Substance Abuse and Legal Professionals

Today’s New York Law Journal has an article entitled Substance Abuse Hits Large Firms, Too by Michael A. Cooper of Sullivan & Cromwell and the only large firm lawyer on the 21 member board of the Lawyer Assistance Trust. The LAT is responsible for promoting education and early intervention, funding local lawyer assistance programs, creating special educational programs designed specifically for law students, practicing lawyers and judges. The article begins with this observation:

Alcoholism, other substance abuse and mental illness spare no segment of society at large or of the legal profession. Lawyers in private practice, public service and academia are all susceptible to these illnesses. The pressures that drive lawyers to drink, to use illegal substances and to overuse prescription drugs are probably greater now than at any time in the past half-century. And those pressures, while felt throughout the legal profession, may be taking their heaviest toll in the large law firms of New York City and the state’s other urban centers.

Substance abuse and mental health issues in law schools have an impact on student retention, achievement and, ultimately, on bar admission. These concerns affect the future of the profession. The Report on a Survey of Law School Professionalism Programs from a 2006 survey by the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism of law school professionalism programs showed that:

  • 95% of responding schools indicated that they or their parent university have a program of assistance available for law students who may be dealing with substance abuse or mental health issues;
  • 65% of these schools have access to the state bar’s lawyer assistance program;
  • 50% reported that 25 or fewer students use the program in a year;
  • 77.5% of the schools reported that students who participate in the program are counseled about implications for bar admission.

Law students and lawyers in need of help addressing alcohol or other substance abuse can find it as close as the nearest telephone. The lawyer assistance programs at the New York State and New York City Bar associations can arrange for appropriate professional counseling and, if indicated, in-patient treatment. Patricia Spataro, director of the state bar program, can be reached at 800-255-0569; Eileen C. Travis, who directs the city bar program, can be reached at 212-302-5787. The LAT 2009 law student brochure explains the availability of LAP services.