Bar News - September 7, 2007
Lawyers Assistance Program Names Director
Cecile Hartigan, a Concord attorney, has been named executive director of the new Lawyers Assistance Program, which was created earlier this year by court rule to provide service coordination and outreach to help lawyers and judges impaired by alcohol, drugs, or mental health issues.
Hartigan, admitted to the Bar in 1985, was practicing in the law office of Roger Phillips until her official start date of Sept. 1. She initially served on a committee that helped to put together the rule to create the LAP, but she resigned when she realized that she might be interested in the position.
The LAP, initially funded by a portion of the court-mandated Public Protection Fund assessment, was created under Supreme Court Rule 58 which states that the program exists “to provide immediate and continuing help to members of the legal profession, regardless of their status and law students who are affected by any physical or mental health condition that affects their ability to practice their profession, quality of life, or study of law.”
New Hampshire is one of the last states in the country to establish a funded program to aid impaired lawyers. For years, New Hampshire’s efforts in these areas have been handled by two all-volunteer efforts: the Bar Association’s Lawyers Assistance Committee (LAC), chaired by John Tobin; and Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) of NH, an independent self-help group that meets monthly at the Manchester Country Club, and generally provides mentoring and support for attorneys and others in the legal community who are in recovery.
Rule 58 was proposed and adopted by the Court after an on-site audit of NH’s services for impaired or addicted lawyers by members of the ABA’s Committee on Lawyers Assistance Programs (COLAP) identified areas of need. A commission, appointed by the NH Supreme Court last year researched how to structure and fund a permanent and professionally staffed Lawyers Assistance Program. The commission, co-chaired by Tobin and LCL-NH founder Hon. John R. Maher (retired Administrative Judge of the Probate Court), will oversee the program and provide guidance to Hartigan. The startup costs of the LAP were funded largely by a $5,000 Justice Grant from the NH Bar Foundation’s Voluntary Prevention Fund, but permanent funding will be provided through an existing annual assessment of members of the Bar.
Hartigan, will be working from an office in her home in downtown Concord, to keep expenses low and also to provide a confidential meeting place for clients. She said the main value of working full-time as LAP’s staff member is that she will have time to explore and coordinate resources to provide help to individual members of the Bar who are experiencing difficulties, and to increase awareness of services for individuals who are struggling with the demands of the legal profession or are experiencing extraordinary strains in their personal lives that are detracting from their ability to serve their clients or the legal system.
The Preamble to Rule 58 states the purpose of the LAP clearly:
“The Supreme Court recognizes that a wide range of influences can detrimentally affect the performance of a lawyer or judge. Prominent among such influences are the effects of chemical dependence or mental conditions that result from disease, disorder, trauma or other infirmity that impair the ability of a lawyer or judge to practice or serve. Lawyer or judge impairment is detrimental to the interests of clients, litigants, our legal system, and the general public.
“The vast majority of States have responded to the issue of lawyer impairment by creating funded lawyer assistance programs as contemplated by this Rule, acknowledging the principle that every member of the bar has an obligation to the public to participate in an appropriate response to lawyer or judge impairment.
“The Supreme Court finds that the New Hampshire Lawyers Assistance Program is an appropriate method for addressing the issue of lawyer or judge impairment and that the program will promote the integrity of the legal profession and will thereby directly benefit the people of New Hampshire.”
Hartigan, even before her official start date, was meeting with officials of the Attorney Discipline Office, with court administrators, and the Bar Association to inventory what resources and mechanisms now exist to provide help.
One of Hartigan’s initial tasks also will be to simply make the bar aware of the program’s existence. “Once people know that these resources will be there, they will be more likely to use these resources.”
She will also be working to let members of the bar and the bench know that, under the Rule there are iron-clad confidentiality protections and that it is safe to self-report, or to report on someone who they believe might be having problems. “There is a reluctance to do so now, as people don’t want to get a colleague in trouble, eventhough they know someone needs some assistance, but what they are doing has not risen to the level of professional misconduct.”