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FOR INQUIRIES REGARDING BAR ADMISSIONS, including completion of bar admission applications and requirements for disclosure of information, contact to the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, by email to info@bbe.state.ma.us, or by telephone at (617) 482-4466. The Board of Bar Examiners welcomes these inquiries. Please note that telephone inquiries may be handled anonymously at the request of the caller.
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Character and Fitness Standards for Bar Admission in Massachusetts here.
>> BBE FAQ on Character and Fitness

Bar Application Character & Fitness Reporting? 8/19

QUESTION:

Do I need to report a welfare benefits hearing or an SSI hearing that was in my favor? Do I have to reveal the amount of my student loans even if they are not in default? Do I have to provide a credit report if I my character and fitness is being reviewed? I have credit card debt from 18 years ago. Do I report it?

ANSWER:  

Our post on Nationwide Mental Health Questions: Bar Application Character + Fitness includes a link to a database listing by state the questions asked on Mental Health / Substance Use Provisions; School, Criminal History, and Other Disciplinary Provisions; and Financial Provisions.

You can find Character and Fitness Standards for Bar Admission in Massachusetts here.

You can also find BBE FAQ on Character and Fitness.

Our anonymous online Q&A is designed to address clinical matters, including stress, relationships, career dissatisfaction, mood/addiction difficulties, etc. We do not have the capacity to respond to volumes of questions about requirements for admission to the bar, as a caution to those with similar inquiries.

FOR INQUIRIES REGARDING BAR ADMISSIONS, including completion of bar admission applications and requirements for disclosure of information, contact to the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, by email to info@bbe.state.ma.us, or by telephone at (617) 482-4466. The Board of Bar Examiners welcomes these inquiries. Please note that telephone inquiries may be handled anonymously at the request of the caller.

If you need help coping with the stress related to the character & fitness process, find more on scheduling a Free & Confidential appointment here.

Could Undergrad Misbehavior Become a Character & Fitness Issue? 11/15

QUESTION:

For the GA Bar character + fitness application it asks: “Have you ever been dropped, suspended, warned, placed on scholastic or disciplinary probation, expelled or requested to resign from any college, university or law school or otherwise subjected to discipline by any such institution or requested or advised by any such institution to discontinue your studies therein?”

This section seems to be getting at suspension or academic dishonesty. If I received a disciplinary violation in college for underage alcohol possession and violation of quiet hours, does that need to be reported? Will this character and fitness app be a matter of public record?

ANSWER:  

Let me begin by noting that LCL is not a legal advisory service — we are actually staffed primarily by mental health clinicians – but we have developed some impressions over the years.   All of our impressions are based on what we’ve seen in Massachusetts, and some things may differ in GA.

  • Our observation has been that it’s almost always better to disclose these things than to risk having them come to light in another way or to be perceived as having withheld relevant information.
  • In Massachusetts, I am told, bar applications are public but character and fitness records are not.
  • It seems very unlikely that these infractions would be considered enough (in and of themselves) to constitute a significant obstacle in seeking admission to the Bar.

You may want to call the GA Office of Bar Admissions and/or the GA Lawyer Assistance Program (anonymously) to double-check the applicability of this information.

A Suicidal Client 12/14

Q.  We have a client who revealed he is considering committing suicide due to a possible federal grand jury indictment. (1) are we violating the attorney-client privilege if we inform his wife or another party we believe can intervene to help? (2) do we have any liability vis a vis our knowledge of what he has confided in us if he in fact carries out what he intends?

A.  Please keep in mind that we are here primarily to answer questions related to mental health, behavior, human practice issues, etc.  We clearly cannot advise you on liability issues (such as the consequences of failing to act), and for that we suggest you contact your general liability and malpractice insurers.

