The ABA and most all state bar groups have for many years offered assistance programs for lawyers with dependency issues. As a lawyer, you must wonder why we have more of these issues than other professions.
The ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs recently released its study showing 21% of licensed and employed lawyers qualify as problem drinkers; 28% struggle with some form of depression; and 19% demonstrate symptoms of anxiety. Surprisingly younger lawyers in their first ten (10) years of practice exhibited the highest incidence of these issues. This was in sharp contrast to prior studies that older lawyers were more at risk.
What is it in our profession that makes us have these higher rates? While all professions have the same issues, as does society at large, few are as competitive as the practice of law. Here there are winners or losers in every case, unlike other professions. So we have a high stress environment, coupled with aggressive behavior, with all sides always trying to win cases for clients. Many who become lawyers are competitive by nature and are entering a high stress field which requires long hours to be successful. You do not hear dentists say: “We are in it – to win it.”
None of this is surprising, but instead it is fully documented and shown in this extensive study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine (February 2016 – Volume 10 – Issue 1 at pp. 46-52). All of us have seen and experienced lawyers with issues. In my early practice, it seemed to be mostly the trial lawyers with alcohol problems and then later we saw other substance issues starting to affect younger lawyers. We have also become more aware of depression or other mental health issues in the workplace in current times.
I have written of this before (http://goo.gl/tvHPC9 and http://goo.gl/ZFpDSt). The point of all this discussion is that we must be aware of these issues in our offices. First of all, we need to do so to assist our colleagues. Significantly, we must also guard any client issues from this as a matter of loss prevention. It is a variation of “See Something – Say Something”. Ignoring or covering up a lawyer’s problem will only lead to bad things for both of you. In many legal malpractice cases and ethics charges, some variations of these problems cause those losses. They can be prevented with an active loss prevention program.
It is absolutely necessary for you to be aware of who is not coming in; who is missing deadlines or not doing proper work. It is possible that there is some issue going on that needs to be addressed. You must promote the awareness culture with staff so they do not “cover” for their lawyers. They do not do them any favors by doing so. Now we need to proactively get lawyers aware and additionally now focus upon the younger generation of lawyers.