Proactively Dealing with Attorney Impairment Issues

 In Georgia State Bar Grievances

Learn ‘How to Save a Life’ while protecting yourself, colleagues, and clients.

I want to highlight and expand upon the recent Daily Report article State Bar Campaign Tells ‘How to Save a Life’ by Robin Frazier Clark. If you don’t have an online subscription, it’s available in the November 15 print version. Or contact me and I’ll fax you a copy. It’s important enough not to miss.

In the article, Robin discusses some of the more disturbing consequences of our stressful profession where we have to mix life-altering client issues with our own personal and family challenges.

Per the State Bar of Texas website, suicide is the third leading cause of lawyer death – which includes old age – and lawyers are three times more likely to suffer depression than any other profession.

GA Bar ‘How to Save a Life’ campaign

depressionRobin goes on to describe the new State Bar of Georgia ‘How to Save a Life’ suicide awareness campaign and educational DVD. The goal is to prevent depression and suicide by teaching all lawyers how to recognize the warning signs and react. The Lawyer Assistance Program and LAP Hotline are also available for lawyers seeking confidential help and treatment. These programs work!

With Chandler Law’s emphasis on professional liability and State Bar ethics and disciplinary matters, I meet many (too many) attorneys who are experiencing alcohol and drug addiction, major depression, and other psychological disorders that have caused their professional problems. Sometimes the lawyers realize they have an impairment, but more often than not they don’t. Their disorders (like bi-polar disorder) may keep them from understanding they have a problem, or they are simply in denial.

Stop the problem – recognize and react

You probably know someone who has suffered through an addiction or depression, or worse. In most cases in which I am involved where these issues are present, a partner, trusted employee, or family member realized there was a problem but did not act. Unfortunately, help often comes after the lawsuit or Bar complaint, and the lawyer’s impaired actions hurt a client or someone else, including themselves.

Let’s stop this right now and start acting before someone gets hurt. Here’s how:

  • Get the DVD. Visit the Georgia Bar website or call 404-527-8700.
  • Educate your firm. Teach your staff, partners, and even family to identify potential depression and substance abuse issues.
  • Get professional help. Don’t ignore the problem, whether it’s you or a peer. The GA Bar shows a great deal of compassion for those who suffer from a condition, as long as they are proactively seeking help.
  • Report mistakes. If you make a mistake, report it to your carrier, and then follow guidance for notifying clients, the State Bar, etc. Exercise caution as the steps taken and the timing of those steps can complicate matters in some cases. Please contact me if you have questions.

The perfect solution is to address the stress and other causes of these issues before a problem occurs. Of course that won’t always happen, but through education and communication we can minimize the impact of these disorders on our clients, our families, our peers, and ourselves. We may even save a life.

Douglas Chandler

 

 

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