Attorneys With Alzheimer's One Focus Of 'Impaired Lawyers' Seminar
Griffin said a concerned family member should call the Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers phone line. She would in turn ask the person more detailed questions about what is going on with Uncle Charlie. Then, perhaps, Griffin can coax the family member to get Uncle Charlie to a doctor for a complete physical examination.
Maybe there's a medical issue, and treatment can get Uncle Charlie back to normal. Or maybe it is something more serious, and permanent. If it is determined that Uncle Charlie is really not capable of continuing practicing law, the situation gets harder.
Then Griffin might try helping that lawyer "reinvent" themselves. Maybe they are still sharp enough to do some tasks that involve using their law degree without technically practicing law.
"We don't want them to make a mistake and be humiliated," said Griffin. "You don't want anyone to end a 60-year career from the law with no blemishes at all to end up with a black mark in the book because of an illness… We want to be able to give that lawyer or judge the most dignified, gracious exit from their career that we can possibly provide for them."
Unfortunately, that's easier said than done. "Sometimes a law firm has to step in and say, 'We're basically forcing you to retire,'" said Griffin. "Again, we can try to work with management teams, managing partners. It's going to be a painful process no matter what. We try to make it as less painful as we can."
Griffin said she sometimes also has to work hard to convince an older solo lawyer that it's time to retire. "Sometimes Pat King's office gets involved," said Griffin. "If a client isn't getting a response, what are they going to do? The [lawyer's] going to get a grievance."
Mark Dubois, former chief disciplinary counsel, who is also speaking at the symposium, agreed that it can be particularly tricky to deal with a lawyer with dementia.
"When somebody has dementia or mental illness, they don't realize it," said Dubois, who now practices law at Geraghty & Bonnano in New London. "Part of the disease is that their thought process is not appropriate. Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers will provide assistance if somebody comes looking. But what do you do if somebody is acting out and don't realize how bad they've become?"
Dubois said some lawyers are placed on interim suspension or inactive status "and you have to fight your way back."
Dubois said doctors have a statutory obligation to turn in other doctors. But he said the medical profession has a way to suspend disciplinary proceedings while seeking help. The law is different. "We tend to ignore [the problem] until it becomes so bad it has to become a disciplinary response," said Dubois.•