Oregon State Bar Bulletin — AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2006

Two Solutions, Two Approaches
By Cliff Collins

When it comes to dealing with addiction problems among Oregon State Bar members, the bar has two programs to turn to. Each takes a slightly different approach toward the key goals of helping members and protecting the public.

As Cal Souther, chairman of the State Lawyer Assistance Committee — SLAC —, points out, everyone wins when a member of the legal profession enters treatment and recovery: "The lawyer wins by recovery from a fatal disease; the public is protected from the impaired and the incompetent; and the profession wins by having successfully performed its obligations to the public and to its members."

Members of the legal community who recognize that they need help, or know someone in the profession who does, can refer themselves or others to the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program, a confidential service established by the Professional Liability Fund in 1982 for all Oregon lawyers.

The OAAP provides confidential assistance with alcoholism, drug addiction, burnout, stress management, time management, career transition, compulsive disorders (including gambling addiction, sexual compulsion and compulsive Internet use), relationships, depression, anxiety and other issues that affect a lawyer’s ability to function.

"For close to 25 years, the OAAP has been providing completely confidential assistance to Oregon lawyers," says Barbara Fishleder, OAAP executive director. "When lawyers access the OAAP, they know they can do so without concern about retribution or punishment. The OAAP was set up in this way — including its statutory and regulatory protections for confidentiality and anonymity — so that lawyers would seek the help they need at the earliest possible time. This serves everyone’s interests."

OAAP services range from helping access treatment for addiction to counseling for career change or retirement. Assistance includes individual counseling, support groups, interventions, workshops, educational programs and referrals. The OAAP has the highest rate of lawyer assistance program access in the country — approximately 10 percent of lawyers in private practice access the OAAP each year.

All communications with the OAAP are confidential and will not affect an attorney’s standing with the PLF or the OSB. No information will be disclosed to any person, agency or organization outside the OAAP without the consent of the lawyer accessing the program. Contacts with the OAAP are kept strictly confidential pursuant to: ORS 9.568; PLF Policies 6.100-6.300; ORS Ch. 192, OSB Bylaw Article 24; and Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct (ORPC) 8.3(c)(3).

These rules ensure that no one will be told about requests for services. Individuals who access the OAAP are exempt from the reporting requirements of ORPC 8.3, provided the information is obtained while participating in an OAAP program. This allows lawyers to participate freely in support groups and 12-step meetings.

All OAAP attorney counselors are both lawyers and trained counselors. Each has experience practicing law — and personal experience and/or training in addiction, compulsive disorders, 12-step programs, career transition, stress management, mental health issues and other areas of assistance provided by the program.

An attorney counselor is on call 24 hours a day. All help from the OAAP is free or at nominal cost.

Those concerned about other lawyers or judges with addiction problems also can turn to the State Lawyer Assistance Committee. SLAC has the statutory authority to develop a remedial treatment plan for a referred lawyer and to refer the lawyer to discipline if he or she fails to cooperate with the designated plan.

Cal Souther, SLAC chairman, says his committee is set up to address these questions:

The lawyer referred to SLAC may be required to seek professional assessment and evaluation by trained providers. If indicated by the assessment, the lawyer will enter an agreement with SLAC providing for a treatment plan, follow-up and after-care monitoring and supervision.

SLAC has the authority to refer recalcitrant lawyers to the disciplinary process. It is a violation of ORPC 8.1 for a lawyer to refuse to cooperate with SLAC. Refusal to cooperate, including refusal to perform the terms of a treatment agreement between the lawyer and SLAC, may lead to a formal disciplinary proceeding.

Confidentiality is governed by ORS 9.568, the source of SLAC’s authority, and ORPC 8.1. With one exception, information obtained by or provided to SLAC is confidential and cannot be used in any proceeding, including a disciplinary proceeding. The only information that could be referred to Disciplinary Counsel is the fact of a lawyer’s noncooperation with SLAC. In referring a case to discipline, this would include information relevant to the specific allegations of noncooperation.

Members of SLAC are volunteers, appointed by the OSB Board of Governors, and, according to Souther, they are caring and empathic persons. Because the individual members of SLAC are neither qualified nor authorized to render any independent determination as to whether a lawyer is or should acknowledge chemical dependency, SLAC makes referrals to trained, professional substance abuse counselors.

Because of its involuntary nature, SLAC has a different role than the OAAP, Souther says. "SLAC cracks the tough nut, the one who simply refuses to give up his or her alcohol or drugs."

Oregon Attorney Assistance Program:
Meloney Crawford Chadwick, JD, CADC III
503-226-1057, ext. 13

Shari R. Gregory, MSW, JD
OAAP Assistant Executive Director
503-226-1057, ext. 14

Mike Long, JD, MSW, CEAP
503-226-1057, ext. 11

Michael Sweeney, JD, CEAP, CADC III
503-226-1057, ext. 12

Barbara S. Fishleder
OAAP Executive Director

State Lawyer Assistance Committee:
Cal Souther
Chair, State Lawyers Assistance Committee
(503) 624-9824

Jon Benson
Staff liaison
(503) 620-0222, ext. 419

Cliff Collins, a Portland-area freelance writer, is a frequent Bulletin contributor.

© 2006 Cliff Collins

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