The purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act is to protect individuals with both physical and mental issues from being discriminated against. The ADA also protects individuals with mental illness. While it’s not always talked about as much as maybe it should be, lawyers face a high risk of depression. When a lawyer with depression faces an ethics complaint that lists actions (or inactions) of the lawyer while they were depressed, the lawyer may think that the Americans with Disabilities Act will protect them from disciplinary action. However, it doesn’t.
Why Doesn’t the ADA Protect Disabled Lawyers?
One of the most common complaints against lawyers with depression is that they didn’t fulfill their duties. Even if it happened during a time when the lawyer actively struggled with depression, the Americans with Disabilities Act will not protect the lawyer from discipline. The reason for this is because the ultimate goal of an ethics committee isn’t punishing lawyers. Their objectives are protecting the public and making sure that lawyers continue to fulfill the standards for practicing law. If an attorney cannot fulfill their duties (even if this occurs because of a disability), it is not considered discrimination to stop them from practicing law. Remember that the goal of the ADA is to protect individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against.
If a Lawyer Has Depression, What Can They Do to Protect Their Career?
This is an important question since the ADA isn’t used to protect an attorney during an ethics investigation. There are three things lawyers can do.
- Make sure that you’re getting reasonable accommodations in your law office so that you can meet your ethical obligations. If you work in a law firm that has 15 or more employees, you can ask for reasonable accommodations. You can even ask for reasonable accommodations in court. Courts are required to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Pay extra attention to compliance and applicable ethics standards. Depression can impact your ability to focus. You must take the steps necessary to be aware of the standards in your jurisdiction. Recognize when you may have problems and pay closer attention to your obligations so that you can meet them.
- Have a contingency plan in place. Your contingency plan may depend on how you practice. If you work with other lawyers, you may need to talk to a partner in the firm so they know what’s going on. You may write out a plan and name someone who can act as a backup if necessary. Having a plan isn’t enough. You must take action on the plan when necessary.
Facing an Ethics Complaint?
If you’re facing an ethics complaint, stay calm. Refresh yourself on the ethical rules in your area. Then, consider talking with an attorney who practices bar defense strategies. Zavieh Law offers both limited and full scope representation. To schedule an appointment with Megan Zavieh, click here.
If you receive an ethics complaint from the California Bar and you’re not sure where you should start, check out The State Bar Playbook. This is Megan’s interactive and easy to use guide (and community!) that will help guide you through the process from receipt of the complaint all the way through the appeals process!