Louisiana’s Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program

January/February 2016 

By J.E. “Buddy” Stockwell III, Esquire

Louisiana’s Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, Inc. (JLAP) has come a long way from its roots 30 years ago, when a small group of Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA) members formed the LSBA Impaired Professional Committee to reach out to fellow attorneys suffering from alcoholism.

The Development of Louisiana’s JLAP and Confidentiality

Today’s JLAP is a professionally staffed, full-service, nonprofit corporation owned by the Louisiana State Bar Association. JLAP offers confidential, comprehensive mental health and intervention services to the 22,000 members of Louisiana’s Bar, their family members, and students in Louisiana’s four law schools. Under both Louisiana state statute and Louisiana Supreme Court Rule, all calls to JLAP are strictly privileged and confidential. All persons who contact JLAP do so with absolute confidentiality.

JLAP’s standards for JLAP-approved evaluations, assessments, treatment, and subsequent recovery monitoring are based upon criteria developed by professionals’ programs such as the Physicians’ Health Programs, Nurses Regulatory Programs, and Human Intervention Monitoring System for airline pilots. All such programs facilitate appropriate treatment and monitoring for licensed professionals who hold the public’s trust.

There is a tremendous need for JLAP’s comprehensive mental health services to the legal profession. Practicing law is not getting easier and mental health issues are on the rise. Problem drinking rates are estimated to be between 18 percent and 25 percent, depending on years of practice, rates double those of the general population. Lawyers also rank first in depression when compared to other professions. Through JLAP and its confidential services, Louisiana’s legal profession has effectively met head-on the increase in mental health challenges within our ranks.

The JLAP website provides a wealth of information on major mental health challenges that many lawyers and judges encounter. Never before in Louisiana has mental health information specifically for lawyers and judges been so readily accessible in total privacy. The website even includes self-tests that allow users to privately investigate concerns. JLAP’s comprehensive website can be found at www.louisianajlap.com.

Remarkable Success Rates

Over the past five years, Louisiana’s JLAP has tracked the progress of persons who have taken full advantage of JLAP’s recommendations for assessment, treatment, and monitoring for substance use disorders. JLAP is very pleased to report that participants experience a 90 percent recovery success rate upon completing all phases of Louisiana’s program. As such, the effectiveness of Louisiana’s JLAP and other similar professional programs is undeniable. Long-term recovery and fitness to practice is the mission, and Louisiana’s JLAP is delivering those results at the utmost level.

When an impaired lawyer or judge accepts effective JLAP assistance and subsequently achieves long-term remission (and thus regains full fitness to practice), every single person and entity wins: the lawyer, their family, their peers, the profession, and, most importantly, the public.

Early Intervention Is Key

JLAP’s core challenge is to promote early intervention and facilitate confidential help to impaired lawyers and judges before mental health issues ripen into serious personal and professional issues. Lawyers and judges, however, are not accustomed to surrendering to anything. This is not surprising, given our training. In law school, we develop intellectual stamina and analytical skills that afford us legitimate academic confidence. As we embark on legal careers, we gain well-earned confidence in complex problem solving. Simply put, as lawyers and judges we are trained to handle problems, not suffer problems.

The admirable attributes of independence and tenacity serve lawyers and judges well, right up until they suffer a personal mental health problem that can’t be outsmarted. Alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, and other physiologically-based chemical brain diseases simply can’t be defeated with analytical skills and confidence. You can’t “lawyer” your way out of alcoholism or chemical brain diseases. The self-reliance that previously served a lawyer or judge so well can be their total undoing, because it often blocks the path to much-needed help. Well-intended “kitchen table” attempts by family or peers to reach out to an alcoholic or addict often fail and can even cause the person to withdraw further. JLAP encourages family and peers to reach out to JLAP for professional advice on interventions. It does not cost a penny to confidentially access JLAP’s professional intervention advice and expertise.

JLAP Recovery Monitoring

Louisiana’s JLAP offers formal post-treatment recovery monitoring that is indispensable to successful long-term recovery rates after treatment. In cases where the impaired person has run afoul of the disciplinary system or is impaired so that concerns have arisen amongst peers, colleagues, or law partners, it may become advantageous for the person to participate in JLAP monitoring.
A successful JLAP monitoring record objectively establishes that the person is stable and in long-term recovery; has turned a previously impaired and unmanageable life into one of competency, dependability, and responsibility; and that his or her uninterrupted success in recovery has been verified over time. Thus, JLAP monitoring can be of utility to help someone objectively demonstrate fitness to practice to the Louisiana Supreme Court, their employer, and ultimately the public.

