20 Years of Hope

Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program Celebrates Lives Saved

The Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) is a free, confidential assistance program that provides consultation, referral, intervention and crisis stabilization for law students, bar applicants, lawyers and judges who are experiencing substance use disorders, stress or emotional health issues.

TLAP has been helping the Tennessee legal profession for 20 years, and it is difficult to remember a time when the program did not exist. But for many years before its establishment, local assistance programs filled the need for lawyer assistance in Tennessee.

TLAP services address a range of health and personal issues, such as:

  • Depression & Suicide
  • Grief and Loss
  • Stress & Burnout
  • Substance Abuse
  • Process Addictions
  • Balancing Practice and Family
  • Anxiety
  • Anger Management
  • Cognitive Impairment

Other services include Consultations, Crisis Stabilization, Assessments, Referrals, Interventions, Education, Peer Support Services, ABA Networking & Outreach, Anonymous Support Groups and more. Call (615) 741-3238 or (877) 424-8527.

Lawyer Assistance Before TLAP

TLAP had several predecessors. The first known lawyer assistance program in Tennessee, Nashville Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (NLCL), was created by the Nashville Bar Association in 1982. Its purposes were to assist impaired attorneys and judges and to protect the interests of clients and the general public from harm caused by impaired attorneys and judges.

The NLCL was concerned about the confidentiality of its work and whether it was required to report ethical violations of the attorneys and judges it assisted. The NLCL therefore requested a formal opinion from the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility concerning this issue. In response, the Board of Professional Responsibility issued Formal Ethics Opinion 83-F-48. This opinion interprets DR-103 to relieve members of the Nashville Bar Association’s Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Committee from their obligation to report ethical violations while attempting to assist attorneys with alcohol or drug abuse problems.

In 1984, the Tennessee Bar Association formed a task force to investigate and make recommendations regarding the formation of a statewide lawyers’ assistance program. In 1987, Tennessee Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (TLCL), a committee of the Tennessee Bar Association, was formed to provide statewide assistance to lawyers and judges who demonstrated problems with alcohol or other drugs.

The Memphis and Shelby County Bar Association established the Memphis Lawyers Helping Lawyers (LHL) committee in 1987. The Knoxville and Chattanooga Bar Associations also formed committees. Although these programs received the wholehearted support of their respective bars, they lacked sufficient funding, an adequate number of volunteers, and program directors to coordinate and carry out the objectives of the programs.

The Memphis and Shelby County Bar Association’s LHL committee enjoyed success due in large measure to the support and participation it received from attorneys and judges in the Memphis area. In addition, the Memphis and Shelby County Bar Association provided funds to hire a part-time director, freeing the committee members from much of the day-to-day administration of the program and adding an additional layer of confidentiality.

All programs used the medical model, which recognizes that alcoholism or addiction to other drugs is a disease caused by any number of factors but evidenced by the excessive use and abuse of alcohol or other drugs. Unlike many earlier programs in other parts of the country, these programs used what was referred to as “a broad brush” approach to lawyer assistance. Instead of limiting its programs to issues of alcohol and drug abuse, these programs were also designed to address other mental health issues affecting members of the legal profession.
In 1993, with the Tennessee Bar Association’s approval, the TBA’s Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Committee submitted to the Tennessee General Assembly a draft of a statute that would provide immunity to the lawyer assistance programs, their volunteers, and the persons who provide information to the programs and would protect the records of those programs from disclosure. The TLCL recognized that complete confidentiality was necessary to encourage lawyers and judges to seek assistance. The General Assembly enacted Tennessee Code Annotated § 23-4-101, et seq., which gave immunity to the volunteers and individuals providing information to the committees and confidentiality to those persons acting in good faith and without malice.