With regard to the question of whether to act, the best information sources would be the Mass Board of Bar Overseers’ Ethics Hotline, at 617-728-8750 (2 to 4 pm, M/W/F).  We also refer you to MBA Ethics Opinion 01-2, the summary of which states:

A lawyer may notify family members, adult protective agencies, the police, or the client’s doctors to prevent the threatened suicide of a client if the lawyer reasonably believes that the suicide threat is real and that the client is suffering from some mental disorder or disability that prevents him from making a rational decision about whether to continue living.

Law Student Worried about Character & Fitness 9/13

Q.  I am a Boston-area law student worried sick about potential C&F issues resulting from impulsive, yet regrettable conduct on my part which resulted in school disciplinary procedures. I received University Probation and a Temporary Stay Away Order because of alleged verbally abusive conduct/harassing emails. Otherwise, my record is clean as a whistle–no criminal record, no academic misconduct, etc. Should I be OK as long as I disclose, or could this forever prevent me from entering the Bar? Help!

A.  As usual, we begin by noting that LCL’s mission has to do with behavioral, addictive, and mood problems faced by lawyers; we are NOT a legal advisory service.  Our impression is that the issue you describe is probably not “fatal” to your hopes for admission to the bar, but the particulars may matter.  Among our clinical staff, Barbara Bowe, LICSW serves as primary liaison with law schools and law students and might be able to give you some more input and/or suggestions on whom else to ask.  Please call us and ask for her (perhaps meet in person – it’s confidential).

Will “Erased” Arrest History Affect Legal Career if Disclosed? 4/13

QUESTION:

If I was arrested in what were later found to be false grounds, and the record was erased, not expunged, if there is a semantic or substantial difference? It was “erased” in a state other than MA in New England which doesn’t have expungement in its law. (1) Will I have to disclose this incident to MA law schools and bar examiners in my fitness and character section? Under state law of the state where the incident occurred, I am legally permitted to swear under oath that the incident never occurred. The case was erased from the city police dept, the state police and the FBI. The fingerprint card was returned to me.

Since it was just a misunderstanding, and I do disclose, I am afraid it will put me at a serious disadvantage applying for federal judicial clerkships.  Do I have grounds to sue the police department of the city where the incident occurred for some character defamation? How do I otherwise explain what happened? It seems the whole point of the erasure is moot if I will continually disclose this incident to work in federal or state government jobs. Do I just have to put these aspirations aside and go private sector all the way?

ANSWER:

We seem to be receiving a series of questions recently about whether various facts should be reported to law schools or in the process of seeking admission to the bar, including the one just before this one (see below).  More than once we have turned to the Board of Bar Examiners to get feedback in our effort to be responsive, and most often the feedback has been in the direction of disclosure rather than guardedness.  But in addressing these questions, particularly this one, we find ourselves in the realm of giving legal advice, which is not something we do.  Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers provides assistance in the realm behavioral health, stress, and related issues such as career dissatisfaction through the efforts of its clinical staff.  Our sibling program, LOMAP, though staffed by lawyers, provides assistance in how best to manage a practice, and questions of the sort you pose are outside its scope as well.

If you would like some help in brainstorming the personal/psychological aspects of the decisions you face, please arrange to talk with a member of our clinical staff.  We can certainly understand your sense that it would be unfair to be disadvantaged by an illegitimate arrest, and we would hope that it would not have that effect even if disclosed.  You can also call the Board of Bar Examiners.  (Offhand we do not know whether that call could be anonymous, but you could find out.)  For legal advice, however, you will have to consult a lawyer experienced in such matters.

“Starting the Clock” on Reinstatement 12/12

I lost my license to practice 6 years ago, never filing the required letters/paperwork/documents to start the clock running on possible re-instatement. What, if anything, can I do now to “start the clock” running. Is there any way to petition for a job within the legal field (in light of this) in the meantime?

LCL does not offer legal advice, including with regard to the process of reinstatement.  However, we do have an active Professional Conduct Group that includes a number of attorneys going through addressing a similar situation.  Our staff has found that attorneys participating in this group not only learn a lot about the reinstatement process, but also are better prepared to cope with it.  If you wish to participate in this group, you can call LCL and arrange an interview with clinician Barbara Bowe.

