Please note that this is not legal advice. See our disclaimer.
It is well known that attorneys have higher rates of substance abuse, addiction issues and mental health issues than the general population. These issues can have a devastating impact on attorneys and their abilities to function in accordance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct. Often times, attorneys will suffer from these issues for a long time until they reach a point of crisis. Once it reaches a crisis, it can often involve an attorney facing criminal charges, malpractice suits and/or an investigation by the Disciplinary Board.
However, prior to a crisis, an attorney can face ethical issues that stem from issues with substance abuse, addiction and/or mental health. For example, if an attorney has a gambling addiction, and they withdraw IOLTA funds without having earned fees, they could subject themselves to serious disciplinary issues and criminal charges. Further, attorneys, who are suffering from these issues, may miss filing deadlines, court dates or fail to have proper contact with a client. Any violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct will not be overlooked due to addiction or mental health.
If the Disciplinary Board is investigating an issue related to an attorney’s addiction or mental health issues, it is essential that the attorney take proper steps to show that these issues are being addressed. Further, it may be necessary to self-report if an attorney is facing potential criminal or civil penalties.
If you or an attorney you know is suffering from these issues, it is important to obtain help as soon as possible. Attorneys that are facing these issues should seek medical assistance immediately. Additionally, there are resources through Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and other organizations listed below that are available to attorneys with these issues as well as for those that know attorneys that need help.
Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers: http://www.lclpa.org/.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Southeastern PA Intergroup Association of Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.aasepia.org/
Greater Philadelphia Region of Narcotics Anonymous: https://naworks.org/find-a-meeting/
Gamblers Anonymous: http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/locations