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One-Fifth of American Lawyers are Dealing with Substance Abuse or Depression According to Recent ABA Study

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"Mr. Morton, I want to change lawyers. I haven’t been able to contact my attorney for some time. When I was first contacted by my attorney’s office regarding my case, they sent a case manager to visit with me who was not a lawyer. I have yet to visit with my lawyer or even talk with him about my case. I have sent numerous emails and made a number of phone calls to him trying to schedule an appointment but to no avail. Would you be willing to take my case."

The above scenario happens all to often where I receive a call from a dissatisfied client from another law firm who has retained to represent him or her regarding their injury claim only to tell me that their attorney has been neglectful in returning their calls, emails and other correspondence. They simply complain that they don’t know what is going on with their case.

Perhaps, the lawyer and his staff are busy. Excellent trial lawyers are after all busy people having to prepare for and attend jury and court trials, depositions, hearings and meeting with witness and clients. They are also engaged in legal research along with the writing and submission of legal briefs on a myriad of subjects during the course of a lawsuit. However, there’s one growing fact that you may not be aware of ...


According to a recent study published by the American Bar Association involving over 12,000 American lawyers, male lawyers had a significantly higher rate of problem drinking alcohol over women lawyers by a factor of 25.1 percent compared to 15.5 percent. The highest rate reported involved lawyers under the age of 30 of 31.9 percent and junior associate attorneys at law firms of 31.1 percent. These figures are considered driven partly because younger Americans have a tendency to drink heavier in general than the older population, but it also could be a reflection of the stress caused by trying to get ahead in a highly competitive profession.

The study went on to say that the factors that drive lawyers to heavy drinking are "a rare confluence of high risk variables" that are due in part to "lack of balance and poor self-care." The study also went on to discuss a "shockingly" high rate of depression of American lawyers involved in the survey of 28 percent. That’s almost 3 out of 10 lawyers suffering from clinical depression. Both substance abuse and depression both impair a person’s ability to focus and get things accomplished that need to be done.


First, you should never have an initial meeting with anyone other than a lawyer when considering retaining one. It is the practice of some law firms to send nonlawyers to visit with potential clients to sign them up as clients promising them that at some time in the future a lawyer will get in contact with them, but then fail to do so. When calling a law office to schedule an appointment make sure you ask to visit with the attorney who will be assigned to work on your case. Case managers are not lawyers, and, if the law firm you are meeting with doesn’t have an interest in having you meet with the attorney who will be responsible for handling your case, then it’s time to go shopping for another lawyer or law firm!!

Second, during your meeting with your "perspective" lawyer, you should have a frank discussion with him or her as to the lawyer’s attitude about drinking. About 35 years ago when I worked for an insurance defense firm, I noticed how lawyers would end up at a local drinking establishment at the end of the day to "decompress" from the stress they had encountered during the end of the work day. Sometimes, I observed lawyers consuming multiple shots of hard liquor to help "settle their nerves. Given the growing problem that a number of lawyers are having with alcohol or other substance abuse, you are certainly within your right to ask the lawyer about his or her use of alcohol just to see their reaction.

Alcohol abuse and depression oftentimes go hand in hand although some lawyers may have depression without being a victim of substance abuse. It’s important to know beforehand to the best of your ability whether you suspect the lawyer of having a drinking problem. If you are being shielded from having contact with your lawyer right from the beginning, it’s time to start looking for another lawyer who is interested in you and your case, and capable of providing you with outstanding service.

Third, insist on getting a monthly status report as to what is going on in your case. Lawyers are busy people, but if you aren’t being informed regularly by way of receiving copies of correspondence being sent to and from your attorney’s office, there is a high probability that nothing is happening in your case. You need to find out. Now as I said before, excellent lawyers are busy people especially trial lawyers. For every hour an excellent trial lawyer spends in court, the attorney will be taking between 2 to 3 ore more hours of time in getting ready for the court appearance - more if the matter is a jury trial!

Fourth, ask the lawyer for his personal email and cell phone number for access to the lawyer after hours if the need arises. If the lawyer is unwilling to provide you with that information - it’s time to go shopping for another lawyer. Communication between lawyers and their client is essential particularly in the digital era to help the lawyer better understand what is happening regarding your condition and your case. Our clients are requested to keep a journal in all personal injury actions that address their pain and suffering and attempts to deal with it vis a vis physical therapy and/or stretching exercises and/or keeping a record of the pharmaceuticals and/or over-the-counter medication they take in order to address the pain. Providing the lawyer with updates of your journal can help keep the lawyer informed about your condition as well as treatment.

Fifth, ask your lawyer to provide you with copies of any and all correspondence, pleadings and discovery exchanged during the course of your case. This will help prepare you for a deposition or trial in the future, if your attorney is unable to settle your case prior thereto. It will also help you organize your thoughts regarding what testimony you may be called upon to render which inevitably would be helpful and beneficial to your case.

Sixth, if you have any concerns about your lawyer’s mental fitness, you should have a conference with him or her and discuss it with the lawyer. With 1 in 5 lawyers being reported to be suffering from substance abuse and/or depression, you have to do more than simply "hope for the best" in dealing with your attorney should the problem arise in your case. "Where’s the smoke, there’s fire."


Boise Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Trial Lawyer Alan Morton has over 34 years of experience in helping people with their legal problems. He is the father of 5 and a grandfather of 7. He believes in setting a good example for his kids and grandkids and for that reason - he doesn’t consume any alcohol. Not a drop. He was raised by a father who was an alcoholic, and so, Mr. Morton has chosen to spare his family from the experiences that he had while he grew up with an alcoholic in his family.

As a trial lawyer who also represents clients who have claims against their former counsel for legal malpractice, Mr. Morton has also seen first hand how a number of lawyers try to get along with coping with their personal and professional problems by turning to alcohol and other substances, and how that abuse can rage havoc with their practice as well as clients’ caseload. Hence, Mr. Morton has chosen not to consume any alcohol and advocates to other lawyers that they do likewise. Alcohol and the practice of law do not mix. Clients want their lawyer to be on their "A" game. Alcohol doesn’t accomplish that objective - it only detracts from it.

If you or a loved one have been injured or damaged as a result of someone else’s wrongdoing, you should contact an experienced trial lawyer to set up a free initial consultation. Boise Trial Lawyer Alan Morton is happy to schedule an initial FREE consultation at his office or your home, workplace, hospital or any other convenient location. You can reach Mr. Morton at 208.344.5555, toll free at 888.716.8021 or by completing an online contact form.

Category: Legal Malpractice

Alan Morton
Advocate for Justice/Trial Lawyer

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