PORTLAND — According to a recent study, lawyers suffer from substance abuse, anxiety and depression at almost double the rate of the general population, which jeopardizes more than their own health and welfare.
That’s why it’s so important to offer them confidential support and encouragement and to let them know they’re not alone, William Nugent said.
Nugent is an attorney and executive director of the Maine Assistance Program for Lawyers and Judges. For his work he recently received the inaugural Peter DeTroy III Award, created by the Campaign for Justice, which supports legal aid in Maine.
DeTroy, who died in spring 2016, was one of the state’s leading criminal defense attorneys and also acted on behalf of plaintiffs in a variety of civil suits.
“He was a problem-solver, a counselor, and a zealous protector and defender of (civil) rights, as exemplified in his volunteer and pro bono work,” the Campaign for Justice said in a press release.
DeTroy was also one of the original eight MAP commissioners and was the commission chairman from 2011 until his death last year.
The recipient of the award named in DeTroy’s honor “must exemplify the same selfless spirit” he did, according to the Campaign for Justice release.
Nugent, who lives in Falmouth, was nominated for the award by Paul Driscoll, a partner at the law firm of Norman Hanson & DeTroy.
Driscoll nominated Nugent because he “knew that DeTroy highly regarded Nugent’s empathetic skills, nonjudgmental approach and tireless commitment to helping others,” the Campaign for Justice said.
“Due to Bill’s intervention many lawyers were able to turn their lives around and continue to serve the profession,” Driscoll said on the nomination form. “Like Peter, Bill did not judge them and saw their intrinsic worth and dignity at very vulnerable stages in their lives.”
Jane Moriarty, chairwoman of the Campaign for Justice, agreed and said that Nugent’s selection for the DeTroy Award is “very appropriate.”
“Bill … is the one in the trenches 24/7. (He’s) available to help an attorney, judge or law student in crisis, whether it be in Fort Kent or Kittery,” Moriarty said. “His passion for the job shows through his commitment to those in trouble. The legal community is fortunate to have Bill in their corner.”
Nugent said he views the award as more of an acknowledgment of the good that MAP does, rather than a personal achievement.
“Many, many attorneys have been helped by this program,” he said. “It’s really contributed to saving their practice and their family life. It’s really had a profound effect.”
MAP does not have professional clinicians on hand, but relies on volunteers within the legal community to provide attorneys with someone to talk to and “a path to follow” toward recovery, Nugent said.
MAP was established by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in 2002 and is “dedicated to confidentially helping members of Maine’s legal community with alcoholism, drug dependency, depression and other mental illness,” according to the organization’s website.
The overall goal is to “assist affected members of the legal community to begin and maintain the process of recovery and regain control of their personal and professional lives,” the site adds.
Nugent has led MAP since 2009 and was once a client.
He said he has “dealt with clinical depression all my life and was having a particularly hard time.”
Nugent had such a good experience with the program that he became an active volunteer and when the former director retired, he was approached about applying for the job.
“What we do,” he said, “is provide peer support. When an attorney is in trouble, they tend to feel isolated and fearful, but with MAP, they come to realize they’re not unique and not alone.”
In addition to assisting attorneys to overcome their personal demons, Nugent said MAP is also important in “protecting the public from the harm” a debilitated attorney or judge could cause.
“As attorneys we’re trained to solve others problems, so many of us think we should be able to solve our own,” Nugent said. That’s when MAP can make a difference.
“Our goal is to get to people before they reach bottom or get into great difficulty,” he said.
Attorneys can self-refer, or a colleague can reach out to MAP to express their concern.
Many times an attorney in trouble just needs someone to talk to, Nugent said, but for those who need more support, MAP offers attorney-only Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings twice a month in Portland and Bangor.
And, Nugent said, for an attorney who is spiraling, MAP can make referrals to mental health or substance abuse counselors.
What’s also important, he said is that MAP is not affiliated with the Board of Overseers of the Bar or any other professional disciplinary authority.
All communications and actions taken by MAP with clients are held in the strictest confidence and are not be reported to any other individual or entity.
“There is no need to risk your license, livelihood, reputation or family,” the organization promises its clients. “You do not have to do it alone.”