Smoothing the Bumps in the Road for Young Lawyers

James Ellis Arden
Stress kills, but not before causing mental problems, substance abuse, and possible ethical failing.

Stress kills, but not before causing mental problems, substance abuse, and possible ethical failing.

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Lawyer Assistance Programs provide confidential services and support to judges, lawyers, and law students who are facing substance use disorders or mental health issues. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, contact your state or local LAP.

Thinking about stress, depression, and substance abuse often evokes the same feelings we had back in law school when we had to consider codes of ethics. I already know all that stuff. It’s just common sense. Consider that ethics codes came into being mainly to guard against competition within the profession rather than as a means to help protect clients.

Not anymore: “The legal profession’s relative autonomy carries with it special responsibilities of self-government. The profession has a responsibility to assure that its regulations are conceived in the public interest and not in furtherance of parochial or self-interested concerns of the bar” (ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct).

Ay, there’s the rub: “Virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from conflict between a lawyer’s responsibilities to clients, the legal system, and the lawyer’s own interest in remaining an ethical person while earning a satisfactory living.”

Substance Abuse and Ethics

Stress kills, but not before causing mental problems, substance abuse, and possible ethical failing. Impairment may manifest in being late to work or missing deadlines. Impaired lawyers often fail to communicate with clients, and their judgment may be skewed.

The National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse has estimated that 10 percent of the US population is alcoholic or chemically dependent. Abuse in the legal profession has been estimated to be as much as double the rate for non-lawyers. The ABA’s Directory of Lawyer Assistance Programs now lists lawyer assistance programs in every state, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. Some of these programs report that chemical dependency is involved in half of all lawyer discipline cases.

Technological Aids to Recovery for Young Adults

In 2012 the World Health Organization launched a pilot program of online alcohol abuse information portals in other countries. The websites include a screening tool that helps people determine if they have an alcohol problem, as well as an ongoing program that people can use to help reduce or stop alcohol intake. Users can access these free tools anonymously at any time.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts created iHeal, an iOS app that uses a wrist sensor to track heart rate and skin temperature. The user inputs additional data to enable the algorithm to detect high-risk situations, and the device offers advice and support when needed.

Lots of help is out there for those who want or need it. The more technological and Internet-based assistance that becomes available, the easier it should be to obtain fast, state-of-the-art support.

The full version of this article originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of GPSolo magazine, volume 32, number 3.  GPSolo magazine is a benefit of membership in the Solo, Small Firm, and General Practice Division. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. Membership in the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division is now complimentary. Join now


James Ellis Arden

James Ellis Arden handles litigation and appellate matters in Southern California. He is a member of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL) and the California State Bar Committee on Professional Liability Insurance (COPLI).