Works for Attorney who is “Unraveling Before My Eyes

 I work for another attorney as an associate. I feel that this attorney is constantly placing me in ethical dilemmas. He says he will take care of things and he does not. He does not return clients’ phone calls and it seems there are more and more angry clients calling. I think he is unraveling right before my eyes. I’m not sure what to do. His practice is collapsing and if he would just take some time off, I think I could turn the ship around, but I don’t feel comfortable being that candid with him. I feel that he cannot accept that he is losing it and that he may try to make me a scapegoat. I think he might be drinking or gambling on or something that is distracting his focus. How can I help him without upsetting him?

It is sad to have to watch this kind of “unraveling” of a person and a practice. Obviously, this attorney’s behavior is likely to eventually generate complaints to the Board of Bar Overseers, and we would all prefer to see him recognize his problems, whatever they are, and get the right kind of help before that happens, rather than after.

If you were his peer or superior, we might be discussing some kind of “intervention,” in which he would be confronted and directed toward treatment as an alternative to your breaking off collaboration with him. Although that may be an option for others in his life if they are aware of the problem, it does not sound like a safe alternative for you, given your position as associate and your gut sense that it could backfire on you. It also sounds as if there may be some potential for negative fallout for you even if you take no action and are not intentionally scapegoated. Of course, you should not, yourself, engage in actions that are clearly unethical. Beyond that, you may have few alternatives other than tolerating the situation or leaving it.

We would be glad to have you come in for a confidential discussion, since a more detailed analysis might yield additional ideas, and also for support, perhaps, for the taking the initiative to move toward a new job.

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