Should Impairment Issues Stop Lawyers From Practicing?
Just like lawyers, doctors occasionally suffer from the debilitating impacts of alcohol and drug addiction, mental illness and age-related mental decline.
But unlike their brethren in the legal profession, which is governed by a code of professional conduct that takes a punitive approach when impairment issues arise, Connecticut doctors can continue to practice as long as they take steps to get help. Under a 2007 state law, medical professionals are allowed to keep working as long as they are getting treatment under a state-supervised program.
The different approaches were part of an Oct. 18 seminar called the "Impaired Lawyer Symposium" attended by 70 attorneys at the Connecticut Bar Association in New Britain.
Mark Dubois, a lawyer with New London's Geraghty & Bonnano and president-elect of the CBA, said the symposium offered participants a chance to discuss the problems that aging-related dementia, mental illness, gambling, and drug and alcohol abuse bring to the profession.
The seminar was jointly sponsored by the CBA, Connecticut Bar Foundation and Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. Dubois called the gathering a launching point that will lead to further discussions by bench and bar leaders about possible long-term policy solutions.
Of the many topics under consideration, Dubois said he found especially interesting the discussion on how the state handles impairment issues for medical professionals.
"We understand there are stresses that are unique to the legal profession," he said. "But it may give us some ideas with how we reorganize our approach to impairment."
One of the panelists, Dr. Robert Grillo, a psychiatrist at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, told the group he has treated both doctors and lawyers for substance abuse and depression.
"These types of problems can be devastating for a person's career," Grillo said.
Grillo said that "the vast majority of cases" he has seen involved mood disorders and depression. But while personality traits and long work weeks are contributing factors to mental breakdowns and substance abuse for both lawyers and physicians, that's where the two professions part ways.