Tennessee has what some states call “a belt and suspender” approach to immunity and confidentiality. Not content with a legislative enactment, the programs also sought protection from the Supreme Court. In 1993, the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted Rule 9, Section 28, authorizing any bar association or other approved entity to establish an impaired-lawyers program and granting the same privileges and immunities to the impaired-lawyers programs as granted to communications to the Board of Professional Responsibility, its committee members, or disciplinary counsel relating to lawyer misconduct or disability. Rule 9, Section 28, also relieved members and staff or agents of an impaired-lawyers committee from the duty to report possible ethical violations uncovered as a result of their work.
Despite the encouragement of the legislature and the Supreme Court, the Tennessee programs continued to suffer from a lack of funding, which prohibited the hiring of a statewide director, and the lack of a sufficient number of volunteers with the time, interest and willingness to serve. It was clear that more was needed. The TBA’s Tennessee Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Committee petitioned the Tennessee Supreme Court to establish a Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program with the necessary funding to adequately staff and serve the needs of the members of the legal profession in Tennessee, their clients and the general public.

TLAP: The Back Story

While the evolution of TLAP is interesting, the back story is even more so. From my work on the Memphis LHL Committee, I realized that lawyer assistance is crucial to the profession. After all, we had the Tennessee Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection to assist clients when the actions of attorneys caused harm to those clients, but we had no statewide program to prevent lawyers from malfeasance before harm was done. So I advocated for the creation and funding of a statewide organization. With fewer than two years in my tenure as a justice, I realized that my voice alone might not be sufficient. I asked Michael J. Crowley, one of the founders of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, to speak to the members of the Supreme Court during our 1998 annual August retreat. His eloquent presentation resulted in one question from the Court: “How fast can we get this done?”

The speed at which we responded was almost unnerving. I became the Supreme Court’s liaison to the committee drafting the rule that we would adopt and to the commission we would ultimately form. At that point, the Court also made the decision to fund TLAP with a fee assessed against each licensed attorney. Before the completion of the rule that would create the Commission, the Court approved a $10 fee to be added to the annual fee collected by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility.

On Sept. 24, 1998, we appointed a committee consisting of W. Stephenson Todd Jr., Paul C. Ney Jr., Judge Robert L. Childers, Kathryn Reed Edge, A. Randolph Sykes, Judge William B. Cain and Allan F. Ramsaur to “draft a document establishing a statewide commission, draft a ‘position available’ notice requesting applicants for the position of director and to interview persons interested in the position, and to draft a brochure to be included in the annual fee statement outlining the program and the necessity for an additional sum to be added to the fee.”
On Jan. 7, 1999, the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted Rule 33 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Tennessee. Rule 33 established a statewide Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program, created a commission to carry out the purposes of TLAP, and formally assessed each lawyer in the state of Tennessee a fee to fund the program.

Initially, TLAP was considered to be an entity separate from state government. On July 1, 2002, however, TLAP was fully integrated into the judicial branch of state government, operating as an agency within the Administrative Office of the Tennessee Supreme Court. A formal evaluation by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs resulted in its recommendation for an increase in the assessment to adequately fund TLAP. Effective Jan. 1, 2004, the fee assessed for the operation of TLAP increased to $20.

TLAP Personnel

Robert E. Albury Jr. was hired as executive director in August 1999 and served in that capacity until his resignation in May 2006. Robert is a lawyer, a licensed drug and alcohol addiction counselor, and has worked in the treatment and addiction-counseling field for a number of years.
Laura McClendon Gatrell, M.A., LEAP (Licensed Employee Assistance Professional), was hired as deputy director in March 2001. She became the acting director in May 2006 and was appointed executive director in July 2006. Laura’s qualifications include 18 years as a drug and alcohol counselor, trainer and educator, as well as an employee assistance counselor.

Emily McClendon Lacey was hired in 2005 and became the program manager in January 2006. Emily is trained as a QPR gatekeeper specializing in suicide prevention, is a certified mental health first aid provider, and is a certified recovery specialist. Emily also oversees compliance management of TLAP monitoring agreements and volunteer coordination.

Theodore (Ted) Rice was hired as deputy director in October 2006. Ted’s qualifications include a master’s of education in human developmental counseling, a board certified counselor, licensed professional counselor, mental health service provider and certified employee assistance professional. He is also a crisis-intervention specialist.

Kim Williams was hired by TLAP in April 2015. She is a certified mental health first aid provider and is also a QPR gatekeeper trained in suicide prevention. She recently completed her training to become a certified recovery specialist.

