Editorial: Lawyer Impairment Is A Serious And Growing Crisis
• Support. At the aforementioned symposium, the CBA president wisely suggested every law firm or legal organization should have an internal process by which a lawyer with addiction or mental health issues can seek help on a confidential basis, without jeopardizing his career. Besides doing the right thing by supporting that partner or associate or colleague, the firm benefits by getting back a valuable asset in the form of the recovered lawyer.
• Intervention. Denial is the dominant characteristic of the addicted or depressed person, and so often the help must come from the outside. We owe it to our close friends in the bar or on the bench to force them to face reality and get the help they need. Such intervention can be direct or indirect; the latter taking the form of a call to LCL-CT, which will then make contact with the subject. That call, and all of her treatment, is handled with absolute confidentiality.
• Rule Changes. Rule 1.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct requires a lawyer to "provide competent representation" that includes "the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary." Quite obviously, an attorney suffering from any significant level of impairment cannot meet that requirement, and all that awaits him upon failure is reprimand, suspension or disbarment. Should not there be less draconian measures available, such as those utilized in the medical profession whereby an impaired doctor can continue practicing but only under the supervision of another physician? Would that not encourage, at least in some cases, the lawyer needing help to come forward and seek it, thereby relieving his colleagues from the distasteful obligation of reporting a lawyer whose impairment makes questionable his fitness to practice under Rule 8.3?
Impairment is hardly unique to the legal profession, but it is undeniably a real problem for us. We owe it to our impaired brothers and sisters—and to the public we serve—to help them in their moment of need. •