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Saving lives, careers

By James O. Heiting
President, State Bar of California

James O. Heiting

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 him.

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,, 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 it generously.

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 like them.

Let’s go out and do some good.

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