The procedures for reinstatement are set forth in the Rules of the Board of Bar Overseers (www.mass.gov/obcbbo/bborules.htm), Chapter 3, Subchapter F.  In addition the Office of Bar Counsel also has an excellent article called “What to do when you have just been suspended or disbarred” (www.mass.gov/obcbbo/lossoflicense.htm) which addresses many relevant questions.  For specific legal advice, it would be wise to confer with an attorney familiar with the reinstatement landscape.  There are private attorneys experienced in representing individuals before the Board of Bar Overseers.  In addition, the General Counsel for the Board of Bar Overseers maintains a list of attorneys who will provide free or low cost representation in appropriate circumstances.

What is Administrative Suspension? 10/12

We’re dealing with an attorney in Florida who was licensed in MA and listed as “administrative suspended.”  What does this mean?  Should we be concerned?  We have suspicions of an “underlying agenda” and that he may not be completely forthright. Thanks very much.  [10/12]

We’ll begin with our usual caveat that LCL’s mission and areas of expertise have to do with the human side of lawyering – stress, family problems, depression, behavioral or addictive problems, etc.  But we can respond to your question by turning to information from the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (BBO), whose Office of Bar Counsel handles matters of professional conduct/misconduct and discipline.

As described in the article, Dues and Don’t’s by Roger Geller and Susan Strauss Weisberg, administrative suspension occurs in situations such as when a Massachusetts attorney either (a) fails to pay the annual registration fee or (b) fails to reply in a timely manner to correspondence (typically involving investigation of possible misconduct) from the BBO.  That is, administrative suspension does not necessarily indicate that the lawyer has misbehaved beyond these kinds of failures in the realm of payment and communication.  However, it is a suspension, and while it is in force the attorney is prohibited from practicing.

Our clinical experience is that lawyers who ignore fees and correspondence are often suffering from depression, alcoholism, or other personal problems that impair their ability to take care of business.  We urge Massachusetts attorneys to come and confer with us as soon as they get an inkling that they are going down this road.

Echoes of Undergrad Issue Concern Law Student 9/12

I am a 1L and am concerned about whether I have correctly dealt with a situation from my undergraduate education…. [reimainder of question paraphrased for posting purposes]:  I wrote a paper in which I borrowed heavily from another pereson’s bibliography; when I found out that this could be considered plagiarism I immediately contacted the instructor, who preferred to give me a poor grade rather than an opportunity to fix the error, but did not feel that it called for disciplinary action.  Now I am concerned as to whether I replied correctly to the question about disciplinary measures on my law school application and whether this incident could possibly arise anew in requesting admission to the bar.  [9/12]

This is a bit outside our area of expertise, and we certainly can’t give legal advice, but we do have some idas as to how you might bo about handling the situation.  We suggest you call LCL (anonymously if you prefer) and speak with Barbara Bowe, LICSW of our staff, who often serves as our point-person for challenges faced by law students.

BBO Discipline a Growth Opportunity? 9/10

After 15 years in practice, it is very hard for me to tell you that I expect shortly to be subject to BBO discipline. My income sometimes does not keep pace with my lifestyle (I prefer an Audi to a Civic), and, in a quest for a quick injection of money into my bank account, I made what turned out to be a mistake – I took on a couple of cases that were beyond my sphere of experience but potentially lucrative. I consider myself a very capable, talented lawyer, and overestimated the extent to which my general knowledge and savvy would help me navigate unfamiliar territory. Although no one suffered major harm, as you can guess my errors in handling these cases led to complaints and now to likely disruption of my career. One thing that concerns me is that I still need money and, if I’m prevented from practicing my profession for a time, I don’t want to find myself making keys at Home Depot or having to move from my upscale condo to a rented room somewhere. Friends and family members are all saying that they’re too financially strapped to help me out. I know that there’s nothing wrong with me other than having made a foolish choice, but I’m actually feeling depressed. Can you help me out?

