Litigator Daniel Lukasik discusses ways in which law firms can create healthier environments to lesson stressors for lawyers in this article recently published by the Magazine of the Association of Legal Administrators. The article discusses how implementing family-friends firm policies, examining salary and bonus structures, and emphasizing collegiality can go a long way in helping maintain the mental health of a firm’s attorneys. For example, Holland & Hart LLP has implemented a formal Partner Responsibility Committee, which works to create a supportive environment for its employees. The article also makes note that new lawyers would benefit greatly from such environments, as the transition from law school to firm life can often be stressful. Additionally, aging attorneys, among whom impairment issues can arise, would benefit from a more sensitive and supportive firm environment as they prepare for retirement.
The results of the most recent Comprehensive Survey of Lawyer Assistance Programs are now available on CoLAP’s website here. The 2012 survey compiles data from nearly every lawyer assistance program in the US and includes information on annual budgets, staffing, clients and impairments served. The report demonstrates that LAPs have continued to provide consistent and significant support to the legal profession. A few particularly notable trends are worth highlighting:
- Programs referred over 1,000 lawyer, judges and law students to treatment programs in 2012;
- LAPs reported that prescription drugs were the second most commonly abused substance, second only to alcohol.
- As compared to the 2010 report, services for cognitive issues/aging have increased
CoLAP greatly appreciates the input from LAPs, input that makes the survey possible.
While it is not impossible for a disbarred lawyer to be reinstated, the process can be quite difficult and few lawyers even try. Data collected by the ABA indicates that 674 petitions, motions or requests for reinstatement or readmission were filed in 2011 in the jurisdictions that responded. Only 67 applications for reinstatement after disbarment were successful. Over the past 30 years, many disciplinary bodies have developed a spectrum of sanctions, including different levels of suspension, such that disbarment tends to be saved for the most serious of offenses. Additionally, there is little consensus among state supreme courts and disciplinary agencies over which disbarred lawyers should be reinstated.
However, in the event that the sanctions were the result of substance abuse or mental health issues, some favor reinstatement after effective treatment. And, the relationship between lawyer misconduct and substance abuse or mental health issues is one area where disciplinary agencies have been revising their policies. State Lawyer Assistance Programs (LAPs) have played a role in propagating this change. Sarah Krauss, chair of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs comments that “work around the United States through LAP programs has brought everybody’s consciousness up a bit…we’ve been at this for more than 25 years, and we’ve seen more interaction between LAPs and not only disciplinary counsel, but also character and fitness committees on who should be admitted in the first place.” In considering reinstatement for substance abuse or mental health cases, some states are focusing on acknowledgment of wrongdoing, restitution, and concrete steps taken toward rehabilitation.
For more information, read this article, recently published in the ABA Journal.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act forbids public entities to administer licensing programs that discriminate against qualified candidates on the basis of disability. This op-ed in the New York Times makes the argument that denial of admission to state bars on the basis of mental illness is not only unethical, but is also a violation of such law. Currently, many states include the following question in their character and fitness application: “Within the past five years, have you been diagnosed with or have you been treated for bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia or any other psychotic disorder?” In some cases acknowledging psychiatric disorders prompts further investigation, delays the process, and can lead to conditional licenses. And yet, there is no evidence to suggest that lawyers with mental illness are any less ethical or capable than other lawyers.
George Hettrick, one of the nation’s leaders in the pro bono community, shares his story of recovery from alcoholism, in this recent article. With his list of accomplishments, including having been special counsel to a Virginia governor, assistant general counsel to the state’s largest power company, and creator of a successful corporate finance practice, his serious condition might have derailed his career, not to mention his personal life. He describes how by the time he was in his mid-30s, his drinking patterns matched the medical description of alcoholism as a “chronic and progressive disease, incurable and – if untreated – implacably worsening.” By recognizing and seeking treatment for his disease, Hettrick was able to regain control over his life and subsequently built one of the nation’s leading pro bono law practices. The process was expectedly difficult and required participation in two residential treatment programs. But now, in addition to being a leader in the pro bono world, Hettrick is also a board member with Lawyers Helping Lawyers in Virginia and uses his own experiences to help other legal professionals with substance abuse and mental health issues.
Recognizing the seriousness of suicidal statements, Apple recently updated Siri to provide helpful suicide prevention information. Siri, an application that uses a natural language interface to provide useful information to users has become increasingly popular since its introduction in 2011 on Apple’s iPhone 4S. While Siri might be used to obtain directions to the closest grocery store or for assistance purchasing tickets to a movie, Siri can also provide critical information, like the phone number to a suicide prevention hotline. This new change is presumably the result of complaints that Siri’s response to suicidal statements such as “I am going to jump off a bridge” included information on bridge locations.
For more information, click here.
Title: Grey Matters: Perspectives on Aging Lawyers and Cognitive Impairment
When: August 21st at 1:00 p.m EST
It happens every day and is increasing with the aging of the legal population. Lawyers who were once sharp as a tack and never missed a step begin to stumble through simple thoughts, can’t find the right words and begin to mentally wander. What do you do when a lawyer begins to exhibit signs of cognitive impairment? What are your responsibilities to the firm, its clients and the lawyer? What resources are available to guide your decision-making and find help? This program draws upon experts from lawyer assistance programs, the mental health community, lawyer discipline and professional liability to analyze the impact of cognitive impairment from multiple perspectives and give practical direction for lawyers and judges who are faced with a colleague who shows signs of age-related impairment.
Who should attend this program: Lawyers in all settings who have interactions with older lawyers as partners, co-counsel, opposing counsel or friends. Judges who have older lawyers appearing before them at all stages of litigation and older colleagues on the bench.
Attendees will learn:
- The difference between being a little absent-minded and exhibiting cognitive impairment;
- Signs to watch out for when dealing with a lawyer who may be experiencing cognitive impairment;
- The resources available from state and local lawyer assistance programs;
- The risks of disciplinary action when failing to address problems of cognitive impairment; and
- The exposure to malpractice when cognitively impaired lawyers continue to practice.
Details and registration are posted here.