History

This summary of LCL’s history was written in 1998 by Dick Dahl and originally published in our 20 Year Retrospective.

Former Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Paul J. Liacos never knew the extent of damage that alcohol abuse was wreaking on the legal profession until he was appointed to the state’s top court and began hearing lawyer disciplinary cases. It was 1976, and one of Liacos’ new responsibilities as a justice on the SJC was to take his turn and sit as a judge who decides cases brought against lawyers by the Board of Bar Overseers.

“I began to realize early on that a lot of the problems of embezzlement or misuse of funds or lying to clients were due in large measure to members of the bar who were addicted,” says Liacos, who is now retired.
His very first such case involved an assistant district attorney whom the BBO sought to discipline for various infractions. As the facts emerged, Liacos recalls, the reason for the lawyer’s problems became inescapable: The man had a serious drinking problem.

“So then I considered what the options are in dealing with people like that,” Liacos remembers, “and much to my surprise, there was nothing that was recognized as treatment or rehabilitation for lawyers who were alcoholic.”

Liacos didn’t want to disbar him because the man had demonstrated that he was an otherwise excellent lawyer, so the new justice looked for alternatives. He sat down with assistant bar counsel (now District Court Judge) Daniel J. Klubock and with the attorney (who was pro se) and considered the strong letters of support that the man’s boss, the district attorney, had written for him. Liacos then proposed a sanction which, at the time, was considered rather unusual. The assistant DA could continue practicing law if he entered into probation, supervised in part by his boss, requiring him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and remain sober.

The arrangement worked, Liacos says, and the word got out that the new justice was a man who was willing to entertain the possibility that alcohol abuse might deserve treatment as well as discipline.

As time went on, Liacos learned that in many of the subsequent disciplinary cases involving alcohol abuse, the lawyers were often represented pro bono by attorneys who were themselves recovering alcoholics. Liacos had become cognizant of a problem facing the bar, but he’d also become “dimly aware,” as he terms it, that there was an informal network of people who were trying to do something about it. This is where the story of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) begins.

This year [1998], LCL is celebrating its 20th year of operation and enjoying a reputation as one of the nation’s pre-eminent lawyer-assistance programs. LCL and its members have aided thousands of Massachusetts lawyers with alcohol and drug problems and has broadened its scope to address gambling, depression, and professional issues. But were it not for the efforts of its early supporters, its pioneers, LCL would not be what it is today an assistance program that has served as a model for many other states to emulate.

Prior to the birth of LCL in 1978, pockets of alcoholic lawyers in recovery had formed their own AA groups. Burlington lawyer Donald N. Sleeper Jr. had one of them and James A. Brink, a partner in the Boston law firm of Hale and Dorr, had another. That year, the American Bar Association held its annual meeting in New York, and one of its programs focused on the growing awareness of alcohol abuse among lawyers. Robert DeGiacomo, the first bar counsel of the then four-year-old BBO, and assistant BBO bar counsel Dermot Meagher, himself a recovered alcoholic, attended that meeting along with Roy Hammer, then president of the Massachusetts Bar Association. At that meeting, representatives of the very first statewide lawyer-assistance programs, in California and Minnesota, gave presentations. And as Meagher, now a Boston Municipal Court judge, recalls, “We sort of looked at each other and said, ‘That would be a nice thing to do.'”

DeGiacomo, now a federal judge in New Mexico, says that Meagher eagerly volunteered to handle the task of putting together a plan for something similar in Massachusetts. DeGiacomo strongly backed the effort because, he says, “I felt very strongly that if lawyers would help lawyers whom they saw or knew or who asked for help who were going off the deep end on alcohol problems then it would solve many of the disciplinary problems we had. That’s because even if lawyers hadn’t reached the stage of complaint, they could become the source of a complaint and it would end up with me. So if it could be treated as an alcohol problem in advance, it would solve many disciplinary problems. It would be an adjunct. It would be preventative.”

Hammer set the stage in his “President’s Message” column in the Massachusetts Law Review, pointing to the same problem that Liacos had seen in many disciplinary matters. “The disciplinary agency may advise the lawyer to seek such care and may warn him of the consequences of future misconduct,” he wrote, “but in most jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, there is presently no procedure for rehabilitating the alcoholic lawyer once he has been so admonished. Without a mechanism to provide preventive treatment to the alcoholic lawyer, so as to avoid future transgressions, the disciplinary process fails to serve the lawyer, his clients, or the public interest.”

