First Lap Retreat a Hit
By Janet Stidman Eveleth
|| ABOVE: “Ernie
the Attorney” (a.k.a. Ernie Raskauskas) offers attendees guidance
and tips for effective lawyer-assistance.
LEFT: Kay Kenny, Assistant Vice
President of the LMI Agency, Inc., discusses risk-management.
BELOW: LAP Director Richard Vincent
(right) shares a laugh with attorney John O’Laughlin.
On March 11-12, 40 attorneys gathered
at the Towson Sheraton to participate in MSBA’s Lawyer Assistance Program’s
(LAP) first Retreat. Entitled “24 Hours with the Experts” the Retreat
offered lawyer assistance training and guidance to volunteer LAP lawyers who
help attorneys in trouble. It focused on lawyer impairment and its impact on
the legal profession, covering everything from substance abuse, mental health
issues, suicide and depression to support training.
“We were very pleased with our first Retreat and pleasantly
surprised at its success,” declares LAP Director Richard Vincent. “Everyone
present walked away with a better understanding of the resources available
to volunteer attorneys and judges to help them address substance abuse and
mental health problems in the legal profession. The Retreat guided lawyer assistance
attorneys on ways to support and help attorneys who are impaired.”
In addition to several moving videotapes of impaired lawyers
in dire situations as a result of substance abuse, the Retreat featured a panel
discussion on the legal community’s response to lawyer impairment. MSBA
Executive Director Paul V. Carlin offered the history of MSBA’s LAP program,
which is the oldest in the country. In 1981, through an ABA grant, MSBA created
LAP’s predecessor, the Lawyer Counseling Committee (LCC), and hired Vincent
as the Director.
“MSBA strongly supports this program,” Carlin
reported. “When LCC started, it mainly addressed substance abuse and
drugs. Although this is still the majority of its caseload, LCC expanded over
the years, became LAP in 1998, and now covers stress, senility, retirement,
death, grief and other things, too. We expanded LAP’s core mission to
include human behavior issues.”
Carlin commended Vincent and Carol Waldhauser, LAP’s
Assistant Director, for all of their efforts. “They visit the law schools
and meet with judges to discuss lawyer impairment problems and promote LAP’s
services,” he noted. “They operate peer core-group meetings and
work with the Committee to help lawyers in need.”
Through the efforts of hundreds of volunteer lawyers and
judges, LAP has assisted thousands of distressed attorneys and judges. “LAP’s
work is most satisfying because it is helping people,” Carlin stated.
He also told the audience about LAP’s new Bates and Vincent Foundation
that helps attorneys pay for needed services.
Bar Counsel Melvin Hirshman, another panelist, talked about
the new conditional diversion program which is part of the attorney discipline
rules, revised in July 2001. This program addresses minor attorney problems,
and once the lawyer successfully completes the diversion program, the complaint
is usually dismissed. “We currently have 71 attorneys in conditional
diversion, with issues ranging from alcohol and anger management to psychiatric
and mental health,” Hirshman reported.
“Our goal is to protect the public and discipline attorneys
when it is necessary,” he added. “These attorneys cause bad marks
for the whole profession.”
Hirshman reports an increasing number of stress and mental
health-related grievances in recent years. However, litigation still attracts
98 percent of complaints against Maryland lawyers. “These lawyers have
high stress, and the economy adds pressure; it is tough out there.”
“I pass a number of attorney’s names on to Richard
Vincent so that LAP will help them. LAP saves individual attorneys,” Hirshman
added. “We support LAP as an important program where attorneys can get
help. And remember, lawyers can be reinstated if they get better. Today, thanks
to LAP, there is more confidential help from lawyers than ever before.”
Kay Kenny, Assistant Vice President of the LMI Agency, then
discussed risk management. She noted that depression and alcoholism lead to
many malpractice complaints and discussed the signs and ways for attorneys
to manage these risks. She promoted LAP as an excellent support tool and place
to go for help. “LMI works with and supports LAP to help Maryland’s
lawyers,” Kenny added.
Finally, LAP Committee Vice-Chair William G. Simmons, who
goes out and offers hands-on support to distressed attorneys, explained that
most referrals come from judges and other attorneys. He discussed strategies
for assistance, with the judge’s involvement being the most effective,
and noted that solos and small firm practitioners are the ones who need the
greatest support. Simmons sees more problems with senility and clinical depression
today and rates stress and economics as other major culprits.
Other Retreat highlights included an analysis of mental health
issues with Ralph Raphael, Ph.D., an update on support training with John J.
McClanahan, Ph.D., a discussion of the observations of attorneys who volunteer
for lawyer assistance who help others with Jonathan Shoup, a member of LAP’s
Committee, and the very special appearance by Ernie the Attorney as entertainment
during dinner. All attendees found these sessions inspiring and educational.
Vincent was pleased to see representatives from Washington,
D.C., and Kentucky in attendance at LAP’s Retreat; both jurisdictions
are beginning LAP programs of their own and hope to model them after MSBA’s
successful LAP efforts. Plus, next year’s LAP Retreat may broaden its
scope and become a Regional Conference. “Our final discussion suggested
we should explore the possibility of including Delaware and the District of
Columbia and possibly other states next year,” Vincent stated. It is
likely to be another hit.