You are, of course, in an inherently depressing situation. If you are facing a period of suspension, you will not only experience an extended interruption in your source of income but a disruption in your sense of professional identity. And you seem to be aware on some level that, while suspended, you will be prohibited from doing work that overlaps with your current career and professional training, and will also not be able to work in any capacity for a colleague in the field.

It sounds as if your image of yourself as socioeconomically successful, and partaking of life’s finer things, has been quite important to you. You of course deserve all due credit for your years of education and toil to build your practice. But these kinds of image-related motives also comprised the “tragic flaw” (related to the ancient Greek concept of hubris) that threatens to at least temporarily derail your career.

The episode of suspension, if it comes to that, may thus also be an opportunity to work on developing your sense of humility. It is a good time to step back and take a new and realistic look at yourself – your guiding values and drives, your strengths and weaknesses, your genuine passions and sources of fulfillment as well as your blind spots, the value of your connections to others and of asking for their help when your own instincts or skills are not sufficient. Working at a hardware store is honest, respectable work, as are some of the other kinds of jobs suspended lawyers have found – driving a cab, plowing snow, working the desk at a hotel, substitute teaching in elementary schools. This would be a good time to learn more about budgeting, and to come to grips with longstanding childhood/family issues that may have contributed to your current crisis (we’d be glad to refer you to a good therapist who takes your health insurance). We also want to be sure you know that we continue to offer an ongoing, twice-monthly support group specifically for lawyers facing BBO investigation/disciplinary measures.

While there’s no denying that you may face a very stressful chapter in your life, and quite likely some major downgrades to your lifestyle, ultimately, you may not only get past your depressed mood, but renew and reconfigure your life and expectations in a healthier, more gratified, and more sustainable way.

Handling Not Only the Bankruptcy but the Client 10/10

I referred a friend to an attorney for whom I used to work. He handled a bankruptcy proceeding for her. The two started dating 2 days after the hearing. This attorney is currently going through a divorce. Are there rules that govern attorneys dating clients?

As is often the case in replying to the questions we receive, we must remind you that, though we are here to assist lawyers, you are reaching LCL’s clinical staff (non-lawyer mental health clinicians). Despite our consequent incompetence to answer your question about rules, a perusal of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct (www.mass.gov/obcbbo/rpc1.htm) did not find any comment, one way or the other, about personal relationships with former clients. To get a valid opinion on the matter, we would direct you (if you are an attorney) to the Ethics Hotline of the Mass. Board of Bar Overseers (Mon./Wed/Fri., 2:00-4:00 pm at 617-728-8750).

Rules aside, and considering the situation psychologically, a dating relationship starting shortly after the end of a marriage (or other long-term bond) is likely to be a fleeting, transitional affair – but your friend must realize that.

From another angle, one would question whether the lawyer could be seen as exploiting his client, given her dependent position and his position of power/authority. That concern, if applicable, would seem to apply most clearly in an extended and intensive kind of case (or when the professional is, say, a teacher or psychotherapist). While initiating a romantic liaison in your friend’s situation may be indicative of questionable judgment, it probably falls somewhere short of moral bankruptcy.

ADDENDUM: Our friends at the LOMAP program have been kind enough to provide some added sources to consider. A downloadable pdf pamphlet ($20) from the American Bar Association entitled Formal and Informal Ethics Opinions suggests that “a sexual relationship between lawyer and client may involve unfair exploitation of the lawyer’s fiduciary position, and/or significantly impair a lawyer’s ability to represent the client competently, and therefore may violate both the Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the Model Code of Professional Responsibility.”

The book Ethical Lawyering in Massachusetts (Bolan & Laurence, ed.), available at www.mcle.org, notes a number of ways that engaging in a sexual relationship with a client is risky to the lawyer’s practice (including potential for civil suit, undercutting attorney-client privilege, and conflict of interest), to the point that some states (not Massachusetts) explicitly prohibit such relations with clients (except when the personal relationship predated the professional one).

But since it sounds as if your friend and your former employer delayed dating until they were attorney and ex-client, we’re back in a grey area.

