CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Lawyers Assistance Program has been officially expanded to include giving assistance to judges, law students and bar applicants.

Executive Director Robert E. Albury Jr. told The West Virginia Record that the expansion of services is an important milestone for his organization. 

“The research has shown the problems exist in law school, as well as for lawyers who are judges on the bench. Now we have the opportunity to work with the law schools with law students as well as members of the judiciary,” he explained. 

The change became official last year when the West Virginia Supreme Court went back and amended Rule 8.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for West Virginia attorneys.

Along with the rule change came a name change, Albury said.

“They changed the name of the program from West Virginia Lawyer Assistance Program to West Virginia Judicial and Lawyer Assistance Program (WVJLAP).”

The WVJLAP program, which was established in 2013, recently has burgeoned. 

“In the first three years, before I came on board, there were 90 referrals. Since August of 2016, we’ve had 177 referrals,” Albury said. 

Albury thinks it’s important for the legal community to know that substance abuse issues are not the only ones WVJLAP handles. 

“Although a lot of lawyers, judges and law students have substance abuse problems, we also deal with mental and emotional health, as well as physical health issues, such as older judges and lawyers with aging and retirement issues,” he explained.

He added, “I’m always trying to make sure that people recognize that this is not just a ‘drunk lawyers program.’ We deal with any kind of mental, physical and emotional health issue, whether it’s stress, anxiety, depression, gambling, sex, clogged arteries, old age, dementia – you name it.”

Albury also stresses that his organization guards the confidentiality of those who need assistance. 

“The program is confidential. We do accept referrals, for instance from discipline, for lawyers and judges who are in trouble. A referral to us may help mitigate their disciplinary consequences, but we do not report to discipline. Anybody that calls us with a problem, it’s strictly confidential and treated as a privileged communication, just like any other lawyer client communication would be.” 

As reported previously by The West Virginia Record, Albury came to West Virginia in 2016 to replace George Daugherty, who retired at age 87. Albury had started the Tennessee lawyer’s assistance program in 1999 after being appointed to do so by the Tennessee Supreme Court. He is also a licensed therapist as well as a lawyer, and he is a recovering alcoholic, sober for 25 years.

Albury has worked with the American Bar Association for years, and speaks to groups all over the country about the importance of their assistance programs. He is candid about his own struggles.

“I do not have a problem disclosing my personal recovery issues. I do this work in my personal as well as my professional life," he said. "I started out as a tax and securities lawyer with a large firm in Miami and had the dubious honor of becoming one of the early clients of the Florida Lawyer’s Assistance Program 25 years ago.”

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