Bar News - November 19, 2014
President's Perspective: Lawyer Assistance Program Offers Confidential Help
By: Lisa Wellman-Ally
In my monthly remarks, I have included a recurring theme about how being a lawyer is more than just a job. I have talked about lawyers owing a duty to the profession by mentoring new attorneys and about lawyers owing a duty to their communities by being involved. This month, I would like to discuss what we owe each other as people by talking about the New Hampshire Lawyers Assistance Program.
In October, I attended the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programsí annual meeting. New Hampshire has its own Lawyers Assistance Program, staffed by Cecie Hartigan, who has been the executive director for the last seven years. Our LAP initially began as a volunteer group of lawyers that sought a way to help other lawyers who were experiencing mental health or substance abuse issues. Since then, the program has grown and developed into what we have in place today.
Attorneys who have concerns about a colleague who might be suffering from any range of mental health, substance abuse or even process abuse (such as gambling) issues, can make a confidential report to the LAP. The LAP will reach out to the attorney and try to help. In some cases, help from LAP can prevent behavior that would warrant disciplinary action. Attorneys also can self-report and they will find a compassionate and informed listener at LAP. In other cases, LAP may help an attorney deal with a disciplinary matter to avoid suspension or disbarment. No one should be afraid of seeking assistance from LAP. The program offers help, not judgment, and its confidentiality is specifically protected by Court rule.
The NH Bar Association Board of Governors recently voted for New Hampshire to participate in an ABA survey about substance abuse and mental health issues among attorneys. (Learn more about the survey.) The survey is our opportunity to confidentially obtain current data on the prevalence of these issues among New Hampshire attorneys.
Attendees at the ABA conference discussed a similar survey of law students. Law students had a higher rate of substance abuse issues than students in other graduate programs. Of those students who admitted to having either mental health or substance abuse issues, only a small portion were willing to seek assistance for it.
If the survey of lawyers, when completed, demonstrates the same results, we need to be concerned. If lawyers are suffering, they need to feel that they can reach out for help. For some, it is the lack of understanding of the LAP process that makes them reluctant to reach out. The LAP process is confidential and can help direct an attorney to the right resources and/or treatment. If a lawyer reaches out early enough for help, clients will be protected, and the attorney will be able to continue to serve the public with confidence.
I encourage all members to become familiar with the LAP and to reach out to those in need. It is our duty to help each other.
All contact with NH Lawyers Assistance Program is confidential. Call 877-224-6060. Write firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to share the word about NHLAP? Cecie Hartigan will speak to your firm or group.