WHY I VOLUNTEER – What Being Part of LAP Means
Tracy L. Kepler
I have received way more out of my involvement with the Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program [IL LAP] than I have ever given.
I think a little background might help…it all started way back in 2000. I was a new lawyer at the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission [ARDC] and it was my “Ethics Inquiry” day. An attorney walked into the office with a question, and I drew the short straw to go to the lobby and speak with him. I thought this was my chance to answer a question about the Himmel Rule, or perhaps a client trust account issue. Instead, the attorney sat down, and said, “I smoke pot every day to cope with the debilitating backslide I feel when the Ritalin I take for my ADHD wears off.” In that moment, I paused. I thought three things…(1) is this guy high right now, does he know where he is, and does he know what the “D” in ARDC stands for; (2) am I being “punked” by Mary Robinson or Jerry Larkin; and, (3) then it set in, just sadness that this attorney had nowhere else to turn but the disciplinary office. He felt he had no other options. Did he not know about LAP, did he not have any colleagues, friends, or family to turn to for help?
Over the next few months of working this attorney, I came to find out that he also suffered from Bipolar Disorder, his wife and five kids had left him, he had lost his house, alienated his friends and colleagues, was facing bankruptcy, his car had been repossessed, and he was having other “rules violations” problems with his clients.
Over the next few years at the ARDC, I heard more stories similar in nature…attorneys coming to sworn statements and depositions under the influence; attorneys telling me that they had stacks of ARDC letters piled up – even annual registration letters – and could not open them because of the stress and anxiety it produced; attorneys who started in the profession just wanting to help people and now were profoundly ambivalent about the profession and their career. Some would even tell me “I just really don’t want to do this anymore.” Or worst of all, attorneys who just didn’t show up – not because they were facing disbarment for conversion of millions of dollars, but simple neglect matters.
All of this caused me to wonder why? What is it about us, about the profession, about the work that is causing these problems and what can I do about it?
And that’s where IL LAP came in – it saved me. Not in a recovery sense, but in a mission and quest sense. It gave me a passion, filled my soul, and put me on a track to learn the whys and to be able to do something about it.
To find out the signs, symptoms and causes of these diseases; about what makes someone lose everything that is important to them and what makes someone hit bottom. But more importantly what makes them stop, and from where and how does resilience come.
I became an IL LAP volunteer, got involved with its mission, spread the word, engaged, reached out, collaborated and wanted to make sure that everyone knows there is a confidential and safe space to turn. That you are not alone. I also thought there is more. How can we create a movement of change towards improving the health and well-being of the legal profession? How do we change the culture, reduce the stigma, and get on a better, healthier path?
Abraham Lincoln advised that “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” IL LAP has helped me help myself in that respect as well. Through its efforts, as well as the Illinois Task Force and other national well-being movements, we are building a better system of policy, process and prevention. We are changing the culture. We are building a more relevant and resilient future and proactive regulatory framework for our profession.
For all of this I am grateful, honored to receive this award, and glad to be a part of your incredible mission!
Tracy L. Kepler is the Director of the American Bar Association’s Center for Professional Responsibility (CPR), providing national leadership in developing and interpreting standards and scholarly resources in legal and judicial ethics, professional regulation, professionalism and client protection. In that role, she manages and coordinates the efforts of 16 entities including six ABA Standing Committees (Ethics, Professionalism, Professional Regulation, Public Protection in the Provision of Legal Services, Lawyers’ Professional Liability, and Interest on Lawyer Trust Funds), the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP), the ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct, the Center’s Coordinating Council and other Center working committees.
From 2014-2016, Ms. Kepler served as an Associate Solicitor in the Office of General Counsel for the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), where she concentrated her practice in the investigation, prosecution and appeal of patent/trademark practitioner disciplinary matters before the Agency, U.S. District Courts and Federal Circuit, provided policy advice on ethics and discipline related matters to senior management, and drafted and revised Agency regulations. From 2000-2014, she served as Senior Litigation Counsel for the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC), where she investigated and prosecuted cases of attorney misconduct.
Ms. Kepler has served in various capacities, including as President, on the Board of the National Organization of Bar Counsel (NOBC), a non-profit organization of legal professionals whose members enforce ethics rules that regulate the professional conduct of lawyers who practice law in the United States and abroad. Ms. Kepler is an Adjunct Professor at American University’s Washington College of Law teaching Legal Ethics. Committed to the promotion and encouragement of professional responsibility and attorney well-being throughout her career, Ms. Kepler has served as the Chair of the CPR’s CLE Committee and its National Conference Planning Committee, and is a frequent presenter of ethics related topics to various national, state and local organizations. She has also served as the NOBC Liaison to all of the CPR Standing Committees, and to CoLAP, where she was a Commission member, a member of its Advisory Committee, the Chair of its Education and Senior Lawyer Committees, and also a member of its National Conference Planning Committee. Ms. Kepler also participates as a faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA) trial and deposition skills programs, and served as the Administrator of the NOBC-NITA Advanced Advocates Training Program for four years. She is a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and received her law degree from New England School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts.