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Ten years after U.S. law schools received a startling white paper on alcohol and drug abuse among students and faculty, Robert A. Stein of the American Bar Association sees no firm evidence of improved sobriety. Last week, he told as much to a northeastern regional gathering of campus administrators held at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. “I think there’s been some improvement, but it’s anecdotal,” said Stein, the ABA’s executive director and former dean of the University of Minnesota Law School. “In many respects, conditions remain. The problem persists.” Stein was himself among the authors of “Report of the AALS Special Committee on Problems of Substance Abuse in the Law Schools,” issued in May of 1993 by the Association of American Law Schools. The report, a focal point of the City Bar assembly, surveyed some 3,400 students over a three-year period. New York Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye opened June 24′s day-long session by declaring that virtually all law schools face “the vexing problem” of students impaired by drugs or alcohol. “We know this is where they start,” said Chief Judge Kaye. “This is the last bastion before they begin in the legal profession.” According to several studies, attorneys are prone to the diseases of alcoholism and drug addiction at a ratio greater than the general population. The studies suggest this is due to the unusually high pressure of the profession. Although Buffalo, N.Y., attorney Laurie L. Menzies, 39, told the City Bar audience that she was well on her way to alcoholism by the time she reached law school, she said in an interview that she could have benefited from a campus intervention. That way, she might have avoided a near-fatal, alcohol-induced illness that saw her hospitalized for 54 days on a life-support system. But even as she emerged from a coma toward the end of her hospitalization, she said, “The nurses were bringing me Molsons.” Today’s campus scene — including at her alma mater, the University at Buffalo Law School — is little more mindful of the perniciously long-term nature of alcoholism, she said. “As far as I know, it’s basically the same thing — all gatherings are drinking-related,” said Menzies, a solo practitioner in elder law and estate planning who frequently addresses student groups. “Every time I get an invitation to a class reunion, we pay a cover charge and everybody’s at the bar.” Rochester attorney James C. Moore hosted last week’s gathering, which was co-sponsored by the New York State Bar Association, the City Bar, and bar groups from seven surrounding states. Moore, a litigation partner at the firm Harter, Secret & Emery, said the event was the first of its kind nationally. “The general idea was to bring the latest knowledge of substance abuse in law schools to the fore, and to talk about what schools are doing about the problem,” Moore said in an interview a few weeks before the event. “This is a problem that typically begins in law school, or is greatly exaggerated because of the [high-pressure] law school experience.” John A. Sebert, consultant on legal education to the ABA, also had a hand in the AALS report, which he said contained three principal recommendations: � Law schools should designate a single person as coordinator of alcohol and substance abuse problems and programs. � Substantial alcohol and drug abuse educational programs should be implemented. � Campus officials should develop protocol and training to conduct formal interventions when students or faculty members show signs of impaired behavior. “Law schools should at least develop a written alcohol policy,” said Sebert, former dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He suggested that the AALS report, with appendices containing formal policies adopted at some schools, might be re-released this fall, “to remind the deans — again.” Reminders, said Sebert, would include such matters as the appropriateness of alcohol at official campus events, non-alcoholic beverage alternatives, and cut-off times at the dozens of receptions typical of law school social schedules. Shannon Salinas, dean of students at Columbia Law School, said these and other concerns are indeed discussed “about four times a year” when she and her counterparts at New York area campuses meet informally. “We talk about what works, and what doesn’t work,” said Salinas. “If I put on a program about alcoholism, I don’t think any [students] would come.” Instead, Salinas believes that instruction in substance abuse should be incorporated into professional responsibility and ethics courses. In addition, she said, “The school has a big hammer,” by which she meant the reckoning during bar certification proceedings. “If you don’t take care of yourself, something may happen, and you’ll jeopardize your future. The bar notice issue is a convenient tool for law school administrators.” During her seven years at Columbia Law, Salinas said she has noticed that “students are more savvy about the connection” between destructive consequences that result from heavy drinking — such as arrests — that come to haunt them when they seek license to practice law. Attorney Richard C. Reid told the City Bar group of his own alcohol and drug-related arrests, and yet he said he notices some students continuing to resist warnings. Reid, who currently supervises a team of four lawyers in the Suffolk County Drug Court, often speaks to student groups at professional responsibility programs arranged by Ray M. Lopez, director of the New York State Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program, who has publicly acknowledged his own alcoholism. At those programs, said Reid, a certain number of students actually mock what he and Lopez try to impart. “They sit in the back and make their little jokes and they giggle. Anything to prevent them from realizing they have a problem,” said Reid, a graduate of Touro Law Center and co-chair of the Suffolk County Bar Assocation’s Committee on Lawyer Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. “I can see myself in them.” Still, those with a keen understanding of the progressively debilitating nature of alcoholism and drug dependency remain in the battle for the long haul, knowing, as Chief Judge Kaye suggests, that the fight begins when lawyers are young. As Menzies put it: “I don’t know the answers. But I know a lot of people have died. I know we have to address the issue. I know we can’t ignore it. What good is that?”

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