The State Bar of Nevada claims a prevalence of greater than average alcohol and drug abuse among lawyers. According to the board of governors of the State Bar, almost 33 percent of disciplinary cases against lawyers “involve underlying abuse, addiction, or mental health problems,” and at least 23 percent of new entrants to the bar in the past two years have a history of substance abuse.
The petition made by the Nevada Bar Association also mentions in case of reimbursements to clients who are victims of attorney theft, “26 percent of all reimbursed claims in the past decade were made on behalf of attorneys removed from practice due to an underlying substance use, gambling addiction or mental health issues.”
So, it's time to wake up and take stock of the situation. Chronic stress in an attorney's life is not new, and only the best get into a law school, and only the best survive the ordeals of law practice. While the general populace takes attorneys to be inhumane, such ideas permeate because professional attorneys learn to be ‘detached.' Like a surgeon learns to be ‘detached.' And those who fail to learn not to feel every pain of each client fail in their careers, burnout, or start alcohol or drug abuse leading to breakdown of everything they wanted to be.
Though people try to brush aside the issue of alcohol or drug abuse among lawyers, even back in 1996 the American Bar Association had found that 15 to 20 percent attorneys suffer from alcohol dependence or substance abuse, while in the general population it was closer to 10 percent. Also, the ABA found almost 33 percent of attorneys have high chances to “experience either short-term or chronic symptoms of depression or stress.” That was in 1996, since then the stress and economic uncertainty and the plethora of laws and regulations constricting the lives of attorneys have only multiplied and not reduced.
When you think of it, mostly in the case of regular local lawyers who handle clients directly or work solo, where the clients are their neighbors or from the same social circles, it is difficult to evade feeling the pain of a client who is suffering injustice. The pain individual to each client is sufficient to make them impatient and exasperated – the pains of a hundred clients residing in the brain of a single individual – the attorney – is difficult for general people to grasp. This is why, in order to survive the rigors of law practice, attorneys need to cauterize many sensitivities, cannot afford to feel the pains of a client, as he/she would feel the pain of a friend, because all that pain would either make the individual insane or drive them to substance abuse or other dependencies. The professional lawyer is the lawyer who manages to remain sane by remaining emotionally remote to client pains, not problems. Sometimes, I believe that it is not surprising that the percentage of substance and alcohol abuse among attorneys is so high, but that it is surprising that the percentage is so low.
Be that as it may, the crux of the matter is that the occupational hazard of high stress and the beckoning of alcohol or drug abuse would always go side by side in an attorney's life. In order to succeed professionally in an attorney's career, one has to be conscious about such temptations and has to learn to avoid them assiduously. There is no easy way out, and substance dependency is worse than death because it will tear you away from everything you love, while you still keep breathing.
At the end, it is not truly about winning in the court, because even the side that loses gets attorney fees, but it is about winning over one's self and winning over temptations – age-old adages – that matter for professional success, or survival.