alcoholism

He hit random keys or wrote, ‘I hate my job. I hate my job. I hate my job,’ over and over.

– An anonymous source describing stenographer Daniel Kochanski’s “bizarre antics” during numerous trials, which have caused judges to hold reconstruction hearings to repair the record in many cases.

(There’s much more to this story, so keep reading to see what happened.)

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Sadly, lawyers are a group vulnerable to succumbing to addictions.  In fact, according to one study, while 10% of the general population suffers from alcohol addiction, this number increases to 20% among lawyers.  That’s right: one in five lawyers are alcoholics.  At this point, you may be starting to wonder who in your firm proves this statistic.  I would advise against this game, however.  Although it may seem mildly entertaining at first, you’ll quickly realize that it’s actually pretty sick.  This is because, of course, the statistic is true.

I remember being warned about the problem of substance abuse in the legal profession during the first week of 1L orientation when we watched a video about addicted attorneys. Unfortunately, this movie — which followed high functioning alcoholics and a woman with a shopping problem — failed to have its intended effect.  That is, instead of scaring me away from drugs and alcohol, the film left me with the misguided impression that being a lawyer is easy.  After all, if those people could practice law when they were completely wasted, doing it sober must be a breeze.

Notwithstanding my experience during 1L orientation, I do realize that drug and alcohol abuse is a serious issue in our profession, and not one to be taken lightly.  If you or anyone you know has dealt with an addiction, you know how hard it can be. The question is, why are lawyers at such a high risk?

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We haven’t seen a good Student Bar Association scandal in a while, but that’s all about to change. In case you’re not aware, the law students who are elected to serve on their school’s SBA are tasked with organizing fun events that will make their peers happy, and those events usually cost a lot of money. What can I say, alcohol and vomit clean-up fees are expensive.

So understandably, when that beer money starts to get mysteriously low — in this case, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars inexplicably missing — people start to panic. At what point do you realize the girl responsible for managing your organization’s finances has embezzled more than $30,000?

Probably when she admits to you that she spent the cash to fuel her drug and alcohol addiction…

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Maybe you’ll make partner next year.

Back when I was at the law firm, billing more hours than I knew were in a week, there were people who thought I was “gunning” for partnership. I billed a ton of hours, had basic social skills and a good mentor, and hey, I’d look pretty good in any “diversity” partner puff piece. Just add ten years of sustaining a maniacal pace, learning how to generate rain in a shrinking market, and navigating the political minefield of kissing the right people’s asses, and maybe I could have had a shot.

Suuuure I would have. Making partner at the Biglaw firm that you started with is functionally impossible. It happens so infrequently that setting it as a goal is about as realistic as children saying they want to walk on the Moon when they grow up. The odds were long before the economic crisis that caused partnerships to close their ranks and protect their profits like dragons hoarding treasure.

It’s not going to happen, but trying to get there ruins a lot of people. They can be having perfectly fine, perfectly serviceable Biglaw careers, but then somebody starts dangling the possibility of “partnership” in front of them, and suddenly they are trying to schmooze late into the night and kick their billable hours up into the 3,000-a-year range. And maybe if they’re lucky they’ll be able to get into a less prestigious firm, slog another couple of backbreaking years as “counsel,” and then get equity at some other shop.

Am Law Daily has the story of a man who finally got his shot at the brass ring, was fired over his alcoholism, and died a short while later. It’s a sad and extreme story, but many people fall in all sorts of ways on the path to partnership….

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Earlier this week, a tipster sent us a link to a Greedy Associates post entitled “Why Do Lawyers Drink So Much?” My initial thought was “Ugh.” Honestly, somebody writes that article every three months, and every six months we have to write another version of the same story.

The reasons given for lawyer alcoholism are always the same. “Lawyers are only alcoholic because they’re super TYPE A badasses.” “Lawyers hate their jobs and drink to forget.” “It’s not the law that makes people alcoholics, it’s alcoholics who choose the law!”

I was going to ignore this latest Drunks and the Law story, but then the scotch in my coffee kicked in and I thought, “Hey, isn’t it just that lawyers drink because they can?”

Think about it: being a lawyer is a great job to have if you want to drink as much as possible while also having a job…

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The New York State Bar Association wants to avoid this.

Attorneys tend to be a work-hard, play-hard bunch. After all those long days, it can feel really nice to unwind with a Manhattan at the end of the day. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

That said, nobody wants to end up like Paul Newman’s character in The Verdict, a washed-up, alcoholic ambulance chaser. And it turns out the New York State Bar Association doesn’t want that either.

Last month, the association launched a new online portal for New York attorneys and law school students struggling with alcohol or drug addiction….

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