Don Muccigrosso was involved in a private Lawyers Helping Lawyers Group in New York and the International Lawyers Of Alcoholics Anonymous prior to moving to Portland in early 1981.
Upon arriving in Oregon, he immediately formed a private and anonymous Lawyers Helping Lawyers Group by bringing together all of the recovered alcoholic lawyers he could find. The Portland members of the group began holding a weekly Lawyers Only meeting at noon at Wilf's restaurant in Union Station. They called their meeting The Other Bar. The group grew as they reached out to other lawyers who were suffering from alcoholism and addiction.
In 1982, Don intervened upon a number of the more obvious candidates for assistance from the Lawyers Helping Lawyers group. The "Class of '82" included well known, successful and well liked lawyers in the Portland metropolitan area.
That same year, Don applied admission into the Oregon State Bar. On his application, he stated that he was a recovered alcoholic. That was a courageous demonstration of honesty because of the great stigma attached to being an alcoholic in the 1980s.
He was referred to the Character And Fitness Committee of The Oregon State Bar. He met with a member of that committee who in turn referred him to meet with one of the Bar Governors who wanted to hear about the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Group - The Other Bar.
Around that time, The Oregon State Bar (OSB) and the Professional Liability Fund (PLF) were paying attention to the problems around alcoholism and addiction in the legal profession. Les Rawls, the Chief Executive Officer for the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund had done a study which showed that impaired lawyers accounted for a disproportionate share of the malpractice claims filed in Oregon. He was looking for a way to reduce the number of those claims.
In 1982, Les Rawls offered Don a job that he could not refuse - to get impaired lawyers and judges throughout Oregon into the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Group - The Other Bar and thus into recovery.
He laughed when he told the story of being hired by the PLF. He said that he was so excited that he did not even ask what they were going to pay him when he immediately accepted the position.
Don was the initial director of the program funded by the OSB PLF which is now known as the OAAP and which is a widely respected Lawyers Assistance Program which provides a wide variety of counseling and educational services to members of the Oregon legal profession.
While working for the PLF, Don traveled around Oregon finding and meeting impaired lawyers who were falling into the abyss of alcoholic self destruction some of whom were referred to him by other lawyers, judges, unhappy wives, partners and employers.
He would visit them at their offices, their homes or wherever he could find them. Shortly after introducing himself, he would say "Let me tell you about my drinking" so that they would know that they had something in common. He would proceed to tell his story of drinking and recovery.
Sometimes he took recovered lawyers from the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Group with him if they were close to the impaired lawyer or had circumstances similar to those of the impaired lawyer. They shared their stories and many of the lawyers approached in this way decided it was time for a change.
Don helped them find treatment programs. If they could not afford to pay for the program, he got them loans from the PLF to pay for their treatment. Don said that almost all of the loans were repaid in full.
Don was very persistent and eventually most of the lawyers accepted his invitation to get into recovery and join the group. Sadly, there were those who could not or would not take the outstretched hand of help. There were alcohol and drug related deaths and there were suicides. There were suspensions and disbarments. There were careers and marriages lost. There were years of hell for those unfortunates.
Many of the lawyers who accepted help went to residential or outpatient treatment and then came back to Lawyers Helping Lawyers Group.
Upon joining the group, newcomers were enlisted into helping the group and other recovering and recovered persons in any way the could. It started with giving someone a ride to and from a meeting, setting up chairs, cleaning up after meetings, calling or visiting a newcomer every day, helping straighten out the files and office of a newcomer, overseeing the practices and covering the court appearances of newcomers who were in treatment and eventually it led to being "appointed" someone's temporary sponsor.
Many of the lawyers in the group were initially sponsored in 12 Step Recovery by other recovered lawyers in the group.
Eventually, most moved on into mainstream AA or the 12 Step Program appropriate for them.
By 1984, The Other Bar Wednesday lunch meeting had moved from Wilf's Restaurant and met on Monday evenings at 6:00 p.m. in downtown Portland. By this time there were lawyers helping lawyers groups in Gladstone, Salem, Eugene and Medford.
The Other Bar Lawyers only meetings were always intended to be "vestibule" meetings - gateways to the larger 12 Step recovery community.
After The Other Bar meetings, newcomers were invited to join older members of the group for dinner so that they could become acquainted. These dinners were referred to as the meeting after the meeting. The newcomers found friends, support and fellowship in the group.