The Special Needs of Judges

When it comes to identifying and addressing mental health issues, judges face unique challenges. It is often difficult for others to detect that a judge is experiencing mental health issues. Judges work in isolation to some degree, and mental health problems are often shielded from view by peers and practitioners appearing before them. Appellate judges are even more removed from the direct view of the profession and the public.

Early intervention is less likely by peers and colleagues because they may not have sufficient contact with the judge to notice a problem until it has become chronic. Compared to other members of the profession, it harder for a judge to seek help even when he or she has fully realized that he or she has a problem. As elected public figures, judges may perceive that admitting or addressing a problem may adversely impact their political and professional reputation. Therefore, they do not reach out for help and instead simply hope that things will get better.

Paradoxically, by delaying action to protect one’s reputation while hoping the mental health issue will attenuate or resolve on its own, it places the judge at even greater peril. Delay, along with defer and deny tactics are ineffective against progressive diseases such as alcoholism, addiction, or depression. Proper diagnosis and treatment are required to arrest these diseases.

Without clinical intervention, it is more likely than not that over time things will only get worse, and therefore the potential increases for additional consequences and even greater harm to one’s reputation. Early intervention is the key to saving lives and ending any further potential for irreparable damage to a career on the bench.

JLAP’s professional staff is keenly attuned to the special needs of judges. All aspects of assistance, from interventions to selecting assessment and treatment centers (if indicated), are geared toward respecting the status of judges as public figures.

Feedback About JLAP from Louisiana’s Bench and Bar

The contributions below, from leaders in our profession, underscore Louisiana’s commitment to providing life-saving and confidential mental health assistance to lawyers and judges:

“As a result of several interventions with relatives and friends who suffered illnesses from various chemical sources, mainly alcohol, I witnessed firsthand the successes that flowed from lawyer assistance programs like JLAP. Those programs are also great referral sources to other organizations. For instance, Alcoholics Anonymous…is one of the models utilized by other recovery programs, including lawyer assistance programs. For that and more, we should all be thankful!”

Senior Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana

“JLAP has been a tremendous success because it saves careers and it saves lives. Lawyers and judges are under intense pressure. We hold ourselves to high standards, and the public’s expectations are often unrealistic; they expect us to win in every case. It is no wonder then that lawyers and judges suffer from anxiety and depression at higher rates than other professions, and we often self-medicate in order to cope. Louisiana’s assistance program for lawyers and judges provides a way to reach out for help, with the protection of confidentiality.”

Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson
Louisiana Supreme Court

“For both men and women, JLAP-facilitated assessment, treatment, and monitoring combine to produce extremely high success rates when compared to treatment-only regimens or traditional self-help recovery programs alone. I sponsor many men in a traditional twelve-step alcohol recovery program, and I see many persons go through and successfully complete in-patient and intensive outpatient recovery programs. Within those populations, a success rate of 20 percent is considered an accomplishment. However, when I take on a lawyer to monitor for JLAP (often for five years), I know that there is a 90 percent or better chance that I will be privileged to interact with this person for 60 consecutive months as they remain sober and experience tremendous personal and professional growth. It’s a privilege to witness the process and be a small part of a remarkably successful program.”

Donald C. Massey, JD
JLAP Board Member, Operating Committee Member, and Volunteer Monitor

Reach Out to a JLAP!

If you are in need of help or you think a colleague is in need of assistance, don’t wait! Make the decision to trust a JLAP and reach out immediately. No matter how isolated you feel or how reluctant you are to share your situation, please put those feelings aside and trust JLAP. You do not even have to give your name. All you have to do is make the call. To reach Louisiana’s JLAP call (985) 778-0571 or visit us at www.louisianajlap.com. The ABA Commision on LAP has a nation-wide directory of lawyer assistance programs on their website found here: http://tinyurl.com/3o9yhpe.

J. E. “Buddy” Stockwell, Esq., is the executive director of the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, Inc. (JLAP).

© 2016 J.E. "Buddy" Stockwell, Esq. This article was originally published in the January/February 2016 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.