The Illinois legal profession attempts to take care of its own: Illinois Bar Foundation and Lawyers’ Assistance Program

In the last edition of this newsletter, senior lawyers were made aware of what benefits were available because of their long-in-the-tooth (senior) status in terms of dues reductions and the like from the 34,000 member Illinois State Bar Association. It is natural to further advise senior lawyers, and in this case, all lawyers, of what the profession does to take care of its senior lawyers and, as well, lawyers in some form of distress.

The Illinois Bar Foundation, the eleemosynary arm of the Illinois State Bar Association, has created what it has labeled the “Lawyers Care Fund.” This is the name given to what was formerly known as the IBF’s Subsistence Program. Its purpose is to help lawyers and their families in need because of illness, tragedy, or other severe circumstances in their lives. Of course and unfortunately, senior lawyers are more inclined to have these problems, as a rule, than younger professionals.

Lawyers in distress, of any kind, for any reason, can apply for assistance from the Lawyers Care Fund by calling the IBF directly at 312.726.6072 for an application to be sent to them. There are two pieces to the application—one details their personal information, the other their financial information. Out of respect to applicants and the sensitive nature of their difficulties, all applications are kept completely confidential. The Lawyers Care Fund Committee then reviews the application, and a member is assigned to follow up with the applicant for a personal “consultation” regarding their current situation. After this is done, the committee determines the applicant’s eligibility and appropriate level and duration of their support. Support ranges between $200-$1,000 per month, depending on the applicant and their circumstances. Recipients are asked to submit an annual report, detailing if there have been improvements in their lives/finances, or if things have gotten worse. There are follow-up checks with them personally every few months to continue the flow of communication. Sometimes there are severe circumstances that require the committee to meet regarding one individual’s immediate needs. The committee will choose to provide some additional one-time assistance to the person, such as a payment of a medical bill, etc., if it is preventing additional care to the recipient. This is done on a case-by-case basis.

In 2010, the IBF provided almost $100,000 in assistance to our Lawyers Care Fund recipients. They are on track to provide the same amount this year. Increases are completely dependent on the amount of applicants. A “sub-fund,” the “Warren Lupel Funds,” also raises, approximately, $25,000 annually for this most worthwhile effort. Presently there have been several months without a new applicant, although they have received calls requesting applications. Sometimes people’s circumstances change and they choose not to apply—it is a very sensitive subject to people and a source of great embarrassment to several of our recipients.

The Lawyers’ Assistance Program (LAP) is well-known to lawyers throughout the state of Illinois. It is one of the programs that we can be most proud of in terms of taking care of our own. For more than 30 years, Lawyers’ Assistance Program has been providing assistance to Illinois lawyers, judges, and law students with addiction and mental health problems. As the legal population ages and more lawyers continue to work rather than to retire as they might have planned, LAP is seeing many of us older attorneys with issues related to their advancing age.

LAP keeps all client information completely confidential, but the organization carefully tracks and makes public the demographic information of those LAP assists. Approximately 11 percent of LAP cases involve lawyers 60 years old and over; nearly 3 percent are over 70. Obviously of interest to our segment of the bar and our ISBA Senior Lawyers’ Section Council. In addition to the high rates of addiction and depression that impact lawyers of all ages, older lawyers who seek help are struggling with medical issues, financial problems, work-related problems, retirement-planning challenges, dementia, and even suicide ideation. Many continue the practice of law because they cannot afford to retire.

In a recent legal education presentation called “Shades of Gray: Issues for Aging Attorneys,” LAP’s executive director Janet Piper Voss stressed the fact that dementia is not a normal process of aging. The incidence of dementia does increase as we age, however. It is estimated that 5 percent of individuals 65 to 75 show signs of dementia; 20 percent of those 75 to 85 show signs of dementia; and 30 percent of the population over 90 suffer with dementia. There are many causes for dementia and as much as 10 percent is related to medical causes and can be successfully treated.

Many colleagues and family members have turned to LAP over the years to provide intervention services for alcohol and/or drug dependency. This group process is carried out with respect and concern with the goal of offering help and initiating change. It has become a successful tool in helping lawyers impaired by dementia to feel good about their career and retire with dignity.

With two lawyer/clinicians on staff, LAP now has the ability to provide many services for older attorneys: consultation, referral, retirement planning and implementation, intervention, as well as support for family and colleagues. LAP strives to raise awareness of these issues through MCLE presentations and outreach to bar associations, law firms, and other legal organizations.

Hopefully, none of the readers of this article will find it necessary to look to either Lawyers’ Assistance Program or the Lawyers Care Fund of the Illinois Bar Foundation. But it is comforting to know that lawyers in extremis have some place to turn to when things look the most dire. I wish to thank Janet Piper Voss of the Lawyers’ Assistance Program and Lisa Corrao, the Executive Director of the Illinois Bar Foundation for providing me the necessary information to write this article. Each of them will be more than anxious to be of assistance to anyone who has questions dealing with either of these programs. ■

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October 2011Volume 3Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)