Furthermore, Hammer argued, this “mechanism” must be available to a much wider lawyer population than just those who face disciplinary measures. Even though most alcoholic lawyers don’t commingle funds or otherwise violate disciplinary rules, he wrote, they “nevertheless have a desperate personal and professional problem which should be addressed by the bar.”

Meanwhile, the momentum for something new was taking actual form. As it turns out, Hammer worked in the same building as Brink, knew of his tireless AA work, and recruited him to help get a statewide planning committee off the ground. Brink and Meagher headed that effort, and in October 1978, a group of 40 lawyers met at Hale and Dorr and elected the late Probate Judge Vincent Leahy as chair. Brink headed an eight-lawyer subcommittee which would be the seed of what would become LCL.

Edward F. Hennessey was the chief justice of the SJC at the time, and he remembers a small group of lawyers coming to him about this plan. “They were looking for a blessing that they were on the right track,” Hennessey recalls. “Well, they got the right answer because I told them, ‘God bless you. If you wouldn’t have come in here, somebody else-perhaps the court-would have had to invent you.’ As chief justice and as a member of the court that is ultimately responsible for lawyer discipline, I was well aware of the impact of booze on the profession and its prevalence in misconduct cases. It was an idea whose time had come, and if it hadn’t happened then, it would have been invented shortly thereafter.”

To say that LCL opened for business at the end of that year almost sounds more grandiose than what really happened. When LCL started, its operation comprised one telephone line connected to an answering service. It operated on no budget whatsoever. The founders talked Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly into running a small, discreet ad, and when the calls trickled in, the group members took turns returning the calls with an eye toward steering the caller to AA meetings.

“It’s interesting to look back on it,” Brink says today, “because we had no money. We financed this thing out of a hat. We’d meet every other week and we’d get the telephone bill and we’d just pass the hat.”

Even though the initial response from one tiny ad in Lawyers Weekly was slow at first, lawyers with alcohol problems saw LCL as offering one huge advantage over AA. “Especially for a new lawyer coming in to AA, there’s a natural hesitancy to lay it all out on the line,” says Sleeper, a founding LCL member who had been sponsoring his own AA meetings for lawyers in Burlington. “We have found that with the peer group, they’ll let their hair down further and go into the details of all their problems. Even though the principle of anonymity is in the picture, there’s a lot of people who are skittish about admitting in public that they’re a lawyer and they screwed up.”

Brink had seen the same degree of lawyerly reticence about AA. “I think that lawyers as a group tend to have an unwarranted sense of their own importance,” he says. “Frequently, you’ll hear a lawyer who is in trouble indicate that he’s not willing to go to AA because he’s afraid that he’s going to run into clients or neighbors. He’s afraid that people might observe him there and that that will affect his professional life adversely. It’s a much better pitch to tell him to come in and talk to another lawyer who’s had the same problem that you do. The person who is unwilling to throw himself into AA is willing, frequently, to talk to another lawyer who’s had the same problem. There’s not that fear of being uncovered or discovered. So the idea was that LCL sort of act as a gangplank to recovery.”

LCL’s volunteers provided assessment and referral services to callers, but they also established several lawyer support groups that met weekly or monthly. They also began conducting educational programs at bar meetings, courthouses, and law schools to spread the word about its services. In time, the number of callers grew to the point at which a small hat-passing enterprise was having trouble keeping up.

“It became evident to us that we were going to have to do something more,” Brink says. “That required money. ”

Brink’s nephew, Robert J. Brink, was also a lawyer in recovery from alcoholism and an active founder of LCL. Brink, who is now executive director of the Flaschner Judicial Institute in Boston, wrote a grant application to the Massachusetts Bar Foundation. LCL received a three-year grant for $7500 a year outright, along with a matching grant which provided leverage to approach law firms for support. At the same time, LCL incorporated as a non-profit organization in order to provide tax advantages to contributors.

Then, in 1987, LCL reached another milestone when the group hired an Executive Director, its first part-time staff member. Bonnie Waters, herself in recovery, came to LCL with a background that included operation of an outpatient treatment program in New Hampshire. For several years, she would comprise LCL’s entire staff.

Demand continued to grow, and once again LCL began to feel the limits of its abilities to meet it. In October, 1991, BBO Chairman James R. DeGiacomo wrote a letter to Liacos, then chief justice of the SJC, extolling the benefits of LCL as a group that can mitigate or preempt disciplinary problems of alcoholic lawyers. “If, by assisting attorneys before they get into trouble, LCL is able to prevent but a single sizable defalcation in a given year, the money it saves the Clients’ Security Fund alone will far outstrip the modest cost of funding LCL’s operations,” DeGiacomo wrote.

