The Lansing Report
You could just back away saying "it’s not my problem." But, if you choose to help, the State Bar offers a place for you to turn. After all, it’s not just your colleague who’s at risk, but also the clients he represents, clients who deserve equal access to the justice system by counsel who can provide adequate representation.
The Bar’s Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program (LJAP) is not only a valuable resource to members, but also of great benefit to the public we ultimately serve.
More Than Just "The Man in the Bottle"
Proactive, expansive, confidential, and free are all words that describe a very important State Bar member service. The LJAP, one of the oldest lawyer’s assistance programs in the country, uses a "broad brush" approach in assisting families and individuals who are faced with issues related to depression, HIV/AIDS, gambling, chemical dependency, stress, marriage and family issues, and life stage adjustment issues. Since 1979, the program has been a confidential source of guidance and support to attorneys, judges, and law students throughout the state of Michigan. These are our members—our colleagues.
Over the past year, State Bar LJAP Senior Director Bill Livingston and Director Martha Burkett, working in conjunction with the Bar’s Lawyers and Judges Assistance Committee, have placed emphasis on program expansion.
"One of the larger misconceptions held by many is the belief that the LJAP only deals with issues related to chemical dependence," said Livingston. He believes that the association comes largely through the very effective marketing of the past. "We are much more than the ‘man in the bottle,’" he said, in reference to the familiar advertisement depicting the man/woman trapped inside the liquor bottle. This depiction has been largely circulated over the years in various legal publications throughout the state (please see new ad on page 973 of this issue).
LJAP expansion efforts have been coupled with a more proactive approach to lawyers assistance in the state of Michigan, as opposed to the traditional reactive approach taken in the past. Although both approaches have their merits, by using a proactive approach in addressing and dealing with these problems, many times the LJAP can begin helping people at the beginning stages of a problem as opposed to the end stage when their lives may have already been negatively impacted—their job, family, career, etc.
"If there’s an attorney with a problem and it’s affecting his or her practice, it affects all of us," said Lawyers and Judges Assistance Committee Chairperson Kathleen Harris. "It affects all of our reputations if someone is not doing a good job. One of the problems manifested might be unethical behavior, which reflects on the Bar as a whole. Just in working with other attorneys on cases you want someone who’s really doing the best job possible. There are lots of reasons why all lawyers should be concerned to have this program available to everybody."
Highly skilled professionals, experienced in dealing with addictions and mental health issues, are working to ensure that both the attorney/judge and the public are protected. The LJAP staff is devoted to helping individuals get back on track before they begin to experience formal consequences related to their impairment.
Unfortunately, law students from time to time find themselves involved with misdemeanor alcohol and/or drug-related offenses. They are bound to report these to the law school they attend and ultimately to character and fitness. Thus, law students are becoming a focal point for the preventative efforts of the LJAP. The LJAP is currently in the process of establishing relationships with the judiciary in those jurisdictions accommodating the law schools in Michigan. As part of these efforts, the LJAP is working on preventative educational programming for these students that the sentencing judge may utilize as one of his or her sentencing options. This way, the LJAP is able to address what may be an escalating problem before it continues to worsen and follows the student into the practice of law.
The LJAP is a service to State Bar members—it’s part of what you get for your member dues. There is no charge for telephone consultations or other services provided to lawyers, judges, and their families.
All contact with the LJAP is completely confidential, and its policy is based on federal confidentiality guidelines, which prohibit disclosure about program participants to anyone without prior written consent. The team behind the LJAP recognizes that the issues lawyers and judges are facing that bring them to the program are deeply personal and must be handled with the utmost discretion.
For those attorneys already involved in the disciplinary process, the LJAP can facilitate involvement in an Attorney Monitoring Program.
Recently, the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs advised that the most effective lawyers assistance programs throughout the country are those that include a monitoring component to administer the monitoring of recovery efforts of those attorneys who have been found to be chemically dependent.
Last year, the Michigan LJAP launched a monitoring program, which currently has 35 trained attorney monitors throughout the state. These trained monitors are chosen from a larger recovery network (120 throughout the state) of attorneys in the state of Michigan. They assist in the hands-on monitoring of their peers who are in the early stages of recovery from varying forms of chemical dependency. Their role is not at all clinical. They meet with recovering individuals twice a month and document the recovery efforts they are engaged in, which could include therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or all of the above. The monitors furnish monthly reports to the individual’s point of referral—judge, employer, Attorney Grievance Commission, Character and Fitness, etc.
Volunteer Recovery Network
Through the LJAP, recovering lawyers, judges, and law students can access the support of a Volunteer Recovery Network. The Network is comprised of approximately 120 recovering lawyers, judges, and/or law students throughout the state who are consistently available at a moment’s notice to assist those State Bar members who are having problems with chemical dependence. These individuals serve their peers, who are entering recovery from chemical dependency, by volunteering for the Network and /or the Attorney Monitoring Program.
This program has the potential to augment aftercare and long-term recovery plans by providing additional accountability and invaluable support from professional peers in recovery, thus increasing the likelihood that impaired law students and professionals can enjoy long-term success and sobriety.
The LJAP also offers educational seminars and consultation services for law firms, large and small, which are designed to meet your specific needs.
One of the outreach efforts of the LJAP finds form in a quarterly newsletter, Turning Point. The newsletter is distributed to lawyers throughout the state and provides timely information that is applicable to all. Some of the topics of articles in recent issues have included " Marital Failure: How to Avoid It," "Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)," "Depression," "Co-dependency in the Workplace," "Stress Management," and "Gambling." Persons submitting articles for the newsletter are experts in their respective clinical fields and have expertise in treating impaired professionals.
The LJAP also conducts interventions at all levels: family, job, and judicial. The intervention process is one that is proven to be highly successful in getting the impaired person to interrupt their cycle of destructive behavior. These interventions are not confined to issues of chemical dependence only, but are also used to address other issues encompassed by the broad brush approach of the program. The LJAP has successfully conducted intervention training for the judiciary over the past year. The goal of this outreach effort has been to educate the judiciary and then assist them in the intervention process.
The LJAP web page can be found at the State Bar’s website. Go to www.michbar.org/committees/ljap/home.html
Here, members can interact in a confidential capacity. There are archived Turning Point articles, as well as interactive instruments within the site itself to assist members in discerning the beginnings of a problem or the validation that one may already exist.
In addition, for the last three years, the LJAP has held an annual fund raising golf tournament to generate monies earmarked for attorneys who are unable to pay for the expense of chemical dependence treatment. This year’s Annual Jack Born Memorial Golf Tournament will be held the day before the State Bar’s Annual Meeting, at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, September 19, at the Tanglewood Golf Club in Novi.
The importance of the State Bar’s LJAP program is evident in the number of clients served by the program. As of mid-May of this year, the number of clients served was up by 80 percent over last year and calls from women were up by 10 percent. Calls for depression, gambling, and marital discord, as well as eating disorders, anxiety, and life transition issues have increased. This differing landscape of issues and types of problems that the LJAP is presented with makes the broad brush approach of the program an even more highly effective method for addressing individual concerns.
Your State Bar is here for you throughout every phase of your professional life. Not only providing you with valuable products to improve your law practice, technological advances to lead you through this new century, and discount programs for your professional needs, but we are also here to help you when you are faced with those issues that often go unspoken. Your State Bar can provide you with the guidance, advice, and help you need for the most important asset of your professional practice—you.
For more information about LJAP services or if you want a confidential conversation with someone on our LJAP staff, call (800) 996-5522.