Attorneys Kick Addictions with Help from The Other Bar

Alcoholism appears to be more prevalent among lawyers than it is in the general public. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about seven percent of Americans are alcoholics. In contrast, about 13 percent of lawyers surveyed by the ABA said they drink six or more alcoholic beverages a day. In addition, one third of lawyers on disciplinary probation in California are monitored for substance abuse.

Dave Dawson, vice president of The Other Bar, a lawyer-to-lawyer program for alcoholics, told the California Bar Journal that he estimates between 15 and 17 percent of California attorneys are alcoholics.

Attorneys face unique obstacles in the battle against addiction. "Lawyers have big egos," Dawson, a partner at Tobin & Tobin in San Francisco, told the California Bar Journal. "Denial is much greater for lawyers than for any other [group of] professional[s]." Consequently, lawyers may be reluctant to seek the help they need.

The Other Bar, a nonprofit support group similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), offers assistance specifically to California lawyers, judges, and law students who are recovering from alcoholism or substance abuse problems. More than 400 lawyers belong to the voluntary organization, which is founded on the principle of anonymity.

Volunteer consultants are located throughout California, and they provide confidential counseling and referrals, as well as substance abuse continuing education and training programs. Consultants are prepared to respond to each member's individual needs, which may range from referrals to rehabilitation centers to interventions by friends and family with the help of trained facilitators.

Consultants also hold about 35 weekly meetings throughout the state, offering assistance and support to members. About 10 to 30 people typically attend each meeting. Since the consultants and participants are all legal professionals, they share many of the same stressors that can lead to substance abuse problems. Consultants can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at the organization's toll-free hotline: 800-222-0767.

Since lawyers have very demanding jobs, it is often difficult for them to set aside time to attend rehabilitation meetings. Therefore, The Other Bar has developed an online discussion board for individuals who seek support but are unable to attend meetings in person. The discussion board serves as a virtual confidential support group for those recovering from alcoholism or chemical dependency.

The State Bar of California, which funds the organization, recognizes the impact substance abuse can have on a lawyer's career. Fran Bassios, late head of the California bar's discipline system, told the California Bar Journal that substance abuse plays a role in 25 to 35 percent of situations in which lawyers face formal charges.

Therefore, as part of the state bar's continuing education requirement, members must educate themselves about substance abuse every three years. Bar members can fulfill the requirement by participating in an online program, or they can attend educational seminars or conferences. The Other Bar coordinates many local and national events that offer continuing education credits to attendees.

Those who don't seek help with their addictions must face the California state bar's discipline system. A first-time conviction for driving under the influence or a similar charge can result in a warning, depending on the extent of the offense. Any subsequent charges will result in evaluations for discipline proceedings, and charges are often filed. Following a formal proceeding, an attorney can be suspended and placed on probation, which often requires participation in a rehabilitation program.

The Other Bar is not the only support group designed specifically for legal professionals. Any California lawyer or judge, as well as his or her family members or colleagues, can call the Lawyers Assistance Program, a free, confidential service for impaired attorneys. Callers are often referred to local therapists for up to three free visits. Many of the therapists are ex-attorneys. Other addiction services for lawyers include the International Lawyers in Alcoholics Anonymous (ILAA), the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Substance Abuse, and the Legal Profession Assistance Conference of Canada (LPAC).

Alcohol and substance abuse have extremely detrimental effects on a lawyer's ability to practice. Rehabilitation programs like The Other Bar may provide lawyers with the support they need to finally kick their addictions.

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