In the summer of 1979, a group of recovering alcoholic lawyers and judges met in the chambers of then Franklin County Common Pleas Judge J. Craig Wright in Columbus. This statewide group of professionals, who had gotten sober and were remaining so by supporting each other and attending 12-Step meetings, formed the Ohio State Bar Association's Lawyers Assistance Committee (LAC). Among the dozen or so attending was William X. Haase, retired from Arter & Hadden in Cleveland, who became OLAP's first Executive Director.
The LAC members decided that something needed to be done to address the increasing number of lawyers and judges whose alcoholism was ruining their practices and their lives (a lawyer with a drinking problem and disciplinary problems generally was disbarred). They created a volunteer network of recovering professionals who, when told of a lawyer/judge in trouble, would go and talk to the person, encouraging him/her to seek professional help, etc.
As the number of lawyers seeking help increased, and the Ohio Supreme Court began to change the disciplinary and admissions rules to take "recovery" into account, it became necessary to move from an all volunteer organization to a professionally staffed one.
In 1991 the OSBA/LAC incorporated Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program, Inc., as an Ohio nonprofit corporation. OLAP was granted IRC 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status as a charitable educational entity by the IRS the following year. OLAP's mission is to educate the profession about substance abuse/chemical dependency and mental illness, provide advice about treatment alternatives, perform interventions, and provide support and monitor recovery.
I got sober in January 1985, started volunteering with the LAC that fall, and became OLAP's first Associate Director in 1995, while continuing to practice law in Columbus. Haase covered the state north of about Mansfield, and I covered the rest. I took over as Executive Director when Bill Haase died in 1999. In 2002 we started working with mental health issues, and I added Paul A. Caimi, Esq., LCDC-III, ICADC, Associate Director (Cleveland), and Stephanie S. Krznarich, MSW, LISW-S, LSDC-III, Clinical Director (Columbus); in 2007 I added Megan R. Snyder, MSW, LISW, Clinical Associate (Columbus), and Patrick J. Garry, Esq., Associate Director (Cincinnati); in 2009 I added Crystal N. Beres, B.S. Psychology, as Administrative Coordinator (Columbus).
OLAP personnel give 90-100 CLE presentations each year, reaching an estimated live audience approaching 10,000. We also speak at the nine Ohio law schools, providing information at first year orientations and professional responsibility classes. We speak not only about substance abuse/chemical dependency, but also mental health issues affecting the profession. It is not unusual for us to receive an email or telephone call the same day from someone in the audience, seeking help for themselves or a colleague.
We receive about 60 new inquiries each month. We get calls/referrals from colleagues, judges, disciplinary counsel, certified grievance committees, admissions committees, defense counsel, spouses, children, law school administrators and professors, and the occasional client. Concerns raised include drinking, illegal and prescription drugs, internet porn, sexual compulsion disorder, gambling, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, anorexia and bulimia, adult attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder...you name it, it affects our profession.
We generally require corroborating information on a new client before doing anything. If we do not obtain corroboration, we do not move forward to intervene—we open a confidential file and wait. Where we have corroboration, we often will set up and facilitate an intervention. Sometimes we provide information to the caller on how to approach the troubled person, and that results in a call from a new client.
Once we have established a relationship with a client, the real work begins. About 75% of the time, either Krznarich or Robertson will do an assessment (as LISWs, both can diagnose for chemical dependence and mental illness). Caimi can diagnose chemical dependency, and can screen for mental illness, but not diagnose; he has a network of mental health professionals that we refer to. We are trying to find out what is going on (diagnosis), and what needs to be done (drug/alcohol treatment, medical evaluation, psychiatric evaluation, psychological therapy, etc.).
We encourage the person to sign a Recovery Contract with us for a minimum of two years, and up to five years. The contract requires the client to do whatever it takes to get moving in the right direction. For alcohol/drugs, this can be inpatient or outpatient treatment, and 12-Step recovery meetings. For mental illness, this can mean evaluation by a psychiatrist, taking prescribed medications, and individual counseling. We also require telephone contact with us, often daily early on, and then as the client improves, it can be reduced to one or two times per week. Whatever the requirements, the client is required to document what he/she is doing, by providing written verification of attendance at 12-Step meetings, regular reports from therapists, etc.
Our clients include law students, lawyers and judges. 20% are substance abuse/chemical dependency, 40% are mental illness only, and 40% are dual diagnosis (chemical dependency and mental illness). We carry a case load of over a thousand active files. About 70 – 80 of our clients are law students, and we usually are working with about 25 judges.
Each of our compliant law student clients gets to take the bar exam, and I can think of only two students in the last 12 years who had to take the bar exam the second time. Our compliant lawyers and judges get through the disciplinary process, if that is an issue, and very rarely have grievances filed against them again. For those who do what we and their treatment providers recommend, life turns around, and they get to be happy and productive lawyers and judges, wives and husbands and partners, colleagues and friends again.
The Supreme Court recognized early on that if a lawyer in trouble thought that OLAP would report misconduct to disciplinary authorities, no one would seek help. Thus, OLAP and local lawyer assistance committees are exempt from the mandatory duty to report misconduct under Prof. Cond. R. 8.3(c). With the client's consent, we provide reports as necessary to admissions, discipline, courts, employers, etc.
OLAP receives funding and other assistance from the following organizations:
OLAP is a member of the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs