Regardless of what area of law an attorney specializes in, this is a high-stress occupation. Law is a “people” business; people and problems, often of their own creation, many expecting the attorney to “fix” it with one phone call.
In terms of the numbers of lawyers with problems, you could say that we are not a happy bunch of guys and gals. Here’s something that all clients should consider:
A study published in the January 2016 edition of The Journal of Addiction Medicine confirmed “a substantial level of behavioral health problems among attorneys and revealed the cause for great public concern, with 28 percent of attorney reporting significant levels of depression, which is much higher than the general population.”
Additionally, the study found that “Between 21 to 36 percent of licensed, practicing attorneys can be considered as problem drinkers. Seven percent is the rate in the non-attorney population.”
So, how “together” is your lawyer? Ever wondered if you were being represented by an attorney who suffers from depression, drug or addiction problems? What are the signs that you can’t afford to ignore?
And if you suspect that’s the case, what should you do?
Just ask Brian Cuban those same question. Right, Cuban, like Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, and one of the Voicemail "shark" investors on the ABC reality television series, Shark Tank.
Brian is his brother. And Brian is a lawyer, a recovery advocate who tells a compelling story in his book that I could not put down, The Addicted Lawyer, published by Post Hill Press.
For the many lawyers who read this column, especially managing partners in law firms, give a copy to each attorney, as the odds are overwhelming that somebody in your firm could be very much as Brian describes himself, or knows someone who is. They can be helped. That’s his message, so well stated.
Blown away by our interview
On a phone call, how would you expect a 56-year-old man to sound, who describes himself as being mentally tortured by his mother for being overweight, having zero self-image, considering himself a fraud, a failure, alcoholic, and a drug abuser since his teenage years with three failed marriages?
I was expecting the voice of a wimp. Was I blown away!
Brian is engaging, articulate, funny, open and dedicated to helping professionals recover. He is a powerful speaker and his life, as reflected in The Addicted Lawyer, is a gift to the legal profession.
Warning signs something’s not right with your lawyer
Brian observes that lawyers tend to be very good at hiding their behavior from clients.
“Lawyers who are alcoholics or drug abusers can be very good at masking their behavior for a long time, and you see this through all sorts of excuses, blaming everyone else when things go wrong. What comes to mind immediately includes:
- Missing hearings;
- Not returning phone calls;
- Voice mail that stays full;
- Not returning correspondence.
- Not being paid from a personal injury settlement as the lawyer has used the money for drugs and alcohol.
General appearance is often horrible
“When you are still drunk or hungover you don’t show up,” Cuban points out. “When the addiction is driving your behavior, work becomes secondary and you figure that you can manipulate your way out of it. The client may not find out until there is a legal consequence, such as a dismissal of the case, a default judgment, or being sued for unpaid medical bills.”
Definite signs that things aren’t right can be seen and smelled, as Cuban knows from personal experience.
“I can’t tell you the number of times my appearance in court or at a mediation was unkempt and I reeked of alcohol from the prior night of drinking. Rarely was anything said by anyone, and that is part of the problem facing clients and colleagues, denial or fear of speaking up,” he points out.
If things seem bad to clients and other lawyers they probably are - Act!
When asked what he regrets most about his past, he states. “It’s the collateral damage that I caused to so many people.”
Cuban feels that when other lawyers see this kind of behavior they need to speak up, both to help the attorney who they suspect is impaired, innocent clients, and the legal profession.
“Clients should confront the lawyer with the facts of what they are seeing, for example, ‘You have not returned my phone calls, failed to show up for a hearing, what is happening with you?’”
“Protect yourself,” he insists. “If you have a sense things are bad, they probably are, get a new lawyer before it is too late.”