abuser from causing further harm to himself and others.