LAP widens its scope to dementia
Started more than 10 years ago, the
State Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program is known for being a resource for lawyers
with mental health or substance abuse problems. Now, the program is planning to
broaden its focus to include another population in need: lawyers showing signs
In coming months, employees with the
Lawyer Assistance Program, also known as the LAP, will receive training to help
them recognize the signs of dementia and connect family members of attorneys
who appear to be showing symptoms of the disease to resources.
“One of the big challenges is, how do
you approach the person with the problem?” said the LAP’s acting director
Richard Carlton, who has done similar work for the federal courts. “The person
experiencing the mental acuity issues often doesn’t have any idea.”
The new component of the program will
help in a small way to address a ballooning problem. According to a 2009 report
by the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Californians with Alzheimer’s
disease, the most common form of dementia, is expected to double by 2030 to
more than 1.1 million.
The LAP program was established by the
California Legislature in 2002. It is funded by statutorily mandated
contributions. The goal of LAP is to enhance public protection by early
detection and treatment of attorney behavior and health issues that could lead to client
“Attorneys with dementia are unable to competently represent their clients,” Carlton said. We aim to further protect the public by helping family members respond to signs of dementia early on.”
The program was redesigned in 2011 to enhance
the ability of attorneys to seek assistance before their problems affect their
practice of law and become a professional discipline issue.
Attorneys now have the opportunity to
receive program services and participate in its support groups in situations
where monitoring and extensive staff resources are not needed.
To help attorneys who may only need
short-term assistance, while introducing them to the resources the LAP has to
offer, there is now an orientation and assessment service component. The
assessment is completed by one of the LAP’s licensed case managers and includes
referrals to outside resources and the opportunity to participate in several
support group meetings.
Decline in complaints
Participation in the program seems to
have reduced the number of client complaints against attorneys who have availed
themselves of LAP services.
In 2011, the State Bar performed two
research studies that looked at the impact of LAP participation on the rate of
client complaints received by the bar. In one study, complaints per participant
fell from an average of one complaint per year during the attorney
participant’s first year to 0.3 complaints per year during the fifth year in
“Based on the results of the two studies
and the experience of a similar program in Oregon, it appears that the longer
an attorney participates in the LAP, the fewer the complaints that will be made
against him or her,” Carlton said.
The State Bar employs case managers, but
not clinical treatment staff. All clinical treatment is outsourced to treatment
professionals. LAP is overseen by an oversight committee as defined in the
governing statute. LAP serves a purpose similar to Employee Assistance Programs
(EAP’s) maintained by many employers, except that LAP is for members of the
State Bar, not employees.
LAP is a strictly confidential program.
For more information, visit www.calbar.ca.gov/lap or call (toll-free)