Created in 1986 at the urging of prominent members of the Florida legal community, Florida Lawyers Assistance's (FLA) initial focus was on assisting attorneys dealing with substance abuse, with the overwhelming majority presenting for alcohol abuse. The original Florida Bar rule that authorized FLA (1) did not mention assistance to attorneys dealing with mental-health issues, and there was some controversy within the Bar as to whether drug abuse, due to the illegal nature of the substances, should be included within FLA's purview. The Bar eventually accepted that "chemical dependency" as used in the rule was not limited to alcohol, and agreed that FLA's mandate (and the confidentiality provisions that accompanied it) included all substances.
Shortly after its creation, FLA began working with attorneys who had no substance abuse issues, but were dealing with serious mental-health conditions that were negatively affecting their lives. In 1998, FLA requested that Rule 2-9.11 be amended to reflect this fact, and the rule was changed to include attorneys dealing with any "impairment related to chemical dependency or psychological problems that affect their professional performance or practice of law...." (2)
FLA was originally created as a voluntary "lawyers helping lawyers" organization. Assistance was provided to attorneys seeking help primarily through assessment to determine whether formal treatment was necessary, referral to local FLA members, and referral to the local attorney support meeting and 12-step programs. After cases such as The Florida Bar v. Headley, 475 So. 2d 1213 (Fla. 1985), and The Florida Bar v. Blalock, 325 So. 2d 401 (Fla. 1976), in which the Florida Supreme Court accepted chemical dependency as mitigation in Bar discipline cases, but required some type of monitoring, The Florida Bar turned to FLA to provide those services. Since that time, FLA's monitoring functions have expanded to the point where FLA now monitors more individuals than any similar lawyer assistance program in the United States, and has developed what is regarded as one of the most sophisticated and robust monitoring programs in the country. (3)
FLA offers three interrelated programs designed to provide the Florida legal community with a comprehensive model of support. These include 1) weekly attorney support meetings throughout the state; 2) providing evaluations on behalf of The Florida Bar; and 3) monitoring students who are seeking...