Opposing Counsel in Bad Shape 5/28/10

I recently attended a hearing with a client involving several parties and several attorneys. One of the opposing counsel appeared to be visibly jittery and was sweating. At first, I found it odd the attorney would be so nervous for a hearing but I brushed it off. As the hearing went on, it became painfully apparent that the attorney was either on some kind of narcotic or coming down off a narcotic. The attorney was making outrageous statements, startling and extreme gestures, and even the attorney’s own client once had to urge him to put on the brakes. I am no longer involved in this action and am sincerely concerned for this attorney. It is not only apparent to me that the attorney has a serious problem, but it became clear to me at the hearing that the attorney’s clients are suffering from it. I am in no way involved in any other actions with this attorney and do not know this counselor personally. I have never been a part of the attorney’s firm or wish to be. I don’t want to have this misconstrued as vindictive reporting from the hearing, as my client lost, as it certainly isn’t. However, I don’t feel this attorney should currently be practicing. Would it be ethical to bring this issue up to the BBO?

The dilemma you describe is certainly difficult and without easy answers. Although it may not rise to the point of obligatory reporting along the lines of rule 8.3, we share your uneasiness about the fact that this attorney’s condition may interfere with the interests of his clients. In addition, as a fellow human being, one wishes he could recognize his own predicament and get help.

We would recommend that you begin by calling the BBO Ethics Hotline, which is “open for business” Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 2 to 4 pm – 617-728-8750. Your conversation will be kept confidential, on the model of attorney-client communication, but they will ask your name and record the call.

Another approach might come into play if you had a relationship with this lawyer or his friends/colleagues, namely some kind of preventative, treatment-oriented intervention. In preparing for that kind of strategy, our LCL clinicians can be a helpful resource and would glad to assist.

Sexual Contact with Client 6/09

We have an associate who represented a young single woman who had an obvious attraction to him. Near the end of the representation he engaged in heavy petting including some sexual contact approaching her performing oral sex on him. He then stopped and explained the inappropriateness of the conduct and it ended. No further incidents occurred thereafter. The associate is willing to engage in counseling and education regarding limitations and boundary violations. Is this a matter that can be handled through your lawyer assistance program and does this require referral to the Professional Conduct Board?

Certainly we can provide short-term counseling to the individual, and, if indicated, can refer him for longer-term counseling with an appropriate private practitioner. Please encourage him to call for an appointment at our Boston office.

We cannot advise you on what kinds of matters require reporting to any Board. You may wish to confer on that question with a lawyer experienced in such matters. The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers, Office of Bar Counsel maintains an Ethics Hotline at 617-728-8750 and may be able to address this question.

Boss’s Financial Misbehavior 4/09

If I am aware that my boss has deposited a 80,000 check from a real estate transaction into an IOLTA and then subsequently has paid himself for various clients out of the IOLTA too much (and the real estate transaction check covered it) on at least ten occasions, what do I do?

Your question does not make it clear whether you yourself are a lawyer. If you are, then you may be under a legal and/or ethical obligation to report (to the Board of Bar Overseers) serious violations of ethical duty by other lawyers.

In any case, legal advice is beyond the scope of LCL, which focuses on other kinds of life issues. You may want to confer with an attorney specializing in ethics/professional conduct matters, or could also try calling the BBO’s Ethics Helpline. According to their web site, “An attorney who wishes to discuss an ethical question with an Assistant Bar Counsel can call (617) 728-8750 between the hours of 2:00 and 4:00 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”

Quasi-Family Reference for Bar Exam 12/08

I am applying to take the February 2009 bar exam and need two letters of recommendation. It says that family members may not write the letters. Will my fiancée be considered a family member or may she write me a recommendation?

Although we don’t have this information straight from the Board of Bar Examiners, and it’s slightly beyond the usual purview of LCL, and while there may not be a hard-and-fast rule about fiancées, why risk it?

