ABOUT BEING A VOLUNTEER
Recovery from any impairing condition brings a new freedom and a new happiness. For many lawyers, this means searching for ways to make their recovery experience, as much as possible, a part of their entire life, including their professional life. One way many lawyers have done this is by “paying it forward” and participating as a volunteer on the LAP Committee. Our volunteers are part of a robust network of caring colleagues who engage in compassionate camaraderie right in the midst of their professional lives. So many of our volunteers report that “paying it forward” in this way brings an ever greater sense of wholeness and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for their own recovery and new life.
How do I become a volunteer?
Volunteers are asked to submit an application and to provide some overview information about their own recovery experience and any training they may have received. As part of the application process, potential volunteers are required to sign a confidentiality agreement. For LAP volunteers who are recovering alcoholics or addicts, the LAP guidelines require that the volunteer must be abstinent from all mind-altering chemicals for at least two years and have a stable recovery program. For LAP volunteers who are in recovery from depression, anxiety or other mental disorders, the LAP guidelines require that the volunteer have reached consistent and sustained stability with the impairment for at least two years. The LAP Director reviews applications and then makes recommendations to the president of the North Carolina State Bar for appointment to the LAP Committee. Once appointed, you will receive a confirmation letter that will provide more detailed information, including the dates of the upcoming volunteer training.
Do volunteers receive training?
Yes. The LAP provides an annual training for volunteers in early November at our annual weekend conference. Each conference is fully paid for by the State Bar (covering the costs of your hotel stay and meals) and offers CLE credit. The LAP also offers new volunteer trainings a couple of times a year depending upon the number and location of new volunteers. As a part of the volunteer application, LAP volunteers agree to participate in the yearly volunteer training. Training topics include confidentiality, the nature of the conditions that are affecting the lawyers they will assist, the rules and procedures dictating how peer assistance is given, how to conduct LAP visits to lawyers in distress and other topics. The LAP also offers specialized training throughout the year (i.e., speaker training on certain topics like compassion fatigue) on an as needed basis.
Do I have any special or unique professional obligation as a LAP volunteer?
Yes. Appointment as a LAP volunteer brings with it the confidentiality requirement and privilege embodied in Rule 1.6 of the Revised Rules of Professional Conduct. Under this provision, all communication concerning assistance given or being offered to another lawyer is privileged within the attorney/client privilege, meaning all volunteers have a duty not to disclose anything to anyone other than LAP Staff regarding a volunteer assignment involving a lawyer in distress. And finally, LAP volunteers are covered by a grant of limited immunity for activity engaged in on behalf of the Lawyer Assistance Program.
What might I be asked to do as a LAP Volunteer?
Volunteers are asked first and foremost to share their experience, strength and hope with other lawyers who may be currently suffering from a similar but unresolved or untreated condition. This sharing can occur in several ways and through different avenues. LAP volunteers are asked to attend the LAP lawyer support group in their area. LAP volunteers are also trained in how to give CLE talks – both on subjects related to mental health as well as talks wherein volunteers share aspects of their own personal recovery story. We also ask LAP volunteers to visit lawyers in distress, whether for lunch or coffee or in the office, as an initial step in opening the door to a potential solution for a lawyer who may be struggling. In addition, volunteers who participate in a 12-step program are often asked to serve as a liaison to meetings if the newly recovering lawyer will be attending a 12-step program. Volunteers may also serve as mentors and guides and agree to be available to be frequently contacted by the person receiving support.
The LAP is entirely separate from the State Bar’s disciplinary process. The Bar’s rules provide that when a lawyer’s conduct has gotten the lawyer into trouble with the Bar, and it appears the conduct was caused by an underlying mental health problem such as alcoholism or depression, the lawyer may be referred to the LAP for assistance. The LAP then seeks to provide the same assistance it would if the lawyer had been referred any other way. Under this scenario, however, a lawyer has agreed to enter into a specific recovery plan in the form of a recovery contract as a condition of the deferral of the grievance prosecution. LAP volunteers are assigned as accountability partners and contract monitors in such cases. The LAP provides special training and guidance for our volunteers on the subject of contract monitoring.
LAP volunteers also participate in other activities such as writing articles, serving on boards and committees, speaking as panelists at law schools, and other activities.
In the volunteer application, you will be asked to select activities in which you would like to participate. LAP staff will limit requests to those activities you have selected and we will not ask you to participate in an activity you have not selected.
How will I be assigned a task as a LAP volunteer?
Under the LAP’s rules of operation, all calls for assistance to volunteers are routed through LAP Staff (either the Director or a Clinical Coordinator). LAP clinical staff are trained to evaluate and assess mental health problems and addictions and LAP staff direct the day-to-day operations of the program. You can expect a call or an e-mail requesting your help. The LAP Staff person will outline the scope of the request and what you would be asked to do as part of the volunteer service. It is imperative that if you are not willing or able to conduct the full scope of the engagement for any reason (i.e. a family vacation or a big trial might interfere with your availability or you might have personal history with the lawyer in distress, etc.) that you let the LAP staff person know at the time of the original service request that you are either not willing or not able to offer your assistance. It is easier for us to ask another volunteer at the onset than to try to switch horses mid-race. We want to make sure our volunteer pairings and assignments are rewarding and fulfilling experiences for you, and we need to know from you how best to accomplish that.
What if I receive a call directly about a lawyer in trouble and it was not routed through the LAP?
Sometimes our volunteers are very open about the fact they are LAP volunteers. It may be that you are the “go to” person in your district or local bar when lawyers have concerns about a colleague. If you receive a call about a lawyer in distress, it is imperative that you first call the LAP and let us know of the report you received. We may have additional information or treatment resources. Calling the LAP also ensures you are working within the scope of the program and that you are covered by the limited immunity protection offered to our volunteers. We will work with you to put together a strategy of next best steps. At a minimum, we always send lawyers in pairs of two to talk to distressed lawyers.
Sometimes a lawyer in distress will not respond to an initial approach, but will tuck away your phone number or email. It may be that you receive communication from a lawyer months or years after you first reached out to him or her. In such a case, take the call or respond to the email, and let the LAP staff person know the lawyer has been back in touch with you. The LAP staff can then assist with next steps.
What do I need to do if I want to volunteer?
Contact the LAP staff person from your region for next steps. Lawyers and judges who have been actively involved and working with our program qualify for possible appointment as a volunteer. We find it is important that our volunteers understand first-hand how we work with clients and what the process is like. In this way our volunteers are able to identify with new clients because they have truly “been there.” If you are currently actively working with our program, please contact the clinical coordinator to express your interest.
If you are a person already in stable, long-term recovery (from any condition), please contact the LAP staff person for your region and let us get to know you better and we will take it from there. We have had many lawyers contact us who were in long-term recovery before they went to law school and who, either while in law school or upon graduation, have discovered through volunteering with our program a vibrant, close-knit community of happy lawyers.