Model Policy for Law Firms

NOTICE

The Missouri Bar is dedicated to helping Missouri lawyers better help their clients. Substance abuse and mental health issues can interfere with an attorney’s ability to provide quality legal services to their clients. Those same issues also can detrimentally affect the quality of life of the attorney and his or her family. The Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program (MOLAP) is a free, confidential counseling service designed to assist lawyers and law firms with mental health and substance concerns. Based on the work of the New York State Bar Association, the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program offers this Model Policy for Law Firms to assist law firms in addressing substance abuse and mental health problems. We believe this model policy can be valuable tool for law firms when it comes to addressing a lawyer’s substance abuse and/or mental health issues. It is intended for use as a sample and can be modified to suit the needs of your practice or firm. The following model policy was endorsed by The Missouri Bar Board of Governors.

 

Model Policy for Law Firms
Addressing Impairment

 

I. Defining the Problem

Impairment of a legal professional adversely affects not only the individual’s well-being, but it also directly and adversely affects the law firm’s ability to provide the highest quality legal services to its clients and may lead to professional liability, violations of ethical obligations, professional discipline, a loss of public reputation and criminal prosecution.  The chief contributors to impairment of legal professionals are clinical depression and other mental health conditions, dependency on drugs and alcohol, and other addictive behaviors.

II. Policy Statement

It is the policy of this law firm that impairment of law firm legal professionals is inconsistent with its mission.

Further, it is the policy of this law firm that impaired legal professionals are in need of assistance and treatment, and that early identification and intervention will provide the greatest hope of overcoming such impairment.  This law firm recognizes that impairment is not a moral failing.

The purpose of this policy is to encourage self-identification, self-referral, referral, treatment and recovery.  The law firm, consistent with applicable law and the Rules of Professional Conduct, will not tolerate unlawful discrimination against a legal professional who has availed himself or herself of the law firm’s resources, as further set forth in this policy.

The law firm shall provide a copy of this policy to all employees and legal professionals.

III. Who is Covered

This policy applies to all law firm legal professionals, including but not limited to, partners and managing attorneys, associates, and paralegals, subject to any applicable collective bargaining agreement.

The law firm will assist and support legal professionals who voluntarily seek help for impairment or who are directed, as a result of a work performance evaluation, to seek help for impairment.  The law firm will permit impaired legal professionals to use paid time off, be placed on a leave of absence, be referred for treatment or otherwise provide accommodations as required by law and permitted consistent with law firm leave policies.

IV. Professional Responsibility

It is the responsibility of all legal professionals of this law firm to provide the highest quality legal services to its clients.  Impairment due to the use of alcohol or drugs or due to mental health conditions can lead to potential incompetence and/or misconduct which compromises the law firm’s ability to services its clients in accordance with this responsibility.

Attendance and work performance of legal professionals of this law firm will be evaluated.

  • Frequent lateness, absenteeism, failure to be on time for meetings and other attendance issues will not be tolerated.
  • Failure to meet deadlines, failure to timely return phone calls will not be tolerated.
  • Disrespect for, or mistreatment of, staff or colleagues will not be tolerated.

If attendance or work performance issues or behaviors are being caused by impairment, this law firm encourages self-referral or referral to its EAP (employee assistance program) or to the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program (contact information attached) as appropriate, prior to the initiation of law firm disciplinary action if possible and appropriate.  Legal professionals of the law firm who fail or refuse to avail themselves of the opportunity to seek and follow through on treatment will be subject to internal discipline, up to and including possible termination.

While a legal professional or staff member may have a desire to assist another legal professional with an impairment to avoid the consequences of his or her conduct, assistance in that situation does in fact enable the legal professional to continue the behavior which is caused by the impairment.

V. Confidentiality

This law firm will maintain the confidentiality of a legal professional who has self-referred, or who has been referred, or any legal professional or staff who reports a potential impairment problem, to a designated person for evaluation and treatment.  The law firm will keep the legal professionals and staff advised as to the name and means of contacted or designated person.

Referral to the Missouri Lawyers' Assistance Program is also STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL.  The identity of the person contacting MOLAP will not be disclosed to any member of the law firm, nor will it result in a referral to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel.

That person will assist the impaired legal professional with issues of insurance coverage, payment for treatment and covering client matters during treatment, as necessary.  Cooperation in all such matters is required, and failure to cooperate may result in law firm discipline, up to and including possible termination.

VI. Education

The law firm is dedicated to providing continuing education and training to all legal professionals and staff in relation to implementation of this and all policies as well as education related to work/like balance, stress reduction and other such topics that can support outstanding work performance and continuing success of the law firm’s mission.  To further that goal, the law firm will annually provide an informational seminar for legal professionals and staff from a representative of the Missouri Bar Lawyers'  Assistance Program.

VII. Available Resources

Law firm
Contact:     Call (e.g. NAME at x _ _ _ _) for information about this policy, its administration and for a confidential referral if appropriate.

Referral or Self-referral to Employee Assistance Program: if applicable, insert information about the law firm’s health insurance carrier’s Employee Assistance Program –
e.g.
Our law firm health insurance policy includes access to an Employee Assistance Program for the purpose of self-referral or referral of individuals and their co-workers who are impaired, and their families. We encourage you to contact the EAP.  The EAP is a confidential service provided at no cost to covered employees and others who are affected by impairment.

Referral or Self-referral to Lawyer Assistance Program:  The Missouri Bar Association maintains a statewide confidential Helpline at 1-800-688-7859. The Missouri Lawyers' Assistance Program (MOLAP) provides CONFIDENTIAL assistance, including but not limited to, relevant information about impairment, identification of appropriate assessment providers, and assistance in intervention planning, assistance in identifying potential treatment providers and resources for impaired attorneys.

VIII. Return to Work Agreements

The law firm may require a legal professional (who has self-referred or who has been referred for treatment) to execute a Return to Work agreement.

If a legal professional – prior to being subjected to professional disciplinary action or where internal disciplinary action has been held in abeyance during the pendency of treatment – engages in appropriate treatment, he or she may be required to execute a Return to Work Agreement prior to returning to work.

Such Return to Work Agreement will include:

  • verification of the legal professional’s participation in a treatment program,
  • the legal professional’s commitment to maintain the prescribed regimen for continued wellness, to adhere to the firm’s code of conduct and professional responsibility, and to participate in aftercare,
  • a commitment to undergo drug or alcohol testing if appropriate,
  • authorization by the legal professional to appropriate firm representatives to discuss compliance with the foregoing requirement, but limited to a need-to-know basis [and] while maintaining privacy particularly with respect to medical records,
  • an acknowledgment that a violation of the Return to Work Agreement will result in immediate sanctions.

Signature #1 (at time of intervention):
Signature #2 (upon return to work, and incorporation aftercare recommendations):