Clearly the intention of ruling out family members is to avoid bias, or the appearance of bias. Your fiancée is probably biased in your favor (on a good day, anyhow). More typically, you might get one recommendation from a lawyer you know (perhaps at a firm where you’ve put in some time over the summer) and another from someone affiliated with your law school.

Avoiding Dealing with BBO Inquiries Creates Trouble 9/03

This may be a different kind of question from your usual clinically oriented Q&A’s, which I’ve found interesting and helpful. Over the years, in an attempt to expand my revenue base, I have taken on some cases that were a “stretch’ in terms of my experience and expertise. Although I never did anything unethical involving client funds, etc., I have not always managed these cases as well as I would have liked, and some clients complained to the BBO. I avoided opening a letter from the BBO, and when I did I found that I had missed a deadline to respond. Now my anxiety is through the roof. I expect more trouble because of my delay, but feel paralyzed to respond, and have not been able to tell anyone about it, including my family. What do I do?

Thank you for this question, which captures the kind of crisis faced by many lawyers who call upon us. You are certainly not alone, especially in your fearful and avoidant response to mail with a return address marked “BBO.”

Just as avoidance and procrastination in your practice increase the chances of client complaints, they also work against you in dealing with investigative and disciplinary matters. Although we are clinicians, and thus unable to give you legal advice, most of your peers with whom we have spoken recommend strongly that you have representation in dealing with the BBO, ideally a lawyer familiar with BBO proceedings. (If you cannot find or afford an appropriate attorney, we can put you in touch with someone who will find one for you.) Whether directly or through that lawyer, it would be more constructive to contact BBO bar counsel to address the missed deadline than to continue to wait and see what happens.

We encourage you, as well, to come to LCL for an assessment that might lead to other useful ideas. One of these might be our confidential group (at no cost) for lawyers who, like yourself, are involved in the BBO investigative/disciplinary process. The group addresses some of the issues you raised, such as isolation, shame, guilt, anger, and fear-ridden reactions to interactions with the BBO itself. Group members also examine the underlying issues that left them vulnerable to client complaints or poor practice management in the first place. Those who have participated have found the group helpful as a source of support, information, and motivation.

Slept with Client 1/03

I have slept with a female client of mine. (I am male.) I do not think I jeopardized her case, and there were no witnesses. This affair continued for 5 months out of the first year of her now 1yr+ legal battle for the custody of her children. Things are not going well for her. Am I somehow culpable?

This sounds like a legal/ethical question rather than the kind that we deal with here at LCL (see Home page for description of our services). When you say that things are not going well for her, we don’t know whether you mean legally/financially or psychologically. If it’s the latter, we can comment.

While our services are geared toward lawyers, we who write this column are mental health clinicians. We don’t know the rules about lawyers having social/sexual relations with clients. In our own field, it is strictly prohibited. The idea is that having any kind of “dual relationship” with a client is likely to compromise the objectivity of the service provider and the quality of assistance. Like teachers, psychotherapists, and clergy, legal professionals are in a position of power with clients, who rely on them for guidance through unknown terrain. In that sense, adding a sexual component can be a form of exploitation of the client (even though in many cases the client may be more than willing, and the professional may have only caring motives). What we have also learned from our clients is that, at least in some cases, clients may afterward feel guilty, ashamed, injured, worthless, etc. In those situations, it is advisable for the client to seek mental health assistance (which may be more difficult in the sense that they now feel more vulnerable). Certain clients and professionals may be more drawn to this kind of dual relationship than others, for example, those who have been subject to poor boundaries (such as sexual abuse) in their families of origin.

To ask legal ethics questions, you may wish to visit the ethics sections of various web sites, such as:
§ Mass. Bar Association http://www.massbar.org/resources/ethical_inquiries/ § Boston Bar
http://www.bostonbar.org/ethics/
§ Mass. Board of Bar Overseershttp://www.state.ma.us/obcbbo/faq.htm

Friend Overwhelmed Facing BBO Disciplinary Hearing 4/98

My obviously stressed friend finally confided that he is preparing for a disciplinary hearing before the Board of Bar Overseers. Ashamed and fearful, he has not talked to anyone about this other than his attorney and myself, not even his family. He is obviously overwhelmed. Can you recommend any resources available to him? He needs more support than I can give.

