Attorneys, Alcoholism & Substance Abuse
According to a consensus of the medical community, alcoholism is a treatable disease. * * * An alcoholic’s rehabilitation is almost universally predicated on a choice to confront his or her problem, followed by abstinence sustained through ongoing participation in a supportive program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. As we have recognized, the requisite length of time to show “meaningful and sustained” rehabilitation will vary from case to case.
In re Billings (1990) 50 Cal.3d 358, 367-368.
On February 3, 2016, the ABA and the Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation released a study that showed 1-in-3 licensed attorneys were problem drinkers, with the greatest number being attorneys in their first 10 years of practice (a recent study published in the Journal of the Association of Medical Colleges likewise found that one-third of medical students are problem drinkers too).
I was one of those attorneys. My alcoholism collapsed my practice within 28 months after I was admitted. I was 29 years old.
That was in 1993. I have been clean and sober since 2001. I have been reinstated to the practice of law for more than a decade, and then only after 5 years of hard litigation against the State Bar. More than anyone else, I know what it takes to stay sober in a State Bar discipline system that is designed to punish the alcoholic attorney as a professional pariah, in the name of protecting an invisible, faceless, phantom “public”.
In 1990, the law of the State of California changed to permit the State Bar to discipline an attorney for simply being afflicted with alcoholism, even if the attorney’s alcoholism never affected the attorney’s practice of law, In re Kelley (1990) 52 Cal.3d 487.
The State Bar has since devised a scheme of discipline diversion and admissions abatement that is tied to the State Bar’s own mis-managed Lawyer’s Assistance Program. As well-meaning as these efforts may be, nevertheless, they are designed to punish the unwary attorney or moral character applicant. Regrettably, nobody can take full advantage of the rehabilitative aspects of these State Bar resources without first knowing how to navigate the governing State Bar discipline and admissions bureaucracies that are themselves designed to foster failure and shame.
I have successfully navigated that system myself. I can help you do it too.
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Certified Specialist in Legal Malpractice Law, California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization