Since 2001, Hoot Ebert has served as director of the Kentucky Bar Associations Lawyer Assistance Program. Ebert, a recovering drug and alcohol addict, helps other lawyers, law students and judges deal with addiction, stress and depression. He was interviewed by Staff Writer Paul Glasser.
Can you tell me a little bit about what the Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program actually is? What you do?
The Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program, which we refer to as KYLAP, was implemented by the Kentucky Supreme Court and its administered by the Kentucky Bar Association. It is a program that is designed to assist the Kentucky legal community with any impairments that a member of the community may have which is affecting their ability to practice law or which has the potential to affect their ability to practice law. KYLAP is a broad brush or comprehensive program in that it covers alcohol abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse, drug addiction, depression and the many faces of depression such as bipolar impairment and ADHD impairment. Weve assisted lawyers who have reached an age where theyre having a difficult time keeping up with their law practice.
What kind of programs or services do you offer?
Its a two-tier program. One is peer assistance which is totally and completely confidential pursuant to Supreme Court rules. Thats where an individual can call us directly and any conversation we have with him is confidential and he may explain what impairment hes suffering from. In the case of, Im just giving this as a for-instance, alcoholism, I would contact two of my volunteer lawyers of which I have 80 throughout the state, all of whom are in recovery from some type of impairment, but I would try to match the caller up with two persons who have experienced alcoholism and have them call on him, share their experience, strength, and hope with him, try to talk him into going into treatment if necessary or at least get started with recovery group meetings.
And the other case, which is confidential, are third-party referrals where we might receive a call from a law partner, or from a wife, a family member, someone else who has noticed that something is wrong with an individual and they might suspect depression. In those cases, again their names are confidential. We do not disclose who calls. But again I will contact my volunteers and usually its a volunteer who has experienced depression and who has recovered from depression to call on that person to share his experience, strength and hope with him and to assist him into getting into treatment. We work very closely with the Burns, Bray & Brady from Louisville, a nationally known addictionologist who runs the Impaired Physicians Program and he has been a guiding light for KYLAP in that we constantly contact him and ask about different doctors in various areas of the state.
It is very important for me to stress that the volunteers for KYLAP are its backbone. Its efficacy depends upon the volunteers and KYLAP is very fortunate in that it has 100 percent participation from all of its volunteers. Any one of them and all of them will go to any lengths to help a fellow lawyer, a law student or a judge, or somebody who is applying to take the Kentucky Bar.
You mentioned strength, experience and hope. What those words or ideas mean?
Being a recovering alcoholic I have experienced the loneliness and the incomprehensible demoralization of being addicted to alcohol and when I share my feelings as a recovered alcoholic with a person who is currently suffering from alcoholism, there is a bond there and we can relate to each other because I know what hes going through and I have the opportunity to share the solution with him and urge him to get into the solution.
Addiction is not well understood by the public and so many people think that its a matter of will power or its a moral issue, and it is not in the case of alcoholism and drug addiction. It is a disease which has been recognized by the American Medical Association for some time now.
What do you want to say about your experiences?
My experience was I started drinking in college and it continued throughout my legal career until 1985 and it kept getting worse and worse and worse. I started to isolate. I started to use drugs. I was very lonely and the fear was overwhelming. I reached out for help, I went into treatment for 30 days. The first people to come and see me were members of the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Committee of the Kentucky Bar Association which was the precursor of KYLAP. They shared their experience, strength and hope with me. I could relate to them. They offered the solution to me and I availed myself of it and since Dec. 1, 1985, I have not had a drink or a drug.
What was the impetus for creating the local group, the Kentucky Lawyers Assistance Program? How did it come to be?
Before we go a little further I said that KYLAP is two-tiered. Two tiers the first is the peer assistance which is confidential. Secondly, if we receive a referral from the Supreme Court or from a disciplinary agency of the bar association, in that event, it is not confidential and we will assist those individuals and we will monitor their compliance with any terms of a conditional license, or terms of a Supreme Court Order. That usually, in the case of depression, includes that they continue with the therapy on a regular basis. KYLAP will set up a monitor and make reports to those agencies.