Your instincts are good in surmising that your friend needs considerable support. The disciplinary process is demanding and the accompanying feelings of isolation, shame, humiliation, fear, anger or guilt are common.

One resource is through LCL, and is a weekly support group for attorneys involved in disciplinary proceedings. The group is free and confidential. All your friend needs to do is pick up the phone and call LCL if he is interested in learning more about the group. In general, though, groups are particularly powerful in providing support and reducing feelings of shame and isolation. Through interaction with other group members, your friend will get new ideas to problem solve related to the disciplinary ordeal and will also have the opportunity to explore other career issues.

In addition, the right therapist may well be able to help your friend cope with these stresses in a confidential setting; the process may even partially transform the experience into a valuable opportunity for growth and self-knowledge. If he needs assistance in selecting a therapist, LCL can help with that too.

Jeopardizing Career via “Minor” Thefts 4/02

Recently admitted to the bar, I am a first-year associate at a small firm. Within the last month I’ve realized that I am seriously jeopardizing my future by engaging in what I have been telling myself are “minor” thefts outside the office. I really can’t explain why I do this. I have nothing to gain by it, and everything to lose. I don’t need or could easily afford these items. I’m very anxious about this but can’t seem to stop myself. What can I do?

A. You don’t mention whether this is new, long-term, or a re-emergence of past behavior. Regardless, the fact that you now recognize and question what you are doing is a very positive step. These actions are clearly self-sabotaging and you are indeed putting your career at risk.

Many behaviors, such as yours, are perplexing because they are often rooted in unconscious (out of awareness) motives and feelings, for example, anger at feeling stuck in a career choice, feeling undeserving of success, fear of failure and humiliation. There are many other possible sources. The nature of a lawyer’s work culture may not tend to promote self-reflection. A therapist can facilitate the process of taking a closer look at thoughts and feelings you may have ignored and which contribute to your actions.

An important function of psychotherapy is to increase awareness of the unconscious thoughts and feelings that manifest in seemingly irrational or harmful behaviors. While a therapist cannot tell you the answers, your enhanced self-understanding permits the exercise of choice and greater control over one’s own behavior. LCL’s role here would be to assess the situation with you and, most likely, help find you a well-matched clinical resource. With assistance and support, you can break the cycle and feel more in charge of your behavior.

Feeling Ostracized During BBO Investigation 10/98

I am a general practice attorney in a small firm. Following a complaint made to the BBO by an angry former client, I now find myself in the midst of a protracted investigatory and disciplinary process. My error was real enough but in my opinion was minor. More than anything else it reflected my depression, from which I have since begun to recover. Since the BBO process began, I have been acutely aware that other attorneys distance themselves from me, or perhaps don’t know what to say or believe. This only compounds my guilt over my mistake and its impact on others. I don’t know where to turn.

While the BBO has the important responsibility of protecting consumers, the individual attorney’s journey through the process can be painful and arduous. Typically, he or she has to cope with a great sense of shame and isolation from peers, in addition to the humbling experience of recognizing poor past choices. When there is a disbarment or suspension, there is also the matter of finding new employment that can not be considered legal practice, and adjusting to the social and professional stigma. As time goes on, it may become difficult to avoid bitterness and cynicism.

Our experience is that very few attorneys mean to do anything wrong, but rather, allowed themselves to be swept into inappropriate actions, often in the context of mental health, interpersonal, or addiction problems (including compulsive gambling). It is completely appropriate for you to involve yourself in counseling/psychotherapy, and we would be glad to assist you in arranging that. We also offer a twice-monthly Professional Conduct Group where lawyers in your position can give each other support, understanding, information, confrontation when needed, and help one another see the light at the end of the tunnel. For more information, call us.

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