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Eileen C. Travis, a clinical social worker with more than 20 years of experience in the field of drug and alcohol addiction, found her first year working with recovering lawyers especially challenging. “The more intelligent you are, the more blind you can be about alcoholism and substance abuse,” she said. The problem is pervasive enough that last year New York Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye formed a commission on alcohol and substance abuse in the profession, citing reports that attorneys nationwide are much more likely to be chemically dependent than the general population. Since she became director of the New York City Lawyer Assistance Program at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Travis says she has tried hard break through the “institutional denial” of alcohol and substance abuse in the legal profession, to teach that addiction means progressive deterioration and to dispel the myth of the unimpaired “high-functional drinker,” especially one with weighty responsibilities to clients and families. Travis’s outreach efforts include continuing legal education seminars at law schools and the Appellate Division, First Department’s Bridge the Gap program, along with advertisements in bar association newsletters and brochures. Ms. Travis said referrals of lawyers to the lawyer assistance program are up 2 percent per month so far this year. She said the program had 38 referrals in the first five months of 2000, a significant increase over the 44 referrals during her eight months with the program in 1999. The Lawyer Assistance Program has also begun to reach out to attorneys battling stress and depression. But according to Kathleen P. Kettles-Russotti, chairwoman of the Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse at the City Bar, the program lacks a peer support network to help with emotional counseling. “It’s hard to widen our focus without even the necessary primary funds for the substance abuse program,” she said. PRIVACY CONCERNS Much more needs to be done, insisted Travis. She said it is harder for female lawyers to admit they have a problem with alcohol or drugs. She also said that attorneys are reluctant to use employee assistance programs offered by large law firms and the Office of the Court Administration because of concerns about confidentiality. State and federal law protects the privacy of attorneys or concerned parties who call Travis or a volunteer from Kettles-Russotti’s committee. State laws and professional disciplinary rules also ensure that volunteers who serve on the lawyer assistance committee are protected from lawsuits. And these volunteers are freed from any professional obligations to report to authorities about colleagues with problems. Travis said treatment referrals made by the program are determined on a case-by-case basis and depend on the lawyers’ level of addiction, medical coverage and economic means. Many are referred to local hospitals, rehabilitation centers or outpatient treatment programs. Most lawyers who seek help are paired with volunteer attorneys of a similar age or experience, many of whom are themselves recovering substance abusers. They are also encouraged to join groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. DISCIPLINARY ROLE The peer-assistance and intervention role played by Lawyer Assistance is distinct from its role as an official monitor of attorneys seeking reinstatement or mandated into treatment to avoid disciplinary sanction by the appellate court. Attorneys referred to the program for monitoring by the First Department Disciplinary Committee waive confidentiality and sign a contract committing themselves to a two- to three-year treatment plan. The program supervises the rehabilitation, requiring random drug tests, monitoring attendance at treatment sessions and reporting monthly to the court. Many cases before the First Department disciplinary committee are related to alcohol and substance abuse, a source close to the committee said. And according to the New York State Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection’s 1999 annual report, “a large percentage” of claims seeking reimbursement for losses that come to the attention of the fund involve a lawyers’ alcohol and drug abuse. Still, according to Ray M. Lopez, director of the New York State Bar Association’s lawyer assistance program, in the past 10 years, there have been approximately 2,500 referrals to such programs statewide, and only about 60 of them have come from disciplinary agencies or the appellate court. Travis and Kettles-Russotti insist that discipline and rehabilitation, although handled separately within the City Bar’s program, are two sides to the same coin and are geared towards fulfilling the primary goal of protecting the public and the integrity of the profession. METHODS OF TREATMENT When Judge Kaye established her commission, she emphasized the importance of recognizing the uniqueness of the legal profession — invested as it is with a special trust and duty to the public — in addressing the problem of substance abuse within its ranks. In practice, however, there is disagreement among experts about the best treatment models for addicted lawyers. Lopez said he is opposed to treatment programs that put lawyers in special tracks that could emphasize uniqueness to the point of fostering denial. “Lawyers are not in treatment because they are special, but because they are addicted,” he said. Travis said the debate among social workers regarding the relative merits of profession-oriented programs versus addiction-based support groups gets played out in real-life within the Lawyer Assistance Program. “Some lawyers want to get away from all they know and do when they get treatment. Others appreciate identifying with other lawyers,” she said. She also said that the higher rate of chemical dependency within the legal profession may be indicative of a distinct professional personality — one that is “overachieving, bright, committed, hardworking, stressed, type A.” Kettles-Russotti said there is evidence that gender can also be a determining factor in choosing the best treatment model in early stages of recovery. Some female attorneys feel more comfortable confiding with other women regardless of their profession, she said, whereas men “look to their professional role first,” and preferred to talk to other lawyers. As the number of women referred to the City Bar’s lawyer assistance program rises with their increasing representation in the profession, Kettles-Russotti said there is a need for more female attorney volunteers. And more young lawyers are being referred to the program by the First Department Character and Fitness Committee. Also, Lopez said referrals involving alcoholism alone are a rare breed nowadays. Many lawyers are also addicted to prescription drugs or suffer from depression. PAYMENT ISSUES With the advent of managed care, paying for treatment has also become more complicated. Travis and Lopez said the City Bar’s plan tries to accommodate all lawyers by allowing payment for ongoing treatment at reduced cost or on a sliding-fee scale. Many local bar associations that refer clients to the state or city program also provide funds for treatment. The City Bar’s lawyer assistance program is funded by the City Bar fund, the New York State Bar, a malpractice insurer and private contributions. But Kettles-Russotti said New York State does not have a permanent fund dedicated to attorneys who cannot pay for treatment, and that lawyer assistance programs in states with far fewer lawyers have far greater resources.

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