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.

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CURRENT QUESTION(S) OF THE WEEK

ANOTHER ATTORNEY IS ABUSING ALCOHOL AND EXPERIENCING EMOTIONAL ISSUES

QUESTION:

I am an attorney who has become aware of circumstances suggesting that another attorney is abusing alcohol and experiencing emotional issues. As a result that attorney is acting in a manner that is unprofessional and he is harassing and threatening others online. If I were to make a referral to LCL how would that help this lawyer? Who would approach him and how? What if he refused services and it just made things worse? Would he ever learn who made the referral? Any insight you can provide would be helpful. Thank you.

ANSWER:

Though LCL offers peer-led support group meetings (the core aspect of LCL that accounts for its name and preceded having any funding or staff), other clinically oriented activities are handled by our staff of licensed mental health professionals (2 psychologists and 1 social worker).  As we see it, we cannot ethically intervene on our own in an individual lawyer’s life.

Rather, when we get a call about someone like the attorney you describe, we generally recommend that colleagues, friends, or family who are concerned about his or her behavior and mental/emotional status either come in to meet with us or bring the individual in.  Usually this approach is more effective if it involves more than 1 person besides the lawyer who is the source of concern.  You can call us to discuss the specifics, including who might become involved.  [If there is imminent danger of physical harm to self or others, such as someone drunk and wielding a weapon or making a specific threat, the appropriate resource is an emergency room for psychiatric evaluation, and sometimes police are needed to compel the person to go there.  We are assuming here that the situation is not that dire.]

So, inherently, the lawyer would know who made the referral, because LCL has no way to bring the person in otherwise.  LCL staff would seek to assist concerned others in heightening the individual’s awareness of his (or her) problem, and would also make a clinical assessment and treatment recommendations.  If the person agrees to treatment, LCL staff can also identify treatment options that fit the level of severity and are covered by the particular health insurance plan.  (Many people are surprised to learn that inpatient “rehab” is seldom covered by insurance, but it is sometimes possible to put together a plan that includes a day program and possible a “residential” program, which is different from inpatient.)

As you suggest, some people will refuse help.  (That is less likely if he or she is hearing the same message and the same time from several different people who are important in his/her life, and especially if they have some kind of “leverage”.)  We’re not sure how that would “just make things worse.”  The drinking and otherwise impaired mood/behavior may continue to get more severe, of course, but that can be good in a way if it leads to undeniable recognition of a problem.  Quite often, it is being faced with negative consequences that are hard to deny that finally motivates someone to accept help.

Please feel free to call to discuss the particular case.  You need not give us your real name or that of the person about whom you are concerned.

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