CHICAGO – The registration fees paid by attorneys who want to practice in Illinois will go up by $3 next year to benefit a nonprofit program that helps law students, attorneys and judges get confidential help for alcohol and substance abuse problems as well as depression, the Illinois Supreme Court announced last week.
Beginning in 2017, Illinois attorneys on active status for at least three years will have to pay an annual registration fee of $385, compared to the previous fee of $382. The additional funds will benefit the Lawyers’ Assistance Program, which also sponsors outreach and education programs for those in the legal profession around the state. The program had received $7 from every registration fee, but now it will get $10.
Chief Justice Rita B. Garman said in a prepared statement, “The modest increase in the annual registration fee will have a significant impact on the LAP’s ability to provide services to impaired attorneys and to shine a light on the issues of addiction and mental illness in our profession.”
The program’s goals are not only to help lawyers whose careers may be getting sidetracked by addiction or depression problems but to protect the public and clients from decisions made by impaired judges and attorneys.
“Since the inception of the program, the requests for assistance have gone up dramatically,” Executive Director Robin Belleau told the Madison Record. Over the past two to three years, however, the number of law students and attorneys seeking help has leveled off at about 300 per year, Belleau said, indicating there may be a need for additional outreach.
The nonprofit program, which was founded 36 years ago and has a five-member staff, has offices in both the Chicago and Belleville areas, but Belleau said she wants to see the group open an office in the mid-state region as well. In addition, the program’s two part-time personnel on its clinical staff in Chicago may eventually go to full-time status to better serve those attorneys who enter the program.
“After a self-referral or a referral from a judge, a clinical assessment is done on what type of treatment is best suited for the needs of patient,” Belleau said.
The state Supreme Court’s decision on earmarking additional funding for addiction and depression problems among attorneys comes on the heels of a national study released in February by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. That study found that 28 percent of attorneys battle depression, while 21 percent have problems with alcohol.
Belleau said the study changed the prevailing thought about addiction and depression issues in the legal profession. Whereas those over age 50 used to be seen having the greatest risk, the Bar Association study concluded that younger lawyers in the first decade of practice have the highest incidence of problems.
“We now find ourselves also confronting the ever-increasing consequences of depression, anxiety and stress” in addition to drug and alcohol addiction, Belleau said.
The Lawyers’ Assistance Program staff also provides office hours and conducts volunteer training sessions on law school campuses in Illinois. Volunteer training sessions are scheduled in both Bloomington and Chicago on June 3, Belleau said.