Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

NC Lawyers In Throes of Well-Being Crisis

NC LAP logoLast year’s ABA report of shockingly high rates of depression, stress and substance abuse in the profession came as no surprise to the director of North Carolina’s Lawyer Assistance Program.

“The ABA found what we’ve been seeing at LAP for a long time,” said NCLAP Director Robynn Moraites. “In the report more than 20 percent of lawyers showed signs of problem drinking. They reported depression at four times the general population.”

Moraites and LAP Clinical Director Cathy Killian gave the presentation “What is Your Firm’s Response to a Colleague in Need?” at Lawyers Mutual’s inaugural Managing Partners Summit in May.

A first step in helping a colleague in distress is recognizing the warning signs. These might include missed deadlines, unopened mail or absenteeism – especially on Mondays and Fridays. The individual may look disheveled or smell of alcohol after a long lunch.

Most tellingly, there is a change in personality. This is not the lawyer you used to know.

“Lawyers are good at taking care of other people,” said Killian at the seminar. “But not so good at taking care of themselves.”

Moraites and Killian outlined a number of “pink flags.” These are not diagnostic in nature but almost always indicate an underlying problem.

15 Performance Warning Signs

  1. Decreased efficiency
  2. Decreased performance
  3. Inadequate follow-through
  4. Complaints from clients
  5. Poor judgment
  6. Inability to concentrate
  7. General difficulty with recall
  8. Blaming or making excuses for poor performances
  9. Erratic work patterns
  10. Non-responsive
  11. Failure to show up in court
  12. Inflating billables
  13. Arriving late / leaving early
  14. Long lunches
  15. Last-minute cancellations

15 Personal Warning Signs

  1. Problems with supervisors
  2. Disagreements or inability to work with colleagues
  3. Credit problems or financial difficulties
  4. Living beyond financial means
  5. Avoidance of others
  6. Irritable, impatient
  7. Angry outbursts
  8. Inconsistency or discrepancies in describing events
  9. Hostile attitude
  10. Over-reactive to criticism
  11. Mood swings
  12. Isolating from friends and family
  13. No support from family
  14. Chaotic personal life
  15. Frequent illnesses or accidents

To be proactive, firms should develop written policies for dealing with substance abuse and mental health concerns (LAP can help in this regard). All members of the firm – most especially the top partners – must buy into the policy and contribute to promoting wellness.

“This is a serious risk management issue,” said Moraites.

When lawyers are healthy, everyone benefits: themselves, their families, their clients and their firm.

“The fact is lawyers are far more productive – not to mention happier – when they take care of themselves,” said Killian.

Need confidential assistance with a mental health issue, or an alcohol or drug problem? Know a colleague in need? Ask the NCLAP for help.


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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