State Bar Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program helps

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

The State Bar of Michigan Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program (LJAP) provides "a range of services to approximately 100 lawyers, law students and judges" throughout the state who are struggling with mental health or addiction issues," said Tish Vincent, the program administrator.

Vincent, who holds numerous degrees including a Masters in Social Work and a Juris Doctor and practiced as a clinician assisting impaired professionals prior to joining the State Bar, has administered the program since April of this year.

The LJAP offers a number of services, she explained. The process can start with a simple call to the hotline. Calls are answered by Vincent or one of the two clinicians on staff during business hours who are prepared to answer questions and give immediate assistance.

There are educational programs.

When requested, Vincent goes out "to local bar associations, the board of law examiners, or the attorney grievance commission to answer questions and alert them to mental or physical health issues."

The most important service that "we provide is the Monitoring Contract Probation (for individuals having problems with the law or the attorney grievance commission). One of us is the case manager overseeing a team of people that can include an addictionist, a psychiatrist, a primary care physician, a substance abuse or mental health therapist, and attorney peer monitors who volunteer their time to meet monthly with the attorney who is struggling."

LJAP keeps a database of clinicians around the state that work with attorneys, understand the legal culture and the pressures on lawyers, and can make clinical assessments of progress.

Volunteer attorney peer monitors assist recovering lawyers get re-established in their work world as attorneys. The team meets and makes recommendations.

"The success rate for the monitoring contracts," Vincent said, "for those who comply with the terms, is 86%. Nobody wants to come here, nobody wants to need this, but it can be a life-line for them."

Not everyone walks in the door on their own, Vincent explained. Families, co-workers, judges call asking for interventions with lawyers they see are in trouble.

The staff works with them helping to find an inpatient treatment plan, if needed. The troubled lawyer will also be given information about support groups for lawyers and judges.

"Attorneys believe they should be able to handle everything themselves and the more in trouble they are getting, the stronger that mind-set gets. They get very defensive and we understand that and we understand that they are wrong."

The lawyers in trouble need to get help sooner rather than later.

"We can help them to get started and we can help them contain the damage so it doesn't happen any more."

Vincent recognizes that lawyers can get help on their own, "but they don't have that accountability" that the program provides.

"The State Bar pays for the program and we collect fees for the services provided. We scale them down for the students, for example, a law student pays $5 dollars a session."

The State Bar LJAP website (www.michbar.org/generalinfo/ljap/) is a wealth of information. For those unsure if they have a problem, there are self-screening tests for Depression, Alcohol/drug abuse, Problem Gambling or Internet Addiction for guidance.

There is a meeting list for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, a link to Gamblers Anonymous, and information on other miscellaneous meetings for professionals needing help.

The website also provides a comprehensive list of Legal and Recovery Resources - a simple click on the link will connect to the article.

The Frequently Asked Questions section is extensive covering such topics as:

* Attorney monitoring or contractual probation program.

* Free consultations and trainings for law firms concerned about stress management, substance use issues or other topics relating to mental health.

* Information on how to reach recovering attorneys and judges throughout the state who will take the time to support lawyers new to recovery.

To contact the LJAP, call (800) 996-5522; or contact Tish Vincent at (517) 346-6337 or tvincent@mail.michbar.org.

Published: Thu, Dec 27, 2012