(As a lawyer assistance program volunteer first in Texas and now in Arizona, attorney Karyl Krug has years of demonstrated commitment to providing peer assistance, intervention, and rehabilitation support for colleagues whose professional performance is impaired because of substance abuse, dependency or mental health disorders. Krug says the Texas Lawyer Assistance Program is “nationally acclaimed” but the Arizona Bar’s program where she currently volunteers — not so much. The Texas program was created in 1989 as the Bar’s approved peer assistance program under the authority of Texas Health and Safety Code Chapter 467. But in Arizona, confronted again with proposed voluntary state bar legislation, instead of structural improvement Krug detects a budding Arizona Bar public relations campaign as the Bar gins up surveys and marketing to belatedly put a better face on a “Member Assistance Program” Krug finds wanting. Here is her commentary).
The Arizona Bar has no Member Assistance Program.
They just want you to think they do.
Guest Blogger Opinion by Karyl Krug
During his truthiness tour to save his six-figure salary, State Bar of Arizona CEO/Executive Director John Phelps has repeatedly told lawyers and elected officials that the Bar performs two major services for lawyer members:
(1) vigorously prosecutes the unauthorized practice of law (it does so rarely and selectively); and
(2) helps lawyers in need with its Lawyer Assistance Program or Member Assistance Program, or whatever they are calling it this year.
The latter statement is so misleading I hardly know where to begin. For simplicity’s sake, I will henceforth refer to it as ALAP.
I’ve been a member of the State Bar of Arizona since 2011 but a member of the Texas State Bar for 23 years, as well as a long-time volunteer for the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP). I am also currently an ALAP volunteer.
I testified at the Arizona House subcommittee hearings on the Bar that contrary to representations made by Mr. Phelps and elsewhere by State Bar of Arizona President Geoff Trachtenberg, ALAP is a shell of a program that is much worse than what the Arizona Bar had in 1999.
The woman running the ALAP, Regina Tepper, runs a total of five different programs for the Arizona Bar, including ALAP. She is stretched a little thin. She recently sent out the following by e-mail:
“Anecdotally it appears that we had increased success with the Peer Support network . . . some of you have shared with me that you have received calls for the first time ever and it is very encouraging that the word is getting out. If you have been to the State Bar offices in Phoenix recently you may have noticed that our ad for the Peer Support Network is now a regular slide on our lobby marquises. I hope you’ve noticed the great ad in the Arizona Attorney as well.
“As part of our year-end review of 2015, I am asking that each of you share with me the following information, if you have received calls from members, judges or their families during 2015:
• The number of individuals who contacted you. Please do not share names with me; as always, that is confidential.
• Whether those individuals contacted you for themselves or about another person
• How many contacts (total) you received, if different from the total number of individuals from whom you had contact
• A general categorization of the reason for their contact
o Mental health
o Alcohol or substance abuse
o Work-life balance, stress or burn-out
o Issue with non-lawyer family member”
Suddenly, there is a push, through screen images and advertising, to make bar members believe that there is a real Member Assistance Program in Arizona, although it is only “anecdotally” successful and the Bar has no idea how many lawyers in trouble have contacted volunteers. Mr. Phelps has been testifying that ALAP is an important and successful program for helping lawyers when the truth is he has no idea, except “anecdotally,” whether this relatively new alleged program is helping anyone or not.
As had been the case throughout the fight for a non-mandatory Bar, reality has been incrementally tweaked to bolster Mr. Phelps’s flights of fancy.
Sometime after the Bar quietly sent its former member assistance program director out of the building, it decided to start a shell ALAP. Today, ALAP is a list of volunteers with phone numbers.
One day of training, and you can volunteer to help — even if you have no experience whatsoever with alcohol and drug abuse, mental health issues, burnout, and other issues common to the legal profession that even many psychologists and psychiatrists are not fully competent to deal with.
Yet participation in ALAP is often compulsory. At the same time, ALAP’s budget for 2013-2014 is listed on the published two page AZ Bar budget as $50.
TLAP, by contrast, is run by several full-time employees and has a national network of resources; funds for lawyers in need of treatment; the annual Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Convention; nationally known speakers; and a statewide network of volunteers ready to spring into action from Texarkana to Brownsville.
Lawyers in trouble are often referred to TLAP by the disciplinary arm of the bar, as well as by concerned individuals, before the disciplinary arm of the Texas Bar swings into action.
TLAP volunteers in recovery have to have at least a year of continuous sobriety. TLAP volunteers go out in pairs, after making an appointment, to talk to a possibly impaired lawyer or judge, to offer the lawyer help and safe harbor if they are willing to address their issues.
Participation is not compulsory. It is a third degree felony to blow anonymity of a lawyer who is referred to or seeks the help of TLAP. Their budget for the same biennium was in excess of $300,000. The Texas Bar’s published budget is 261 pages long.
I have tried to help out at ALAP but to my horror, after I received a couple of calls, I realized that ALAP has no program to send a lawyer to. One lawyer asked me if he should call the Arizona Bar for help. I said something like, “Oh, God, no!” There is no program to help them. And by that time I had seen disbarment orders citing the disbarred lawyer’s failure to complete ALAP or AMAP.
While ALAP says it is confidential, if your failure to complete ALAP shows up on a published disbarment order, it is not confidential.
The good thing about networking is that you get to know people and, coincidentally, a speaker at the 1999 Arizona State Bar/Arizona Concerned for Lawyers CLE is an old friend. At one point, Arizona had a real ALAP and an ALCL and all the rest. I saw the copious materials for the 1999 course.
So at one point ALAP was a real deal. What happened? Who decided impaired lawyers were no longer worthy of real assistance from the Bar?
Photos: morguefile.com, no attribution