Lawyers and alcohol have a long history together, both in fiction and real life. From Dickens’ Sydney Carton to Paul Newman’s Frank Gavin, the literary drunken lawyer is a reoccurring theme. Unfortunately, it is a reoccurring theme in real life (video of a lawyer drunk in court). Problems with addiction are frequently cited in attorney disciplinary reports, and up to 60% of legal malpractice cases involve issues of addiction.
When the issue of alcoholism becomes serious enough, it can become a disciplinary issue in and of itself. In September, the Oklahoma Supreme Court publicly censured attorney Louis B. Moon for three alcohol-related offenses. Mr. Moon was subsequently arrested for posing as a federal agent and threatening violence in a bar in October. “The clear and convincing evidence supports the allegations that he engaged in shooting firearms while intoxicated; identified himself as a federal ATF agent; attempted to extort money from and assaulted and battered a fellow lawyer; threatened the same attorney with death; and even more reprehensible, told his fellow Bar member that he could have his daughter raped,” the Oklahoma Supreme Court wrote in its opinion supporting Mr. Moon’s disbarment.
As we have previously stated, malpractice avoidance requires recognizing when your behaviors diminish your ability to represent your clients. It also requires recognizing patterns of behavior in other attorneys in your office which affect their representation of clients. If you recognize these issues, they should be addressed immediately. There are resources to address these issues before they become serious problems, including the well respected Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. If you, or an attorney you know has a substance abuse or addiction problem, get help before it becomes a legal problem as well.–Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire