Time to finish up my summary of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers conference.
Spurred by the Supreme Court decision in Caperton v. Massey [http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/08pdf/08-22.pdf], we voted to approve a proposal for reviewing the issue of judicial recusal. [http://www.appellateacademy.org/publications/policies/recusal_standards.pdf]. Wednesday the Washington Post had a story about the proposal. [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/02/AR2010050202698.html]
The last part of the conference, overlapping with another ethics program I attended yesterday, was on the issue of lawyer depression and substance abuse. The numbers are startling. Statistics vary, but up to 1 in 3 lawyers have symptoms consistent with depression. A staggering 70% of lawyers say they would change careers if they could, and 75% don't want their children to be lawyers – only 27% call themselves satisfied with their careers. The suicide rate is 6 times higher than other professions — suicide is the third leading cause of death among lawyers. An estimated 20% of lawyers have an alcohol problem.
Our own Louise Thomas, who is intrepid in helping out and getting out the word on lawyers, depression and substance abuse, took a look at the disciplinary proceedings against lawyers in Maine and found that 1/3 were based on obvious bad behavior, like stealing, which is often a sign of substance abuse issues. 1/3 are technical violations, like conflicts. And 1/3 are neglect – a big neon sign for depression. Various studies show that substance abuse or mental illness is involved in 40-70% of discipline cases; 80% of client protection fund cases and 60-85% of malpractice actions.
Interestingly, more ethical violations occur among older lawyers, as does the manifestation of depression and substance abuse issues. 18% of lawyers who have practiced 2-20 years have an alcohol problem, for example, going up to 25% for attorneys practicing more than 20 years. The highest risk of suicide is among lawyers and judges age 48 to 65.
There are a gazillion reasons why this is the case, but I will cut to the chase on two points. First, for help go to the Maine Assistance Program, firstname.lastname@example.org, 800-530-4627. Second, when someone in your firm or company starts missing deadlines and committing other violations like neglect, you have a duty to do something. See ABA Rules 5.1, 5.2 5.3 and 8.3, Restatement (Third) Law Governing Lawyers, s. 11, Formal Op. 03-429 (June 11, 2003). See ABA Formal Op. 03-431: "A lawyer may not shut his eyes to conduct reflecting generally recognized symptoms of impairment." The core applicable rule for Maine lawyers is Rule 5.1, effective August 1, 2009.
In sum, this is everyone's problem, in many ways.