Lawyer “doing very risky and, frankly, just plain bad things both professionally and personally.”

[slightly edited for length] I have become increasingly concerned about the personal and professional behavior of a lawyer I used to mentor. The lawyer in has been in practice only about seven years (as a second career). When he first sought my assistance as a mentor three years ago, he had good, sound and not unexpected questions about legal and practice issues in my field. He seemed then to be a thoroughly nice man. I assisted whenever possible and enjoyed the relationship very much. More recently, however, he has begun doing very risky and, frankly, just plain bad things both professionally and personally. He hired three young associates, all of whom left on bad terms. He has given very bad counsel to clients and has developed a reputation for rarely returning telephone calls. He has been sued for professional liability related issues on three occasions in the last year. He has told “stories,” to me and to other colleagues about other lawyers in our community that might be called simple gossip were they not so scatological in nature, potentially damaging and patently false. He has frequently lied about his own health and that of members of his family (even claiming life-threatening illness) in order to avoid or delay court appearances and other matters. He has become one of those unfortunate people around the Courthouse concerning whom other people shake their heads and roll their eyes, and his behavior seems to have become worse, not better. I have distanced myself from him both professionally and personally. I spoke with him about his behavior, but although he seemed to take our conversation to heart within days he was telling colleagues very odd things about me. The colleagues knew me well enough to find his statements false and nearly laughable, but the fact that he made them immediately after our serious discussion is disturbing. My real question is this: What, if anything, should I do? I have tried speaking with him as above. That didn’t work out too well. I’ve tried expressing my concerns to his wife. However, she has some clinical issues of her own and she spends a lot of time visiting family out of state. I have the awful sense that if the situation is simply ignored by everyone, including me, this man will become a real train-wreck. What can you suggest?

Sounds like this train wreck is already in progress, and your description provides an illuminating picture of how, when lawyers become involved in the BBO disciplinary process (which may well be among this train’s destinations), we find ourselves wishing that they had come to us years earlier.

It seems fairly likely that a significant mental health, and/or possibly addictive, problem is at work here, and its gradual progression may explain why things seemed fine a few years ago and have gotten worse and worse.

There is no way to force people to get help if they are unwilling (or unable to see the rationale), unless they present a clear and imminent danger to themselves or others. If this happens along a clinical dimension (e.g., he threatens physical harm, or behaves unsafely in connection with delusional thinking), he can be temporarily forced into treatment via police or an order from a psychiatrist or psychologist. If he behaves inappropriately in his role as a lawyer, and a complaint is filed (either by a client or by a colleague bound by the “snitch rule” if the misbehavior is very professionally serious), BBO pressure may provide an incentive to seek assistance. Sometimes people will respond to an organized “intervention” by friends and/or family (the more significant others involved, the more powerful). Should the individual then agree to assessment and referral, LCL is a readily available resource.

Our Winter 2002 newsletter focused on the issue of intervening with other lawyers, and is archived on this web site. To go directly to that newsletter (pdf file), Winter 2002.

preload preload preload