After all, as DeGiacomo pointed out and as others familiar with lawyer discipline are aware, the Client Security Board had been encountering an eerily familiar scenario every year. BBO general counsel Michael Fredrickson says that every year the board deals with “the unholy three,” a trio of misbehaving lawyers who can be counted on to account for at least 50 percent of the year’s defalcations. “And one of those three,” Fredrickson says, “is always a drunk.”

“We came to the conviction that this was a problem that truly affected all the lawyers in the bar,” James Brink recalls. “Not that every lawyer is an alcoholic, of course, but that the alcoholic lawyer who screws up, who cheats a client, who ends up being disciplined reflects poorly on the profession in the eyes of the public. And since it’s a profession-wide problem, we began to feel that we should get profession-wide support for it. And I guess I was the leader of that effort.”

Thus, LCL took the biggest step in its history. Brink and Waters paid a visit to Liacos and asked for state funding of their program. They suggested $5 per Massachusetts lawyer, to be set aside as a portion of each attorney’s annual BBO registration fees-“the price of a drink,” as Waters termed it. With nearly 40,000 lawyers in Massachusetts, the annual infusion from the registration fees would provide the program that LCL felt was needed to serve the bar properly.

Still, as Brink says, it wasn’t a step that was taken without some serious soul-searching on the parts of many LCL members. “People were reluctant to try to get public support for this because the feeling was that if you do, you’re putting yourself in their pocket. We were an independent, private, nonprofit corporation with nobody telling us what to do or how to do it. And that was very important to us because we knew that a lawyer who is in difficulty would be very reluctant to talk to anybody if they weren’t assured that we weren’t hatchet men. So we had to set ourselves apart and convince people that everything that came through our doors was confidential, that we weren’t in anybody’s pocket, that we weren’t an arm of the court or the disciplinary service.”

In July 1990, a year prior to the new funding system, an agreement was reached with the BBO stating that LCL volunteer lawyers would serve as probation monitors for lawyers with alcohol problems and file periodic reports on the probationers’ progress to the BBO. In other words, LCL would serve the BBO as a ready resource for prevention of future trouble.

Now institutionalized as Massachusetts’ assistance program for alcoholic lawyers, LCL’s next evolutionary steps was perhaps predictable. “After we got the funding, we were in the position of asking every lawyer in the commonwealth to support what was arguably for the benefit of 10 percent of the lawyer population, for 4,000 lawyers,” Brink says. “You can’t justify that for very long. Meanwhile, we’d begun to get calls for help in other areas-people who were addicted to gambling, to drugs, to sex, to all kinds of other things. We began to get calls from people who had other difficulties that affected their ability to practice law – depression, stress, despair over changes in the profession, family difficulties, emotional problems of one kind or another. So, with the approval of the court, we began to open our doors to people needing that kind of aid.”

In fact, recent LCL statistics reveal how dramatic the shift of its scope has been. In fiscal year 1997, the most dominant presenting problem was the category “depression/anxiety” at 31 percent. “Alcohol/Drugs” was second, at 22 percent, followed by “Family and Career Problems” at 18 percent, “Other mental health other than depression or anxiety,” 15 percent, “Practice Management,” 7 percent; and “Gambling,” 2 percent.

Meanwhile, the LCL staff has expanded to meet the growing needs of the Massachusetts bar. In addition to Executive Director Waters, the office staff now includes an office manager/assistant to the director and three part-time clinicians who do initial diagnoses and referrals. The list of LCL members who are on the list to provide peer assistance to fellow attorneys has mushroomed to 360 names.

“We’ve worked hard to get the support from the legal community,” Waters says, “and I think we’ve achieved that.”

According to Michael Crowley, an Austin, Texas lawyer who chairs the American Bar Association’s Committee on Lawyer Assistance Programs (COLAP), Massachusetts’ LCL “is one of the top five programs in the nation, easily.” To Crowley, the quality of lawyer-assistance programs (or LAPs) usually depend on their stage of evolutionary development. That is, he says, Massachusetts’ status as a top-ranked LAP means that it has evolved, like a few other states, from a purely voluntary effort to one that is regularly funded via license fees or bar dues or IOLTA funds with a professional staff that addresses all sorts of impairments. The Massachusetts LCL has demonstrated particular strengths in two areas, according to Crowley: Its relationship with the court system, and its effectiveness in communicating its services to all members of the bar.

