Substance abuse is a serious issue that often causes lawyers to face the bar discipline process. The process is one of the most stressful experiences that a lawyer can go through. Sometimes, the added stress can cause a vicious cycle. This happens because when lawyers begin to abuse drugs or alcohol, it’s to help them find a way to deal with anxiety and stress that comes standard in the legal field. The bar complaint gets filed and an investigation begins. The investigation causes more anxiety and some lawyers increase their use of drugs and alcohol. They could easily become the focus of yet another complaint and yet another investigation. Without substance abuse recovery, a lawyer is essentially setting themselves up for failure.
The Importance of Substance Abuse Recovery for Lawyers
Substance abuse recovery for lawyers is about more than your physical and mental health (although those two components are extremely important). It’s also about the health of your law practice. Your physical and mental health play a direct part in how well you’re able to manage your practice.
Often, when a bar discipline investigation ends, lawyers feel angry and frustrated. They think they weren’t treated fairly. They’re often upset with the complaining witness. Instead of looking at the situation and learning how to prevent another investigation, they think what happened is just a fluke of nature.
These feelings of anger and frustration can cause a lawyer to live in denial about whether they need to enter a substance abuse recovery program. That denial often means that nothing changes in how the lawyer operates their practice or manages their own life. Sadly, that means the potential for another bar complaint exists.
Therein lies the importance of a substance abuse recovery program. It can help you get control of your life and protect the career you worked so hard to acquire.
Making Changes During Substance Abuse Recovery
Substance abuse recovery will support you as you make changes in your personal life. While those changes may naturally influence your law practice, figuring out what you need to change in your professional life can be overwhelming. Here are some tips you can use to increase the chance that you won’t continue to have bar complaints filed against you.
Be objective about what happened. Honestly, no lawyer who went through the bar discipline process is excited to spend time thinking about what caused the problem. Yet, it’s a necessary step. However, it could be difficult for you to be truly objective about what happened. Feelings of anger, denial, and frustration skews our perception. You should get someone involved that you trust, preferably another lawyer, who can objectively identify the problems. If you had a lawyer to help you through the bar discipline process, ask them to help you with this.
Figure out what needs to change. Next, take the objective feedback and figure out what you need to change. You’re not necessarily planning how you’ll tackle each issue. The goal for this step is just to identify the issues.
Find the proper resources to help you make the changes. What do you need to make your law practice better? What is it that causes you more anxiety and stress? If you’re struggling to keep your office organized, you can hire a professional organizer to come in and help set-up a system that works for you. If the complaint was filed against you for an issue such as billing, turn the billing over to your legal assistant or hire someone to help you. There are a lot of great technological solutions out there for calendaring (including your docket), billing, client care, and more. You just need to think about what it is you actually want and need and find the solution that provides those features.
If you’re a solo attorney, create a professional network. Many lawyers who face bar discipline are solo attorneys. This happens because solo attorneys don’t have the same professional support that lawyers get when they are part of a firm. If you don’t have colleagues that you talk with on a regular basis, find some. You can start by joining your solo practitioners group that is sponsored by the bar. Make sure that you actually attend the gathering. Get email addresses and phone numbers from other lawyers. Creating and relying on a professional network will help you improve your practice.
Stay involved in substance abuse recovery. Recovery is an on-going process for most people. Remember that you’re not the only lawyer on Earth to deal with a substance abuse problem. Lawyers have a higher risk of becoming an addict than other types of professionals. Talk with your primary care doctor about substance abuse recovery options. If you’re involved in a church, talk with your pastor and find out if your church has a program. You can also call the bar hotline to find a referral. Just remember to stay actively involved to take care of you which will ultimately take care of your practice.
And what happens if you do end up facing another bar complaint despite doing everything you can? Get a lawyer. If you’re facing a second action, do not face the bar alone. They’re less likely to negotiate with you. Zavieh Law provides both full and limited scope representation for lawyers facing a bar investigation. To schedule a consultation with Zavieh Law, use our contact form.
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!