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Bar News - October 18, 2013

Clearing the Hurdles to Asking for Help


Editorís Note: The New Hampshire Lawyers Assistance Program is a confidential program under NH Supreme Court Rules 58.8 (NHLAP Confidentiality) and 37.1 (Attorney Discipline: relieved from 8.3 Duty to Report) that provides assistance to lawyers, judges, and law students experiencing substance abuse, mental health, other issues that may impair the ability to practice law. This is the first in a periodic series of articles about the work of NHLAP.

If you have a problem or want advice about a
colleague, contact NHLAP

Confidential and toll-free at

(800) 224-6060

I have been encouraged by the fact that there has been a steady increase in the number of people in the legal community who have sought help before their substance dependency or mental health problems had completely destroyed their lives.

I donít underestimate the courage this requires. Lawyers, in particular, are loathe to ask for help, and it makes some sense. As New Hampshire lawyer Richard Uchida said in a video describing our program: "We pride ourselves on being tremendous problem-solvers. Weíre not so good at solving problems in our own lives, because the other thing that attorneys do well is we rationalizeÖ So, the pride, because we are wonderful problem-solvers, and the need to look invincible in doing so, make for a very, very difficult environment for coming forward."

People fear stigma in asking for help. And yet, my experience is that the stigma that we fear is always the strongest in the person who is asking for help. Partners, colleagues, judges, and friends whose help is sought rarely have a judgment to make. Most lawyers recognize that but for the grace of circumstance any of us might experience the same. And with recovery, over time, the fear of stigma all but vanishes for the sufferer, leaving many to ask: "Why didnít I wait so long to get help?"

The truly good news about recovery for professionals is that treatment works. Research shows that when treatment for substance abuse includes peer support and monitored follow-up, it is likely to be effective. A program for physicians documented a remarkable 79 percent success rate over 5 years. Our experience at NHLAP has been the same: Those who received treatment followed by monitoring have been successful in returning to work and personal life sober. The turnaround is never easy, but it is inspiring. The lawyers or judges who go back to practicing law return to their profession with new purpose.

Cecie Hartigan is executive director of the NH Lawyers Assistance Program. For more information about the NH Lawyers Assistance Program, please visit or make a confidential call to (800) 224-6060.

NHLAP: A confidential Independent Resource

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