Lawyers tend to be a bit on the independent side and don’t like to be managed as a general proposition. Despite all the rules we must follow, they sometimes rationalize: “Those do not apply to me” or “I am not that person.” Most certainly do not like a peer talking to them about their own individual problems.
Take a high stress practice that is deadline driven, and overlay the usual problems of today’s society, and you have lawyers with problems. It is a given. Every office has this situation every week to some degree. Do not ever ignore it, or back down from a big elephant lawyer saying “Leave me alone.”
A Lone Wolf, a lawyer with a substance abuse problem or with emotional issues, can bring down an entire firm by their sole actions or inactions. So, you cannot afford to avoid the issue. You must become your brother’s keeper. Aside from losing a good lawyer with issues, you have a huge financial stake at risk and pretending it is not there will just not work.
Pay attention to your daily world (“situational awareness” is the tactical training term):
• Do you have a lawyer with exceptionally low hours (is there something going on other than a lack of work?);
• What about the lawyer who works extremely long hours and has overly large billables (is it more than workload driving this?);
• Have someone who comes in at odd hours and disappears at times (what have you done to check about that?);
• Do you have one who locks up work electronically or physically, and lets no one know what clients or work they are doing; or takes no vacations (not a firm approach and leaves clear indicia of issues you need to address);
• Are there individuals with big mood swings, flat expressions, lack of engagement, or volatile conduct (can indicate depression or mental health concerns which can impact the firm);
• Do you observe negligent internal practices such as not filling out time sheets, ignoring e-mails, not following firm policies (all can reflect a deeper issue leading to a claim against the firm. Do not ignore the non-conforming conduct that can affect your firm).
In the older days, some lawyers were described as “bad to drink”. Bar groups formed support groups to aid those with drinking problems. The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs says prescription drug issues (mostly pain medication) have now grown to be second, only to old time alcohol issue. This new prescription drug issue accounted for as many state programs as cocaine, meth, and heroine combined.
Fifty percent (50%) of the issues handled by State Bar programs related to substance abuse and addiction, but thirty-three percent (33%) more were mental health related. Of these mental health issues, almost half were depression (41%) and a quarter of these mental health issues (23%) were anxiety disorders. See ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs.
To me, it is like leaving all the family assets in your house with everything unlocked. Your firm is at risk when you fail to use common sense — basic situational awareness of what your lawyers are showing you. Walk around and see what the signals are telling you in your very hallways. Wouldn’t you want them to do the same for you?