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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    November 08, 2019

    Ethics Rules Protect Calls for WisLAP Help

    Don't let privacy concerns interfere with seeking help from the State Bar of Wisconsin for your own or another lawyer's health or behavioral problems. All information provided by and given to callers to the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) is confidential.

    Dean R. Dietrich



    I have heard a lot of good things about the State Bar of Wisconsin’s lawyer assistance program, but I am concerned about confidentiality of information if I call the program to ask for help. Should I be concerned?


    The Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) is an excellent service provided by the State Bar of Wisconsin and should be used by Wisconsin lawyers without any fear of information being disclosed to anyone. WisLAP is a confidential service through which lawyers can contact program staff for assistance in addressing many of the challenging personal issues and concerns faced by lawyers in today’s highly competitive legal marketplace. Any contact with WisLAP is confidential, and all WisLAP staff work very hard to ensure the confidentiality of any information provided by a lawyer. While the service is housed in the State Bar Center, everything that the service does is separate and distinct from all other State Bar activities and recordkeeping.

    Dean R. DietrichDean R. Dietrich, Marquette 1977, of law firm of Dietrich VanderWaal Law Group SC, Wausau, is a past chair of the State Bar Professional Ethics Committee.

    The Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct identify specific protections about the information provided to a WisLAP staff person or lawyer working through WisLAP. SCR 20:8.3 requires a lawyer to report to the appropriate authorities about the conduct of another lawyer if that other lawyer has violated the Rules of Professional Conduct in a manner that relates to the lawyer’s fitness to be a lawyer. This reporting requirement does not apply, however, to a lawyer involved in providing assistance through WisLAP. SCR 20:8.3(d) specifically provides:

    (d) This rule does not require disclosure of any of the following:

    (1) Information gained by a lawyer while participating in a confidential lawyers' assistance program.      

    (2) Information acquired by any person selected to mediate or arbitrate disputes between lawyers arising out of a professional or economic dispute involving law firm dissolutions, termination or departure of one or more lawyers from a law firm where such information is acquired in the course of mediating or arbitrating the dispute between lawyers.

    This section provides a specific protection for a Wisconsin lawyer using WisLAP or the State Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Program (Practice411) or Ethics Hotline. Any lawyer providing assistance to another lawyer through these programs is completely relieved of any obligation to report on the conduct of the lawyer seeking assistance, regardless of the nature or type of conduct that is being addressed.

    In addition, any information received by State Bar staff or volunteers in the course of WisLAP activities is specifically protected from disclosure as privileged, confidential information. SCR 10.05(4)(m)2. provides as follows:

    Privileges, immunity. Communications with an assistance committee member, staff, or volunteers by any person providing information in good faith are privileged; no lawsuit based upon these communications may be instituted by any person. In providing assistance services, the board, members of assistance committees, staff, and volunteers designated by the board shall be immune from suit for any conduct in the course of their official duties.

    Because of this specific protection, lawyers can be very confident that any information provided to WisLAP and any information learned by lawyers while they are providing WisLAP services are protected from any type of disclosure and are kept strictly confidential.

    Lawyers should use the services provided by these various State Bar programs in order to better serve their clients because they can be fully assured that their information and conversations are confidential and will not be disclosed to anyone. For additional information, see “Let’s Talk About Mental Health” in this issue.

    WisLAP Can Help

    The Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) offers confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, law students, and their families who are suffering from alcoholism, substance abuse, anxiety, and other issues that affect their well-being and law practice.

    WisLAP 24-hour Helpline: (800) 543-2625

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