It was at these dinners and other fellowship events like the Menucha Spiritual Retreat that many of the newcomers stepped out of their isolation and loneliness and became part of the group.
Don retired from the PLF/OAAP in 1998 and continued working with impaired lawyers and the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Group.
Don's passion was to help impaired lawyers get into recovery. It was his mission and he was The Messenger through whose efforts to bring the message of recovery to impaired lawyers hundreds or careers, marriages and lives were saved.
20 lawyers joined the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Group in 1985. Don called us the Class Of '85. To this writers knowledge, all of my classmates are still sober or passed on while sober.
In 2004 a number of members of the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Group restarted the Menucha Spiritual Retreat which had been discontinued after Don Muccigrosso retired.
The first of the Menucha Spiritual Retreats was held on Feb 12, 2005 at the Menucha Retreat Center in Corbett Oregon.
At the 2006 Menucha Spiritual Retreat the members of the The Other Bar, Lawyers Helping Lawyers group including Don Muccigrosso held a business meeting and decided to form The Other Bar, Oregon as an Oregon Non Profit Corporation to preserve the fellowship of recovered lawyers and to carry on the work of the lawyers helping lawyers group.
The group decided to leave their 12 Step meetings at the OAAP office in Portland so as not to disrupt those meetings and so that the fellowship of The Other Bar and recovery would be available to those reached by the OAAP.
As it was in the early days of the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Group, it is inspiring to attend the meetings and fellowship events and hear how lawyers' lives are changing in recovery; how hopelessness is being replaced by hope; how relationships, licenses, careers, and jobs are being saved or restored; how depression and fear are being replaced by happiness; how loneliness and isolation are being replaced by fellowship.
The Lawyers Helping Lawyers group perpetuates its Fellowship connections, events and outreach in the recovery community and in the form of The Other Bar, Oregon.
What always was is still true, lawyers get sober and get their lives back through 12 Step Programs which include Fellowship, Service and Recovery - doing the 12 Steps. Recovered lawyers continue to help those in their profession who still suffer from alcoholism and addiction.
Over the years, the number of recovered lawyers has increased dramatically. Not only have lawyers found their way to recovery through Lawyers Helping Lawyers Groups, but also through treatment centers and interventions. The best treatment centers connect their lawyer patients with Lawyers Helping Lawyers Groups.
There are now many hundreds of recovered lawyers in Oregon and they are insinuated throughout the legal profession and the recovery communities. Many recovered lawyers are at the top of their areas of practice and hold leadership positions in their firms. Now there are recovered Judges.
These recovered lawyers and judges have continued the work of lawyers helping lawyers.
The Spirit of the Fellowship of Recovered Lawyers continues to manifest itself where the outstretched helping hands of recovered lawyers meet the hands of the still suffering and newcomers - new to recovery lawyers.
It happens every day throughout the State of Oregon in the 12 Step Meetings, Fellowship gatherings and events, in restaurants, in courthouses, in private homes and on the phone when one lawyer is helped by another.
It is moving to see recovered lawyers gather around a new comer lawyer before and after 12 STEP meetings. Their willingness to help the new lawyer, in any way they can, is obvious.
There are still Lawyer only meetings.
The OAAP continues to provide space for The Other Bar 12 Step Meetings at is offices. They are monitored by OAAP counselors.
There are The Other Bar lawyers only meetings at other locations.
Lawyers meet at regular 12 Step meetings in the community throughout Oregon.
The Menucha Spiritual Retreat is held every February at The Menucha Retreat Center in Corbett, Oregon.
The Newport Spiritual Retreat is held every September at the The Hallmark Resort in Newport Oregon.
The Other Bar continues to provide assistance to recovered lawyers and those seeking recovery by providing opportunities for connection to recovery and Fellowship and for giving and receiving help.
The stigma around being an alcoholic or addict in recovery is less that it was in the 1980s but it still exists. The Fellowship of recovered legal professionals is a strong and safe answer, protection and alternative to that stigma.
Young recovered lawyers continue the Fellowship of and are writing the next chapters of the history of The Other Bar, Oregon's Lawyers Helping Lawyers Groups.
Note: All materials, images and verbage are Property of The Other Bar Oregon, any direct plagarism of copyrighted material is prohibited.