Partner Has Undergone Marked Personality Change

One of my fellow partners [in a medium-sized firm] seems to have undergone a marked personality change in recent months. She has been much more irritable, and less careful about her hygiene and attire. Worse, she has been forgetting meetings or coming to them unprepared. Although there have been no client complaints, I believe I’ve seen concern on their faces. I’ve had some informal discussions with my peers, one of whom thinks it’s an alcohol problem and that we should insist she get help. Does that sound right?

The fact is that your colleague’s changed behavior clearly means that something is going on, but that you don’t know what it is. Yes, alcohol or drug abuse can create these symptoms, but so can depression, family stresses, neurological impairment, and any number of conditions. Fortunately, it’s not your job to make a diagnosis.

This would be an ideal time to refer to your firm’s alcohol/drug/mental health policy – or, if your firm doesn’t have a policy you may wish to formulate one as a result of this experience. Such policies recognize that these kinds of problems, though they can have great negative impact on work and other relationships, ideally call for treatment rather than punishment, and that effective treatment is preferable to termination and starting over with someone new. Once developed, the policy provides an even-handed mechanism for intervening with any employee/partner (no one is exempt), often via a specially constituted and trained committee. [For more detailed information on alcohol/drug/mental health policies for law firms, contact us.]

In your case, you will probably want to arrange a meeting of some of the partners to discuss your observations and concerns, and to prepare for a follow-up meeting with the individual to strongly encourage evaluation and treatment. A lawyer assistance program (such as LCL in Massachusetts) is a key resource to you in planning and carrying through this process, evaluating your partner’s condition, and recommending treatment options. It is important to note that an inadequately planned “intervention” can do more harm than good, while an appropriate and caring approach can sometimes resurrect a career.

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