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Bar News - November 19, 2010

Cecie Hartigan Discusses NH Lawyers Assistance Program

Cecie Hartigan
NH Lawyers Assistance Program (NHLAP) Director Cecie Hartigan spoke recently with NH Bar News about how the program operates, who it’s helping, and what new services are in the works. Hartigan hopes to make NHLAP an even more effective tool in assisting any attorney (or judge or law student) in need of help with addiction, depression, or other mental health issues.

Q. How does the NH Lawyers’ Assistance Program work? If someone needs help, what’s the first step?

Just contact us. And remember: our number-one priority is confidentiality – in fact, it is guaranteed under Supreme Court Rule 58. Secondly, the program is mostly voluntary. I say "mostly voluntary" because we do get referrals from the Character and Fitness Committee, and from the Attorney Discipline Office, to help people and to evaluate their circumstances.

But 70 percent of our cases last year were from individuals seeking help themselves – or colleagues, friends or family seeking help for them. In these latter cases, whether someone ultimately decides to accept what we have to offer is entirely up to them.

We consider ourselves a program for all kinds of crisis assistance; for instance, if someone’s addiction has led to a financial crisis, we will find financial counseling for that person; if the addiction has put the marriage in jeopardy, we will help find marital counseling.

Q. What role does NHLAP play in admissions to the Bar – or in solving discipline problems within the membership?

As I mentioned, on occasion the character and fitness committee, or the Supreme Court, asks us to take a look at a potential admittee, if it is known that there might be a problem with addiction or another issue that could impair the ability to practice law.

We intentionally included law students in the served population under the Rule, and strive to help them whenever we can. For instance, if they have any history of DUI’s or other problems, it can be extremely stressful in terms of application to the Bar.

As for the Attorney Discipline Office (ADO), I am sometimes consulted to see if there’s a problem with addiction, depression or some other issue that may be underlying someone’s disciplinary matter. This seems to me to make very good practical sense. If a lawyer is going to be returning to practice following discipline, then it is a good idea to help him or her not to repeat the same troublesome conduct, and to get help in any case, if it’s needed.

Q. Could you give some details about how the organization is supported?

Of the fee assessed each lawyer for the PPF (Public Protection Fund), $20 was originally given to NHLAP. We are very careful with our funds; we saved about a quarter of the first year’s funding. Last year I sat down with our budget committee and we gave back $5 per attorney. Our assessment is now $15 per attorney.

Q. As a former attorney in private practice [Phillips Law Office, Concord], how did you become director of NHLAP?

Actually, I was involved with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL), founded about 20 years ago by Judge John Maher. LCL had for years worked with the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Lawyers Assistance Committee (LAC), chaired by John Tobin, to try to help attorneys in need. Other states had created funded programs, and there was talk of starting something more comprehensive for New Hampshire, if funding could be found, as there was a growing need that the two volunteer groups were not able to fill.

I was asked to write a job description for the director of such an organization. As I wrote the guidelines, which were based on the ABA Model Rule, I began to think, "I would love to do this!" So I stopped writing and applied for the job.

Q. Are there ways in which you have tried to promote NHLAP’s services? How do you get the word out that there is such help available?

We try to make our presence known wherever lawyers gather. I go out and speak at various Bar functions, such as county bar meetings, Inns of Court, law firms etc. We have also become an exhibitor at Bar gatherings such as the Annual Meeting and Midyear Meeting. Since we rely in many cases on volunteers to assist with attorneys in crisis, we are getting ready to do a volunteer training.

Q. Are there plans for the future that you would like members to know about?

By next spring, we hope to be presenting a series of CLE’s on life-balance/wellness issues. Richard Uchida and NHBA CLE Committee member Russ Hilliard [both NHBA past presidents] and I have been working together with the Bar’s Director of Continuing Education Jo Hinnendael and Jennifer Sargent (Attorney Discipline Office) on this project. We plan to cover a variety of topics eligible for NHMCLE credit, offering programs that can be viewed either in person or by Webcast.

Visit the NHLAP website to read the 2009-10 Annual Report of activities and expenditures or call Cecie Hartigan at 603-224-6060 for further information.

Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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