The History of TLAP

The present Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) can trace its origins to many sources. The first known Lawyer Assistance Program in Tennessee was created by The Nashville Bar Association in 1982 and was appropriately called Nashville ’s Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (NLCL). NLCL’s purpose was to assist attorneys and judges who had a problem with alcohol or other drugs and to protect the interest of clients and the general public from harm caused by attorneys and judges with such problems. Due to the importance of confidentiality and the concern about ethical obligations to report ethical violations, NLCL sought and received a formal ethics opinion from the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility that relieved NLCL members of their ethical obligation to report ethical violations which might come to their attention while attempting to help attorneys and judges with alcohol or other problems.

In 1984, the Tennessee Bar Association formed a Task Force to investigate and make recommendations regarding the formation of a state wide lawyers assistance program. In 1987, Tennessee Lawyers Concern for Lawyers, a committee of the Tennessee Bar Association, was formed to provide statewide assistance to lawyers and judges who demonstrated problems with alcohol or other drugs.

The Memphis Shelby County Bar Association established in 1987 the Memphis Lawyers Helping Lawyers committee, which had similar purposes. Knoxville and Chattanooga Bar Associations formed Committees, as well. Although these programs received the whole hearted support of their respective Bars, there still existed a lack of adequate funding, lack of an adequate number of volunteers, lack of education and awareness on the part of the Bar as a whole and a lack of a fulltime employee to coordinate and carry out the objectives of the program. The Memphis Shelby County Bar Association perhaps enjoyed the most success due in large measure to the support and participation it received from Judges in the Memphis area and the fact that the Memphis Shelby County Bar Association provided funds to hire a part time director.

All programs were formed using the medical model, recognizing that alcoholism or addiction to other drugs was a disease caused by perhaps a number of factors but evidenced by the excessive use and abuse of alcohol or other drugs. These programs were expanded also to deal with mental or emotional impairments that affect members of the legal profession, predominately depression.

In 1993 the Tennessee Bar Association approved a request by the Tennessee Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers to request the Tennessee State Legislature for an immunity statute to protect the volunteers serving in such programs and the persons who provide information to the programs from frivolous lawsuits and to protect the records of such programs from disclosure in order to ensure complete confidentiality. The Tennessee State Legislature passed T.C.A. § 23-4-101 et seq., providing immunity for the volunteers and persons providing information to the committees and providing confidentiality to those persons acting in good faith and without malice.

Also in 1993, the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted Rule 9, Section 28 authorizing any bar association or other approved entity to establish an impaired lawyers program and granting the same privileges and immunities to the impaired lawyers committees as granted communications to the Board of Professional Responsibility, its committee members or disciplinary counsel relating to lawyer misconduct or disability. Rule 9 also relieved members and staff or agents of the impaired lawyers committee from the duty to report ethical violations coming to their attention as a result of their work. Both the Board of Professional Responsibility and the Tennessee Supreme Court had sanctioned the efforts of the Lawyers Assistance Committees to assist lawyers with impairments that have affected their ability to serve as effective members of the legal profession.

The Tennessee programs continued to suffer from a lack of funding which prohibited the hiring of a state wide director, lack of a sufficient number of volunteers who had the time, interest and willingness to serve, and the lack of needed support from the judiciary. The Tennessee Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers petitioned the Tennessee Supreme Court to establish a Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program with the necessary funding to adequately staff and serve the needs of the members of the legal profession in Tennessee, their clients and the general public.

On January 7, 1999, the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted Rule 33 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Tennessee establishing a state wide Tennessee Lawyer Assistance Program (“TLAP”). A commission was formed to carry out the purposes of TLAP, and each lawyer in the state of Tennessee is assessed a fee to fund the program. A fulltime director was hired in August, 1999, a full time assistant director in March, 2001, and a Program Director in April, 2004.

Rule 33 provides that information and actions taken by TLAP shall be privileged and held in the strictest confidence with certain very limited exceptions. TLAP is to enlist volunteer counselors to assist in carrying out TLAP’s mission. Rule 33 also grants immunity to commission members, employees and agents including volunteers as well as to persons reporting information to these persons pursuant to T.CA. §§ 23-4-101 et seq.