Susan Schleck Kleiner: “Recovery and mental health has touched all of us”
When she’s not in the courtroom representing businesses and their owners in complex litigation, or counseling clients in corporate governance, contracts, and compliance, Susan Schleck Kleiner, attorney for Santomassimo Davis’ Outside General Counsel Solutions, spends her time pursuing another passion: advocating for those in recovery for alcohol and drug addiction.
“Recovery and mental health, in general, has touched all of us, including me and my family,” says Kleiner, who joined the firm in late 2020.
Kleiner currently serves as president of the board of directors of Wilson House, a hotel in East Dorset, Vermont, which was the birthplace and childhood home of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. The inn, now on the National Register of Historic Places, includes a library, spiritual retreat center and meeting place for people in recovery.
Five years ago, Kleiner says a friend approached her and asked her about applying to join the nonprofit foundation’s board of directors. “They were going through some major changes and thought it would be wise to have a lawyer with experience counseling nonprofits on board,” Kleiner says.
She agreed to join the organization and immediately went to work, overseeing a strategic plan and setting the foundation up to be fully self-sustaining through donations and site rental fees. “Alcoholics Anonymous is the greatest social movement in all of the 20th Century, and the Wilson House plays a part in the history of the movement, as well as a destination that continues to support recovery,” Kleiner says.
Kleiner eventually became president of the nonprofit’s board, and then COVID-19 hit, presenting “unbelievable challenges,” she says. “We don’t have a huge endowment, and we have totally relied on people staying at the house and the generosity of donors.”
While Wilson House was temporarily shuttered during the pandemic, the board got busy engaging on a national marketing and public relations campaign to raise the profile of the house and spur donations. The result? “We’ve been able to get a bigger base of donors, and we emerged in a stronger position than ever,” she says.
In addition to her extensive commitment with the Wilson House, Kleiner also serves on the board of the New Jersey Lawyers Assistance program, a confidential, free program assisting attorneys, judges, law students, and law graduates with substance abuse and mental health issues.
“Being a lawyer is so darn stressful,” she says. “And those who need help are hesitant to come forward for help because of stigma or their firm’s culture.
“I’m proud to be part of an organization to make sure lawyers in New Jersey know that it’s okay to get help.”
As one of Outside General Counsel Solutions’ newest attorneys, Kleiner says she looks forward to using her nonprofit expertise to help recovery and assistance centers in need of legal counsel.
“It’s a new skillset I’m excited to bring to the firm,” she says.