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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

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 of dementia.

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 harm.

“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 the LAP.

“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 or call (toll-free) 877-LAP-4-HELP (877-527-4435).