Virginia Lawyer

VaLawyer_Apr 2014

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20 One third of the responding lawyers said that substance abuse or mental health issues had inter- fered with their personal or professional lives. Twelve percent reported they had a problem with alcohol. Fourteen percent said they been profession- ally diagnosed with a mental health problem. Sixteen percent noted mental health prob- lems had affected their work. Twenty-two percent indicated mental health problems had affected their personal lives. Extrapolating from that study, substance abuse or a mental health issue has likely affected more than 13,000 current members of the Virginia bar. Unless you are a sole practitioner who has no staff and never leaves your office, you probably know a lawyer, judge, or another member of your legal community who is profes- sionally impaired. Lawyers Helping Lawyers provides free, confidential, nondisciplinary assistance to mem- bers of the legal profession who are profession- ally impaired by substance abuse or mental issues. Lawyers Helping Lawyers offers assistance designed to avoid disciplinary problems, protect clients and the public, support the impaired per- son's family and associates, and strengthen our profession. My first encounter with someone needing Lawyers Helping Lawyers services came early in my legal career when my secretary confessed the Big Gulp she brought to work every morning was not a soft drink. I did not know where to turn, but fortunately she reached out and got the help she needed. Since then, I have learned that self- help efforts are not the norm. While lawyers are 20 percent more likely than nonlawyers to have a drinking problem, studies show that 25 percent of lawyers who have a drinking problem are in denial. Although lawyers are trained to solve client problems, many lawyers do not recognize or deal with their own problems effectively. Substance abuse and mental health issues do not discriminate; they affect everyone. Recently, more young would-be lawyers have been referred to Lawyers Helping Lawyers by the Board of Bar Examiners for evaluation of possible substance abuse and mental health issues than practicing lawyers referred by the bar in connection with disciplinary proceedings. On the other end of the age spectrum, as baby boomers have matured, age-related impairments have affected more Virginia lawyers, and there has been a com- mensurate increase in the number of senior lawyers referred to Lawyers Helping Lawyers. Lawyers Helping Lawyers serves people of every age, gender, race, and economic status. The common denominator of our client base is that those in need of Lawyers Helping Lawyers services are members of your legal community who you know, work with, and may care about personally as well as professionally. Because lawyers are a self-regulated profession, and the privilege of self-regulation confers special duties upon lawyers. Unlike other licensed professionals, who the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation oversees, the Supreme Court of Virginia establishes the rules of conduct govern- ing lawyers and disciplinary procedures. Lawyers VIRGINIA LAWYER | April 2014 | Vol. 62 | LAWYERS HELPING LAWYERS Lawyers Helping Lawyers Matters Because a lawyer, judge or another member of your legal community is professionally impaired by substance abuse or a mental health issue. by Barbara A. Williams In November 2008, Lawyers Helping Lawyers surveyed 14,240 members of the Virginia State Bar to assess whether Virginia needed a lawyers assistance program. Almost 2,000 members — about 14 percent of the lawyers polled — responded. The answer was an emphatic yes. April2014VL_vl0414 4/2/14 5:22 PM Page 20

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