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Grady helps lawyers change their lives


Hugh Grady is unexpectedly candid about taboo issues. He tells the story of how his successful law career was gradually destroyed by his abuse of alcohol and drugs, including opiates. He shares his experiences in hope of keeping others from a similar fate. Grady is director of the Iowa Lawyers Assistance Program, which helps attorneys work through personal problems that impair their performance.

“People associate the Iowa Lawyers Assistance Program with helping lawyers who have alcohol and drug problems, but it goes beyond substance abuse,” he said.

The program helps attorneys with personal problems that negatively affect performance, including depression. The rate of depression among lawyers is twice as high as in the general population, according to the ILAP, and occurance of major depressive disorder is 3.6 percent higher among attorneys, according to an article in the Autumn 1999 issue of Notre Dame magazine. Approximately 25 percent of lawyers and judges suffer from addiction or psychiatric impairment, and nearly half of all lawyers facing serious disciplinary sanctions admitted to alcohol, drug or psychiatric impairment, according to the ILAP.

“It goes beyond helping an individual,” Grady said. “By dealing with the problem before it goes too far, the assistance program improves the economics and the public perception of the legal profession.”

Grady says two things keep most attorneys from asking for help: Those suffering from depression fear the stigma attached to mental illness, and those who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction tend to be in denial.

“For substance abuse, a major symptom is denial,” he said. Among attorneys, that effect is compounded because “they use the skills they develop as lawyers to develop a solid system of denial.”

Grady received his law degree from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in 1970, and practiced law in Philadelphia for 11 years before moving to Portland, Ore., in 1981. In the years that followed, Grady developed an increasing dependence on drugs and alcohol. Clients filed complaints with the State Bar Association, and the Oregon Attorney Assistance program contacted him to see if he needed help.

“Actually, they contacted me many times,” he said. He had created such a strong system of denial that he didn’t accept the organization’s help until June 1988. In a statement on the ILAP Web site, Grady writes, “they helped me make the decision I did not want to make; to resign from the Bar in lieu of disbarment.”

“It was terrifying,” he said. “I had been a lawyer for 18 years. I didn’t know how to do much of anything else.”

At first, Grady performed paralegal work for other lawyers. When he had been in recovery for three years, he decided to pursue a career in counseling. He achieved that goal, and was a senior case manager for a substance abuse treatment facility in Oregon when the Iowa Lawyers Assistance Program contacted him in 1998. His life and work experiences made him uniquely well-suited to join the ILAP as director. He resisted at first, because he liked Oregon. Representatives of the ILAP were persistent, however, so he decided to explore the Hawkeye State.

“I drove around,” he said. “I liked Iowa, I liked the folks who interviewed me and I liked the opportunity.”

He is the only employee of the ILAP, but credits the 50-member committee Lawyers Helping Lawyers with providing support. The free, confidential services provided by the program include education, intervention and referral to treatment programs. Some people seek help on their own, but others are directed to the program by judges, other lawyers or the discipline service. Grady has to examine each individual’s circumstances before proceeding.

“There is no formula,” he said. “Every situation is different.” He did emphasize, however, that the longer problems go unchecked, the more likely they are to create permanent damage to one’s life and livelihood. The sooner one can overcome fear or denial and seek help, the better.

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