Q&A

Questions and AnswersIn this area of the site, you can find answers to non-legal questions about the human side of lawyering.  Answers are written by licensed clinicians with the purpose of providing information, and are not a substitute for a clinical evaluation.

We do not post responses to questions that seem to be frivolous or unrelated to our mission, or that don’t seem to be from Massachusetts lawyers, law students, judges (or family members). We have no way to check back with you, because of the mechanism that keeps this anonymous.

CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT AN ANONYMOUS QUESTION

or click any of the topics in the above list to access a wealth of information accumulated in years of archived Q&A columns.


CURRENT QUESTION(S) OF THE WEEK

[A reminder to those who have sent questions about how to function as a lawyer, such as the proper way of setting up a contingency fee arrangement -- this is not the function of LCL -- we would suggest instead trying our sister program, masslomap.org.]

LAWYER USED TO HELPING OTHERS FINDS SUPPORT FOR SELF LACKING

QUESTION:

Any ideas for support around my own trauma and the legal system’s inability to help? As a person who’s used to helping others, I’m looking for support around the idea that when I needed and asked for help – a rare occurrence – it never came; how do I get past that? How do I continue to work in a system that let ME down so badly? Also, how do I get beyond the fact that, as a lawyer, I couldn’t “fix it” or “fight it?” (Not a vicarious trauma situation). Thanks.

ANSWER:  

You may be referring to ways that lawyers and courts have not sufficiently come to your aid around your own traumatic experience.  This may relate to ways that neither the system nor individual lawyers’ professional acculturation prepares them well to deal with personal human experiences and feelings.

But the development of the lawyer assistance program was intended to at least provide support from a mental/behavioral health standpoint.  Unfortunately, many traumatic experiences are not ultimately met with what feels like personal justice (see, for example,  Yvonne Abraham’s compelling column in the March 22 Sunday Globe).

Counseling/psychotherapy still offers benefits, including in grappling with the fact that, despite one’s professional training, some things can be understood, shared, faced, etc., but not “fixed or fought.”  If you are a Massachusetts attorney and come to meet with us at LCL, we’ll do our best to refer you to needed services.


A JUDGE WITH DECLINING JUDGMENT

QUESTION:

I am an attorney concerned about a Judge in a court I frequent. The court clinician/psychologist and several court staff (clerks, probation, court officers) are concerned about his dramatic cognitive decline and difficulty processing and comprehending. He has become erratic and unpredictable in his misunderstanding of the law, and is often verbally abusive to lawyers, staff, and parties. He has become worse in the past year, and then he was in the hospital a few months ago and out of court for quite some time. He has become significantly worse since his hospital stay. He has announced publicly that he is “not up there to make decisions”.  I am concerned about his ability to sit on the Bench, run a court, and make decisions that affect people’s lives. What should I do?

ANSWER:  

Sorry to hear about this; we all face cognitive decline with advancing age, some sooner or to a greater extent than others, and we all hope we’ll recognize when it’s time to retire from activities we are no longer up to.  Of course, other factors come into play, such as staying long enough to qualify for pensions, not knowing what else to do after years of dedication to work, etc., not to mention denial, which is common not only people caught up in addiction but also in those with cognitive impairment.

If no one intervenes, a person, in this case the judge, will eventually hit an undeniable consequence that will call for crisis management.  In that sense, it would be more humane for others to intervene and help ease him into understanding his situation and handling it responsibly.  Of course, it would be important to determine whether his condition is ongoing or whether there is some way in which it might be expected to improve, but it certainly sounds as if he should not currently be working, and that someone should be making sure that he is being adequately assessed and treated.

It might be worthwhile having a group discussion among those you mention you share your observations and concerns – and LCL, if desired, can be a resource to moderate this conversation.  It is not clear whether you are the one in the best position to initiate or push forward that process, and you have to take into account how it will affect you and your standing with the court, since there is a good chance that any intervention, even though it would come from a place of caring, will not be welcomed or elicit a positive response.  The key participants would be those who have the closest personal relationship with the judge (including his peers) and/or his family.  Two other thoughts:  If you have a cordial relationship with the chief judge of that court, it might be worth having a discussion with him or her.  The Commission on Judicial Conduct would likely become involved if the judge’s behavior continued along these lines; perhaps they would also be in a position to offer some guidance to concerned others such as yourself before it gets to that point – we’re sure this is not the first time they’ve dealt with this kind of situation.

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