What are your bar leaders thinking? View our
archives of President's
Note: Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers has
an office at 450 N. Syndicate #117, St Paul MN 55104; it can
be reached by telephone at (651) 646-5590.
My uncle Arthur was the only
lawyer among my relatives. I remember him as tall, handsome and
dashing -- he was one of the last horse cavalry officers during
World War II. He was quick-witted and commanded an immense vocabulary.
I have yet to meet a smarter lawyer. Unfortunately, for most
of his adult life, Art was disabled by manic-depressive illness.
Originally from Minnesota, Art taught law in the East for several
years before returning to Minneapolis. While otherwise unemployed,
he agreed to help a friend, whose property was being condemned.
One day they discussed the case over martinis in downtown Minneapolis,
after which Art was unable to locate the lot in which he had
parked his car. Finding himself near a police station, he asked
for help in locating his car. To his surprise, the police were
uninterested in his problem. When he protested and refused to
leave the station, he was charged with disobeying a police order
and held for a court appearance.
The presiding judge happened to be a law school classmate, who
suggested deferring the case. Art insisted on a plea in abatement
of the charge. He asserted that he was a foreign lawyer within
the jurisdiction to defend the civil liberties of a citizen,
and therefore immune from arrest. The authority for this proposition
was an act of the British Parliament, incorporated in the common
law of Minnesota when it became a state. The law was enacted
to protect London barristers from harassment when defending unpopular
causes in remote districts; Art asserted that it applied equally
to his situation. He hadn't the citation at hand, but he had
learned of the law in Maynard Pirsig's class and was sure he
would confirm it. The judge retired to chambers to call Professor
Pirsig, who said he recalled the law, and while he wasn't sure
it still applied, he was of the view that if it weren't the law
it ought to be.
LAWYER ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
Many lawyers suffer from mental and emotional illnesses, and
from alcohol and chemical dependencies. Studies show that lawyers
have the highest incidence of depression of any occupation. As
many as one-fourth of surveyed lawyers exhibit symptoms of clinical
depression, more than twice the incidence in the general population.
The ABA has estimated that nearly one-fifth of all U.S. lawyers
suffer from alcohol or substance abuse, more than three times
the incidence in the general population.
The effects of these illnesses are not limited to the impaired
lawyers. Families, friends and associates share the pain, and
clients and the public are often harmed. There are estimates
that chemical or mental impairment is a factor in more than one-half
of all attorney discipline cases.
These afflictions, by their nature, often need intervention and
support from others. For many years, a dedicated group of attorneys,
organized as Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL), have offered
confidential assistance to alcoholic and chemically dependent
lawyers, judges and law students, and their families. Founded
in 1976 by a group of recovering lawyers, LCL now has 400 members
and has assisted in the recovery process of more than 500 lawyers.
The sometimes-tragic consequences of depression were illustrated
recently in Minnesota, when two lawyers committed suicide in
the aftermath of discipline for ethical violations. Ed Cleary,
director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility,
Justice Paul Anderson, and others urged an examination of emotional
illness in the profession. The MSBA's Life and the Law Committee
established a Depression Task Force, composed of lawyers, judges,
and mental health professionals and chaired by lawyer Jill Clark.
The task force recommended establishment of a lawyer assistance
program (LAP) for mental health issues. LCL, led by lawyers Gerald
Freeman and George Widseth, proposed expansion of LCL's organization
and program to encompass such lawyer assistance. Earlier this
year, the Minnesota Supreme Court granted the petition of the
MSBA and LCL to establish an LAP, funded by lawyer registration
fees ($7.00 per lawyer annually). To protect the confidentiality
of disclosures by lawyers seeking assistance, the Court also
amended the Rules of Professional Conduct to exempt such communications
from the requirements for reporting attorney misconduct.
The LAP will continue to offer intervention and support through
volunteers for alcoholism and chemical dependency. It will also
offer intervention, support, and referrals to mental health professionals
for depression and other mental illnesses. It will offer education
on mental illness and chemical dependency to the legal community.
LCL has operated with minimal staffing and a modest budget. Most
of its funds have come from contributions. Support from lawyer
registration fees will provide added funds, but the staffing
and budget will remain modest. LCL will continue to need volunteers
and contributions. It is an organization and a program worthy
of support. They save careers, families and lives.
Kent A. Gernander is president
of the MSBA. A general practice and trial lawyer in the Winona
firm of Streater & Murphy, P.A., he is a graduate of Harvard
College and of the University of Minnesota Law School.