The impetus for the formation of KYLAP was the fact that the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Committee which came into existence in the early 1980s, Kentucky being one of the first states to implement such a committee, over the years was becoming overwhelmed with the number of calls. When Lawyers Helping Lawyers was formed its main focus was on alcoholism and drug addiction and we found ourselves getting calls in reference to stress, dissatisfaction with the legal profession, with other mental issues, with gambling addiction. When we approached the Kentucky Bar Association and said we felt we were inadequate to handle those type cases on the limited budget that we had, the bar association and the Kentucky Supreme Court formalized that program with a director and an administrative assistant. The rules were adopted by the Kentucky Supreme Court and theyre implemented by the Kentucky Bar Association. I have a commission which oversees me which drafted policies and procedures so we operate under guidelines.
How much has the program grown?
Its grown by leaps and bounds in that the calls I get never cease to amaze me from senility to brain injuries to gambling to sexual addiction. The help of the American Bar Associations mission of lawyer assistance programs has been invaluable. We have a meeting once a year somewhere in the United States or Canada and it gives about 70 lawyer assistance programs throughout the United States to share their experience and to share how their programs are operated. Basically, theyre all operated the same but in setting up the rules and setting up our policies and procedures and directing me to the property authority to handle a case, theyre invaluable.
So do you think youre having an impact? Do you see success stories?
There is no doubt about that. Its like throwing a rock into a pond, the waves go out and sometimes we dont see whom those waves affect.
Is it difficult to ask for help?
In many cases, yes. Denial is such a part of the diseases of depression and alcoholism, or addiction that sometimes it is difficult to pierce that denial. But again, thats where somebody with experience in that impairment can relate to that person whereas no other person can. I might add also that KYLAP is very involved with two of the law schools in Kentucky. We presented their first-year law student programs and we presented their professional responsibility classes. KYLAP is fortunate to have volunteers in the law school and is helping a lot of law students. So have we seen a difference? Absolutely. Weve seen lawyers whose lives have turned around, who are extremely successful lawyers, who know how to balance their family life with their work life, who keep their recovery as their number one priority, and everything else seems to fall in place for them.
We receive letters of gratitude on a regular basis. Of course, this is not a one-time thing where we just go out and share our experience, strength, and hope with an individual. We stick with them. Were in contact with them all the time especially by and through the volunteers.
If they dont get help do their problems affect their work?
I dont think theres any doubt. I dont think that a lawyer can adequately practice law if hes depressed, if hes stressed, if hes dissatisfied with the law practice, or if hes drinking, or drugging. Stress is one of the major issues involved with KYLAP right now. A lot of lawyers out there are having a difficult time making it. And for some reason they feel a disconnect with the practice of law, become discouraged and so many times that leads to depression.
How many different clients or people do you work with each year?
Weve been up and running full time since 2003 and we have reached between 90 and 100 participants per year. We receive a lot more calls than that but thats approximately how many people we have in the program on a yearly basis.
Is this program a valuable asset?
Im passionate about the program in that I as director get paid for helping other people and have the opportunity to also assist the volunteers in their recovery by giving them referrals. Then the referrals when they accept the solution presented, get straightened out. I think that lawyer assistance programs with their confidentiality are imperative in todays legal community.
Lawyers tend to be very independent and they are trained to be problem solvers. They tend to think that they can by themselves solve their own problems with any type of impairment and are hesitant to reach out for help but once they reach out for help and discover a solution to their problems, they are very grateful.
Anything else you want to share?
When I took this job, I called a good friend of mine who had been very active in establishing the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Committee. The fellows name is Billy Hoge. Hes a lawyer in Louisville, and I called him to ask, when I was selected as director, I called him to ask his advice on how to operate the program and he only told me one thing. He said, Hoot, even you cant mess up Gods work. And that was all he said and Ive found that to be so true. It is probably the best advice I have been given as director of KYLAP.