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State Bar Associations often have defined policies due to the critical nature of legal work. Many states offer Lawyer Assistance Programs that provide confidential services to attorneys grappling with substance abuse.

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The American Bar Association (ABA)

The American Bar Association (ABA) is the largest voluntary professional association of lawyers and law students in the United States. While the ABA does play a significant role in shaping the legal profession’s standards and advocating for the rule of law, it doesn’t have the direct regulatory power to license or discipline lawyers – that authority rests with individual state bar associations and licensing entities.

However, the ABA does address issues of substance abuse and mental health in the legal profession in various ways:

Model Rules of Professional Conduct

The ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct guide state bars in crafting their own rules of ethics. While these rules do not directly address substance abuse or alcoholism, they emphasize a lawyer’s duty to provide competent representation to a client. Impairment from substance abuse interfering with a lawyer’s ability to serve clients could violate these ethical principles.

ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP)
This commission is dedicated to educating the legal profession about mental health and substance use disorders and helping legal professionals affected by these disorders. CoLAP provides resources, education, and assistance to lawyers, judges, and law students.
Education and Conferences
The ABA, through CoLAP and other entities, sponsors conferences, webinars, and seminars addressing substance use and mental health in the legal profession. These events aim to raise awareness, provide resources, and share best practices.
Resources and Publications
CoLAP offers numerous publications, toolkits, and resources on substance use and mental health issues tailored for legal professionals.
Model Policies
The ABA might recommend model policies or best practices that law firms and other legal employers can adopt to address substance abuse and support affected professionals.
National Surveys
The ABA has participated in and sponsored national studies on the prevalence of substance use and mental health issues in the legal profession. These studies aim to understand the scope of the problem and inform interventions.
Collaboration with State Lawyer Assistance Programs
Many states have Lawyer Assistance Programs (LAPs) that help legal professionals struggling with substance use and mental health issues. The ABA’s CoLAP collaborates with and supports these state programs, helping to ensure a consistent approach and share best practices.
Remember, while the ABA plays an influential role at the national level and offers many resources and initiatives related to substance use and mental health, the direct regulation of lawyers and interventions for those struggling with substance use disorders typically falls under the purview of individual state bar associations and licensing entities. Each state will have its mechanisms for addressing these challenges, including confidential support, treatment referrals, monitoring programs, and disciplinary processes.

State Bar Associations and State Bar Licensing Entities

State Bar Associations or State Bar Licensing Entities have the regulatory authority to oversee the conduct of lawyers in their respective jurisdictions. The exact approaches and interventions related to substance abuse and alcoholism might vary from one state to another. Still, many state bars have established mechanisms to address these challenges within the legal profession.

Here are some general ways in which state bars might handle substance abuse and alcoholism:

Each state typically has its own set of ethical rules for lawyers, often based on the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules emphasize a lawyer’s duty to provide competent representation. If a lawyer’s ability to serve clients is impaired due to substance abuse or alcoholism, they could be found violating these rules.
The state bar can initiate an investigation if a complaint is filed suggesting that a lawyer’s substance abuse affects their professional performance. This might involve reviewing the lawyer’s work, interviewing clients or colleagues, and other steps to determine the extent of the problem.

Many state bars have established LAPs, which support lawyers, judges, and sometimes law students facing substance abuse and mental health challenges. LAPs often provide:

  • Confidential Assessments: Lawyers can receive evaluations to determine the extent of their substance use issue.
  • Referrals: LAPs can connect lawyers with appropriate treatment programs, counseling, or peer support groups.
  • Education: LAPs often host workshops, seminars, and other educational events to raise awareness about substance abuse and mental health issues in the legal profession.
  • Monitoring: Some LAPs have monitoring programs for lawyers who have faced disciplinary action due to substance abuse, ensuring they maintain their sobriety as a condition of continued practice.
Depending on the severity and impact of the substance abuse on a lawyer’s professional duties, state bars can take corrective actions ranging from private reprimands to suspension or disbarment. Some state bars may opt for alternatives to discipline lawyers who proactively seek help and can demonstrate rehabilitation.
Many state bars emphasize the confidential nature of their LAPs to encourage lawyers to seek help without fear of immediate professional repercussions. Confidentiality provisions have exceptions if there’s an imminent threat to clients or the public.
Some states might have provisions that require lawyers or their colleagues to report known impairments that could affect a lawyer’s ability to serve clients.
If a lawyer’s license is suspended or revoked due to issues related to substance abuse, state bars typically have a process for reinstatement. This often involves demonstrating sustained sobriety, periodic monitoring, and meeting other criteria to ensure the lawyer’s fitness to practice.
Many state bars incorporate substance abuse and mental health topics into their continuing legal education (CLE) requirements to raise awareness and offer preventive strategies.
Some LAPs facilitate peer support networks, connecting lawyers in recovery with those currently struggling and providing a platform for shared experiences and mentorship.

State bars recognize the challenges of substance abuse and alcoholism in the legal profession and often provide a mix of supportive interventions and regulatory oversight to address the issue. The goal is to ensure the well-being of legal professionals while safeguarding the interests of clients and the public.

KRISTINA ROBERTSON, LMSW, LCDC

KRISTINA ROBERTSON

LMSW, LCDC | Counselor
Kristina Robertson serves as Counselor at Burning Tree Ranch. Holding both a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Social Work, Kristina’s greatest joy is “watching our clients learn to love themselves again.” An avid equestrian, mother to twenty-one horses, and all-around animal lover, Kristina serves as a bright shining example of long-term recovery in action. Her commitment to whole person health: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual makes her an invaluable member of the Burning Tree Ranch clinical team. As a distinguished Phi Theta Kappa and Alpha Zeta member, Kristina believes deeply in each client’s pursuit of becoming their best selves.

"who is a burning tree client?"

Beth Legacki, Burning Tree Ranch Alumni