Lindsey Herren O’Connell joined in November 2018. Lindsey is a licensed master social worker (LMSW) with a master’s in clinical social work. Lindsey’s clinical specialties include somatic and attachment-focused eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, trauma and addiction treatment, and mindfulness-based therapies. Lindsey is also a certified veterinary social worker, focusing on animal-assisted therapy and utilizing the human-animal bond to promote healing.

In April 2018, Laura McClendon Gatrell retired as executive director. Ted Rice served as acting director until his appointment as executive director in July 2018.

The decision to staff TLAP with mental health professionals who are not trained as lawyers has provided an additional dimension to the program that has benefited the lawyers in Tennessee who seek the services of TLAP.

TLAP Clients

TLAP filed its first annual report with the Supreme Court in 2006. TLAP’s 2006 Annual Report reflected that 55 percent of intake calls concerned issues of “chemical dependency,” a decrease from 66 percent in TLAP’s first year of operation. Thirty percent of the calls related to “mood disorder, compulsive behaviors, including sex, gambling, spending, eating, codependency, and stress management, burn-out and work-related issues.”

In 2018, 12 years later, 33 percent of intake calls pertained to issues of substance use disorder (formerly referred to as chemical dependency), and 56 percent pertained to behavioral health issues such as depression and anxiety. The other 11 percent of intake calls presented with issues such as marital conflict, financial distress, performance productivity, cognitive impairment, stress, eating disorder, domestic abuse and compulsive behaviors. These statistics have remained steady for the last four years and reflect TLAP’s success as a full-spectrum, behavioral health service for Tennessee’s legal profession.

In 2018, TLAP opened 236 new client files and reopened 28 client files for a total of 264 cases. Approximately 39 of those referrals were from the Board of Professional Responsibility. TLAP was able to assist more than 50 percent, a statistic that has remained consistent over the years. One hundred percent of students and bar applicants referred by a law school or Board of Law Examiners were assisted by TLAP.

During TLAP’s existence, slightly less than half of its clients have resided in Middle Tennessee with the Western and Eastern Divisions sharing relatively equal numbers of the remaining percentage of clients. In 2006, approximately 75 percent of referrals were male. In 2018, 62 percent of TLAP referrals were male and 38 percent were female.

In 2018, 62 percent of TLAP’s referrals were lawyers, 34 percent were law students or bar applicants, and 4 percent of all referrals pertained to members of the judiciary.

Conclusion

TLAP operates as its creators envisioned. It contributes to the protection of the public and improves the integrity and reputation of the legal profession. Statistics support that assistance to an affected lawyer often prevents future ethical violations, thereby reducing the number of disciplinary actions. I am proud that TLAP has become a model for assistance programs serving lawyers and judges across this nation and commend TLAP, its staff, and its wonderful volunteers for their excellent work performed across the state.


Resources

Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program       
877-424-TLAP     www.tlap.org/

National Judges’ Helpline       

800-219-6474
The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (ABA/COLAP) Judicial Assistance Initiative has established a list of judges throughout North America who are willing to share their recovery experiences with their peers on the bench. The Helpline is answered during normal business hours by the staff of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program in Austin.

ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs
www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance.html

Lawyers with Depression
www.lawyerswithdepression.com/

StressBusting
www.stressbusting.co.uk
Take a test to check your stress level in about a minute

The TBA Attorney Well-Being Committee
www.tba.org/committee/attorney-well-being-committee

“The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change,” National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being,
www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2017/08/
growing_concern_over.html

“Say Something,” by Lucian T. Pera, Tennessee Bar Journal President’s Perspective, September 2017, www.tba.org/journal/say-something
“A Way Out: Lawyers’ Assistance Program is Free, Confidential and Waiting for Your Call,” by Suzanne Craig Robertson, September 2011 Tennessee Bar Journal, www.tba.org/journal/a-way-out


Janice M. Holder served as a Circuit Court Judge for the Thirtieth Judicial District at Memphis and then as a justice of the Supreme Court of Tennessee. While a member of the Supreme Court, she served as its liaison to TLAP for 16  years. She is a member of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and a past member of its Advisory Committee. She currently chairs CoLAP’s Collaboration with State LAPs Committee. Justice Holder is a Rule 31 Listed Mediator and serves on the American Arbitration Association’s Panel of Arbitrators.

          | TBA Law Blog