Should Impairment Issues Stop Lawyers From Practicing?

, The Connecticut Law Tribune


Beth Griffin
Beth Griffin

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.

What's being said

  • Kenneth Laska

    Many years ago during my 35 year term as the Chair of the Insurance Proposals for the Bar Committee I made a suggestion on how to deal with impaired attorneys. The CBA would set up a Committee for Impaired Attorneys. When the court or the grievance committee learned that an attorney was impaired, the impaired attorney would be given a choice. He could be disbarred or enter treatment while one of the committee members would step in, take over his practice, and all money earned would go to running the office and income for the impaired attorney. Then the impaired attorney could slowly return to practice and hopefully to a better life.

    This would solve the problem of clients being inadequately represented or the reluctance of the attorney to seek treatment for fear of losing his income. The malpractice carriers would probably welcome this because it could stop some very serious claims. Finally the fact that the Committee attorneys would serve free of charge, should not be a problem, because I have found many attorneys who have bent over backwards to help a fellow attorney in need. Moreover the impaired attorney would see that those sitting on this committee, were very well known and respected, so there would not be the fear that their practice was going to fall into the hands of someone ill equipped to run it.

    However the CBA for whatever reason did not feel that this was something that interested them. So now we have this symposium for the leaders of the Bar to wring their hands, say woe is me, and to make the momentous discovery that water is wet.

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