United States: Attorney Impairment Is On The Rise; Here's How To Fight Back

Attorneys work long hours under intense pressure. Because stress levels are high, attorneys often look for ways to blow off steam, leading to a "work hard, play hard" motto for those in the practice of law. When months of hard work and long hours ends with a big closing or trial win, celebrating with a round of drinks (or even several) is par for the course.

There is a dark side to this issue, however, including circumstances where "letting off steam" and "celebrating a win" leads to substance abuse. Attorneys appear to be uniquely susceptible to incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm and mental illness. Experts have long pointed to evidence that attorneys are more likely to have a dependency issue or mental health issue than many other professionals.

A new study released in February by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the ABA's Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs has revealed some troubling and serious trends. According to this study, 21 percent of working attorneys qualify as "problem drinkers," 28 percent deal with depression, and 19 percent struggle with anxiety issues.

This study, which is being called the most comprehensive of its kind, also shows that attorneys with less than 10 years' experience are the most likely to suffer these problems. Nearly 1 in 3 younger lawyers are "problem drinkers." Thus, this problem is getting worse.

This study sheds light on a dark secret in the legal industry and brings awareness to a serious issue affecting our community. The stigma surrounding these issues can sometimes make it difficult for those afflicted to ask for help or for those who observe these issues in others to take action. It is critical that other attorneys provide support and help to their colleagues dealing with these issues to create an environment that makes it easier for afflicted attorneys to obtain help and support.

Here are some tips for how to help those attorneys who need it.

Be aware of programs

Take advantage of bar-sponsored programs to seek guidance or help. Many state bar organizations, including Georgia's, provide resources to those who need help. These can include counseling or referrals.

These resources are helpful both for people struggling with matters of addiction or for those who need assistance in figuring out how to help a struggling colleague. They can also be helpful for family members who are suffering themselves and looking for ways to provide support.

People can also look beyond the state bars. Many carriers of malpractice policies have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that are designed to provide help or even coverage for treatment or other steps. Some law firms also employ internal programs or resources, or can help provide attorneys with mentors to support them on their roads to recovery.

The programs are there. Many are quite comprehensive. Being aware of what programs are available can help save someone's life.

Employ mentoring

One of the biggest bombshells from the new study is that younger attorneys are suffering higher rates of abuse and dependency. It had long been assumed that rates of alcohol or drug abuse grew the longer a person was practicing law; the hypothesis was that as attorneys grew in their career and faced additional sources of stress, they turned to alcohol or drugs to cope.

In light of this information, mentoring programs for younger attorneys—whether official or unofficial—at law firms are critical. Younger attorneys need to have channels made open to them to communicate their issues, if necessary; the same channels will help senior attorneys identify a junior attorney who may need help. Strong mentoring of junior attorneys can help provide a support system or resources.

The purpose is not to enforce a policy of teetotalism or abstinence, nor is it to try to sniff out people with dependency issues in some sort of witch hunt. Rather, the studies show that it is very difficult for people to deal with substance or other abuse issues alone, without support from those in their lives. By using mentors to provide guidance and support to young attorneys, the tide can be turned.

Meet ethical obligations to clients

Observing a person with a dependency issue, but saying nothing, does not help the afflicted person. It also could constitute a breach of obligations to clients.

This is a risk management issue. If a person's judgment is affected by inebriation or addiction, that person cannot provide a full and complete representation to a client. In cases like this, the firm or its management committee may have to step in to facilitate timely resolution of the client's matters while still providing support to the attorney.

This is not to say that confidential information regarding an attorney's struggles should be disclosed to clients. However, a firm cannot sit by and watch while a person who is struggling continues to provide legal services to a client, particularly where the substance or strength of those services are in question. The firm should try to strike a balance between respecting a person's autonomy and recognizing when the firm is not sufficiently servicing its clients.

From a very practical perspective, it could also expose the firm to claims of malpractice. That the firm had knowledge of a person's problem but did nothing to protect the attorney or the client is a damaging fact, but one that can be foreseen and averted.

Develop a healthy firm culture

Firm culture can contribute either to facilitate rampant abuse by attorneys or to a supportive environment. Indeed, firm culture—which is dictated by the attorneys at that firm—can contribute to whether attorneys feel comfortable asking for help (or whether their cries for help are recognized or demonized). Thus, firms can try to create an environment that recognizes issues of alcohol and substance abuse and encourages attorneys to seek help from and for colleagues.

Substance or alcohol abuse are issues that are plaguing the legal community, but their victims often suffer in silence. Sometimes, unfortunately, a person struggling with addiction worries about losing their job or reputation by disclosing an addiction issue to the law firm. Then, the person continues to suffer in silence, to their own detriment and to the detriment of the firm. Or, if the firm is full of "hard partiers," the attorney may be reluctant to admit a problem and seem weak.

There is no right or single path for law firms. Being aware of this issue should help firms create supportive environs for their employees who need guidance, assistance or intervention. By banding together on this issue and for our colleagues, the legal profession can beat the statistics.

Doing nothing does nothing. Doing something can save lives.

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries. www.dentons.com.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Events from this Firm
29 Aug 2018, Conference, Cape Town, South Africa

Dentons is proud to sponsor and present at Africa's most comprehensive event on audit, risk and governance.

29 Aug 2018, Other, San Jose, Costa Rica

Costa Rica will host the Cyberspace Camp® for the first time, a bootcamp that combines law and technology at the hands of ITechLaw.

 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions