Addiction affects Americans from all walks of life. Drugs, alcohol and gambling are all potentially addictive and can destroy your life — along with the lives of people who depend on you. This includes an attorney’s clients.
The conflict between work and addiction
Among other things, an addiction can affect your work as a lawyer. Being drunk, high or hungover on the job will obviously make it virtually impossible to do legal research, write filings, briefs and communications, and keep up with deadlines. A gambling addiction can also affect an attorney’s priorities and objectivity regarding their client’s best interests. For example, financial pressure from huge gambling losses can make stealing a client’s money from an escrow account very tempting. Or it can keep you from advising a reasonable settlement so you can keep billing hours to your client instead.
For these reasons, most law firms have policies for dealing with an associate or partner who is struggling with addiction. As this draft policy provided by the Pennsylvania Bar Association shows, smart firms recognize that addiction is a type of illness and that nobody should be penalized for asking for treatment. However, drinking on the job would be grounds for discipline in almost every case.
Asserting your rights as a client
As a client, you have the right to expect your lawyer to use clear judgment and honor their obligation to always act in your best interests. An attorney impaired by substance abuse or an addiction to gambling addiction cannot give you the level of advocacy and advice you are paying for. Eventually, a legal malpractice lawsuit might be necessary to be compensated for the damage to your legal matters.