Why Are Lawyers so Afraid to Ask for Help ?
By Brian Cuban , Esq . www . BrianCuban . com Dallas , Texas
Not long ago I gave a lunchtime presentation about addiction recovery . As I always do , I spoke about the function and value of the Legal Assistance Program ( LAP ) in helping lawyers deal with addiction and other mental health issues and get back on track even in the face of immediate consequences for behavior that may run afoul of state bar disciplinary rules .
I related the same talking points that I give lawyers every day who contact me about addiction issues . I urge them not to get caught up in the stigma of the immediate problem versus the inevitable long term consequences of ignoring , hiding or “ thinking ” ( in other words , manipulate ) a way out of it . Even in the face of suspension , disbarment , private or public censure , down the road the consequences almost always get exponentially worse beyond career . Deal with it now . Deal with it confidentially . As I gave this advice , I scanned the expressions in the room . Eyes rolled . Arms folded .
After the presentation , a lawyer came up to me snickering . He said he would never use the Lawyers Assistance Program . He was sure it would get out . I asked how he knew that . “ Another lawyer told him .” How did that lawyer know that ? He was not sure . I asked him if he would walk into court with “ a guy told a guy ” as his argument . He chuckled and agreed but was still sure it was not confidential . It also seemed that some had no idea that there was an LAP until that moment .
How is this possible ? Just the other week , I had coffee with a good friend who works at a major law firm in Dallas . There is a blank stare when I brought up the local LAP . When I described it to him , he said that the last time it had been discussed was an orientation right after he passed the bar years ago . It had not been a topic of discussion at any firm he had worked at since then .
This is the culture of asking for help in the legal profession . Short term stigma . Fear of disclosure and career consequences over long term recovery . Lack of knowledge about recovery resources available beyond maybe AA . Not unusual for a person facing getting sober , but still a barrier . How do we overcome it ?
I reached out to someone who is on the front lines of representing lawyers with just such issues . Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami Florida . He primarily represents lawyers who are called before the bar , many of them dealing with addiction issues . He is also the author of the great book , “ The Practice , The Brutal Truths About Lawyers and Lawyering ”.
What are some of the fears , in your experience lawyers have when it comes to getting help for a substance use ?
Other than the fear of admitting to yourself there is a problem , the primary issue I see is lawyers believing that their issue will become public knowledge . It is unfortunate that this fear prevents lawyers from seeking professional help .
Lawyers who work as associates in firms fear their partners will find out and they will lose their jobs , and sole practitioners fear their colleagues as well as current and potential clients will find out .
What I try to explain to lawyers is that they are not the first ones to experience problems with drugs or alcohol , and they would be surprised to know who amongst them has gone down the same road . I hear this when lawyers go to AA or NA meetings and see their colleagues in attendance . Lawyers should also know that privilege is not only between a lawyer and a client , but that professionals in this arena adhere to strict confidentiality .
What are some of the myths lawyers tend to believe in terms of seeking help ?
Seeking professional help for an alcohol , drug or gambling issue is
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