Lawyer Assistance Programs reach out to law schools

October 6, 2010
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This blog post was written by IL reporter Rebecca Berfanger.

The ABA conference of the Commission of Lawyers Assistance Programs, or CoLAP, is taking place this week at the Hyatt in downtown Indianapolis. Having covered this issue since I started working here in 2006, I had been invited to attend the conference and will be doing a follow up article for the issue of Indiana Lawyer that comes out next week.

One of the panels that caught my attention on today’s schedule was “Resources for Law Student Wellness.” The panel included experts on the issue: the president of the Valparaiso University School of Law Student Bar Association who is active with the ABA Law Student Division, someone from the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, someone from the Montana Lawyer Assistance Program, an assistant dean of the University of Minnesota Law School, and someone from the Minnesota State Bar Association Life and the Law Committee.

The panelists discussed various ways the law schools and LAPs in their states have been tackling the various issues students face, including how to address some of the myths when it comes to getting help for mental health or substance abuse problems while in law school, and how it can affect one’s character and fitness results when they apply to join the bar after they graduate. The presence of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have also contributed to the proliferation of some myths for law students who seek help.

Panelists and audience members discussed various ways they reach out to students, whether it’s a tough-love approach, with a mandatory session for all students as part of orientation or professional responsibility courses; or to offer voluntary programs that students can attend if they want to learn more about LAPs and what they will need to know when its time for their state’s Board of Law Examiners to determine if their character and fitness are up to par to practice law.

An audience member from the Nebraska Lawyers Assistance Program said that his organization, with permission from the Minnesota LAP, recreated a brochure “Are you fit to be a lawyer?” to give to students early on in their law school careers. This way, he said, students that truly aren’t fit to be lawyers will know before they spend three years in school, graduate facing $100,000 or more in debt, and are unable to pass the bar because they’re simply not fit to be lawyers. But if they figure this out and get help early on, they have a chance.

The brochure, which panelists agreed was a good idea and something that could also be given to students through the school year or could be made available where students could easily find it, includes information about the character and fitness requirement; conduct that may be cause for concern; the importance of honest disclosure; how the bar authorities will look at past behavior; how alcohol, substance abuse, and mental health can affect one’s practice; how conditional admission works; and resources for more information to get help.

The conference participant from Nebraska LAP said after giving a talk at a law school that included the brochure, he received five calls within two days of the talk.

Terry Harrell, the executive director of Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, spoke with me after the panel and said lawyers are better off if they face their issues as law students. Otherwise, the problem doesn’t go away, it just gets worse.

After the session, she introduced me to Mike Stewart, a representative of program exhibitor Bradford Health Services, who told me about a scholarship program for 30-day rehabilitation treatment available to law students. LAPs around the country are aware of the program and can help students apply for the scholarship. The only thing the student would need to pay for is transportation. So far, only one student in the country has taken advantage of this scholarship, but Harrell and Stewart said they know there is more than one student who could take advantage of this program, and hope others will.

The conference lasts through Friday, and there are some spots available for various events. More information about registration and events for the program are available on CoLAP’s website.

Did you learn about LAP as part of your law school experience? If not, do you wish you had? And if so, do you think it helped you or your fellow students? Do you think all students can benefit from learning what can and can’t hurt them when they apply for the bar even if it’s two or three years down the road?

  • JLAP and political agenda
    It is unfortunate that JLAP is being sued for allowing itself to be used as a political tool. Any conservatives dealing with JLAP are taking a very big risk.

    See for details

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