The Role of Lawyers of Assistance Programs

Because lawyer assistance programs are so well-positioned to play a pivotal role in lawyer well-being, they should be adequately funded and organized to ensure that they can fulfill their potential. This is not consistently the case. While a lawyer assistance program exists in every state, according to the 2014 Comprehensive Survey of Lawyer Assistance Programs their structures, services, and funding vary widely. Lawyer assistance programs are organized either as agencies within bar associations, as independent agencies, or as programs within the state’s court system. Many operate with annual budgets of less than $500,000. About one quarter operate without any funding and depend solely on volunteers. The recommendations below are designed to equip lawyer assistance programs to best serve their important role in lawyer well-being.

Our Recommendations

Lawyers Assistance Programs Should be Appropriately Organized and Funded

Pursue Stable, Adequate Funding

Lawyer assistance programs should advocate for stable, adequate funding to provide outreach, screening, counseling, peer assistance, monitoring, and preventative education. Other stakeholders should ally themselves with lawyer assistance programs in pursuit of this funding.

Emphasize Confidentiality

Lawyer assistance programs should highlight the confidentiality of the assistance they provide. The greatest concern voiced by lawyer assistance programs in the most recent CoLAP survey was under-utilization of their services stemming from the shame and fear of disclosure that are bound up with mental health and substance use disorders. Additionally, lawyer assistance programs should advocate for a supreme court rule protecting the confidentiality of participants in the program, as well as immunity for those making good faith reports, volunteers, and staff.

Develop High-Quality Well-Being Programming

Lawyer assistance programs should collaborate with other organizations to develop and deliver programs on the topics of lawyer well-being, identifying and treating substance use and mental health disorders, suicide prevention, cognitive impairment, and the like. They should ensure that all training and other education efforts emphasize the availability of resources and the confidentiality of the process.

Lawyer assistance programs should evaluate whether they have an interest in and funding to expand their programming beyond the traditional focus on treatment of alcohol use and mental health disorders. Some lawyer assistance programs already have done so. The 2014 Comprehensive Survey of Lawyer Assistance Programs reflects that some well-resourced lawyer assistance programs include services that, for example, address transition and succession planning, career counseling, anger management, grief, and family counseling. Increasingly, lawyer assistance programs are expanding their services to affirmatively promote well-being (rather than seeking only to address dysfunction) as a means of preventing prevalent impairments.

This expansion is consistent with some scholars’ recommendations for Employee Assistance Programs that encourage engagement in a broader set of prevention and health-promotion strategies. Doing so could expand the lawyer assistance programs’ net to people who are in need but have not progressed to the level of a disorder. It also could reach people who may participate in a health-promotion program but would avoid a prevention program due to social stigma. Health-promotion approaches could be incorporated into traditional treatment protocols. For example, “Positive Recovery” strategies strive not only for sobriety but also for human flourishing. Resilience-boosting strategies have also been proposed for addiction treatment.

Lawyer Assistance Programs’ Foundational Elements

All lawyer assistance programs should include the following foundational elements to provide effective leadership and services to lawyers, judges, and law students:

  • A program director with an understanding of the legal profession and experience addressing mental health conditions, substance use disorders, and wellness issues for professionals;
  • A well-defined program mission and operating policies and procedures;
  • Regular educational activities to increase awareness and understanding of mental health and substance use disorders;
  • Volunteers trained in crisis intervention and assistance;
  • Services to assist impaired members of the legal profession to begin and continue recovery;
  • Participation in the creation and delivery of interventions;
  • Consultation, aftercare services, voluntary and diversion monitoring services, referrals to other professionals, and treatment facilities; and
  • A helpline for individuals with concern about themselves or others.