Meanwhile, the problems being suffered by lawyers these days seem to be expanding. Several studies in recent years have indicated that lawyers are more likely than other professional groups to have problems with alcohol. Other studies have revealed, as LCL’s recent figures would verify, that a tremendous number of lawyers are unhappy with the profession. Those studies have identified a variety of causes for lawyer dissatisfaction, including increasing demands for greater productivity, heightened incivility, an eroding public image of lawyers, and the staggering debt burden that young lawyers face in starting their careers.

Lawrence T. Perera, a partner in the Boston law firm of Hemenway & Barnes and who heads the Boston Bar Association’s Peer Support Committee, points to “the wholesale way in which the practice of law has become a widget-making and bean-counting operation. The civility of the profession has been sacrificed to the gods of management.” And in that climate, he says, it is not surprising that lawyers will suffer a variety of problems. Ever since its creation in 1983, the BBA group has had a “synergistic” relationship with LCL, Perera says. The two groups, he says, have shared resources and served as backups to each other.

Larger firms have become more sophisticated in providing employee-assistance programs to help lawyers with alcohol, drug, and other problems. But small firms are less likely to offer those resources. Thus, says Perera, perhaps the biggest benefit provided by both the BBA group and LCL is for lawyers in small firms and solo operations. LCL’s statistics apparently bear this out. In fiscal 1997, 42 percent of its new clients were solo practitioners, 22 percent came from law firms (LCL doesn’t keep track of law-firm size, however), and 10 percent from law schools. “It’s really a program now for the entire legal profession, including students,” Waters says. “We’re the only program of its kind for the legal profession in Massachusetts.”

U.S. District Court Judge Charles B. Swartwood III, who was the president of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation when LCL got its first grant from them, agrees. Swartwood chairs the BBO’s Oversight Committee on LCL, and he says he’s heard nothing but positive reports. “It’s terrific,” he says. “From the reports I get from the committee meetings, they’ve been very successful in dealing with a large group of people who have not only substance-abuse problems but other problems such as depression as well.”

While founders might admit that they’re a bit sentimental about the good old days when they were a purely volunteer program, they’re also proud of what LCL has become.

“I’m glad that LCL is extending itself to other issues,” Meagher says. “I think certainly somebody has to, and I think LCL is a good place to do it.”
“I’m not surprised at all” at LCL’s success, Sleeper says. “I knew it would work because Jim Brink is a very determined individual. He literally lugged this thing on his back.”

Brink will be celebrating his 50th year as a practicing lawyer next year-all at Hale and Dorr, the same firm where his father, Virgil, practiced for 58 years. For 27 years, the careers of the elder Brink and his son overlapped at that firm-and for a good many of those years, James Brink says now, he was sometimes a source of embarrassment to his father, his partners, his family, and himself. That was because James Brink was an alcoholic.

“People began to give their work to other young lawyers in the office,” Brink recalls. “Eventually, even my father took work away from me because he was aware of the fact that the way I behaved was having an adverse effect on the relationships he had with his clients. So my world got smaller and smaller and the end was in sight.”

Like many an alcoholic, Brink responded to his alcohol-induced problems by drinking more. He’d have four or five martinis at lunch and then stumble into the lobby. He’d be hung over, unable to work effectively. He lost one marriage, then a second marriage. Finally, in 1965, more than 16 years into his legal career, Brink went for help. He went to AA, the message stuck, and he’s remained sober approaching his life one day at a time ever since. A big part of his life during all those days has been LCL.

“The literature of Alcoholics Anonymous talks about how ‘you have to give it away to keep it,'” he says. “What that means is that you have to take your sobriety and share it with others to help others get sober, and the fulfillment you get through that helps you to stay sober. This association with LCL is one of my ways of doing that.”

Addendum: Since this history was written on the occasion of LCL’s 20th anniversary, change has continued, with the evolution of LCL’s programming and services. The organization grieved the loss of Jim Brink, whose charitable spirit is memorialized through the Brink Endowment Fund, used to help lawyers without means get services that they need. Bonnie Waters retired as Executive Director in the fall of 2005, succeeded for two years by Ellen Murphy (who then returned to her native North Carolina), then by Gina Walcott (2007 to mid-2011), and, currently, by Rodney Dowell (who also continues to direct the LOMAP program).

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