Saving lives, careers
By James O. Heiting
President, State Bar of California
I recently met a young man who, when he was a boy, loved simple things. He
says he still does: lizards, toads, snakes, birds, dogs, horses, pigeons, trees,
adventure, building forts, taking things apart to find out how they work, hikes,
riding his bike, going new places, swimming, sports, blue skies, open spaces,
God, reading Nancy Drew mysteries (OK, he says he doesn’t still read
Nancy Drew). He was thankful that the curiosity, competitive spirit and fascination
with life and all it has to offer that made him want to wake up every day and
explore the world returned to him recently.
It was not always so.
There was a period (an eternity as he characterizes it) when none of this
lit his life. He lived in a very dark place, alone and without hope. Whether
fueled by an underlying depression, disappointment in love, being “different,” something
else, or a combination of things, he doesn’t know. It was a period of
isolation and deep despair, loneliness and need for help held hostage by the
belief in willpower and self, and the “inability” to seek help
(his description). This gay lawyer ended up homeless and selling himself on
the streets to get drugs.
He says his life, family, career, relationships with people and with the God
of his understanding were saved when he became willing to reach out for help.
The Lawyer Assistance Program and The Other Bar were there waiting for him.
He now lives in an apartment, has renewed contact with his family, returned
to his church (he had felt he could not attend because he was so guilt ridden
and ashamed of himself). He goes to The Other Bar meetings where he says he
has found true friends — lawyers and judges in recovery who support and
mentor him; and he has a period of extended continuous sobriety that was previously “unimaginable” to
I write this article for two reasons: first, this man was willing to share
his story with me and with you. He is a man who, like me, has been the recipient
of a tremendous gift, a blessing of a renewed life, another chance through
the experience, knowledge and generosity of spirit of others. Second, the Lawyer
Assistance Program is having its first annual fund-raiser Jan. 28 at the Loew’s
Santa Monica Beach Hotel (the State Bar Section Education Institute runs from
the 27th through the 29th at that location).
Why a fund-raiser? The LAP is funded, in part, through a statutorily mandated
portion of your dues ($10 currently), but it is doing such good work and is
growing so quickly it has outgrown the budget originally set in place with
the statute. In fact, without additional funding, it will not be able to keep
up. The legislative author, former Sen. John Burton, however, anticipated this,
and part of the statute permits, and even directs, that the LAP conduct fund-raising
to help meet the growing needs for services.
The name of the program for the 28th is “Saving Careers, Saving Lives,” a
phrase used by former State Bar president Jim Herman a couple of years ago
when he was describing what he had learned to be the good done by the Lawyer
Assistance Program. It is certainly apropos.
You may certainly attend, or make a donation of dinner seats or a direct donation
(tax deductible I am told). There is a great program planned, including a wonderful
and very funny comedian, Mark Lundholm.
To get the specifics, please contact Richard Carlton, assistant executive
director of the Lawyer Assistance Program, at 415/538-2355, or go to the State
Bar Web site, www.calbar.ca.gov, and click on the Lawyers Assistance Program
link to view the invitation and order tickets.
I don’t believe the State Bar has ever come up with a member benefit
that has or could mean more to members themselves, their families, clients,
their partners and associates and the public than this one. Please support
On a different, but similar note, I recently came across a quote from Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr., that enriched my life. He said, “I can never
be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” It is a simple
phrase that seems to describe the work of the LAP, The Other Bar and organizations
Let’s go out and do some good.