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Alcoholism is common among lawyers and can lead to malpractice

Practicing law as an attorney is a very stressful job. Lawyers provide guidance and advocacy that can result in life-altering consequences for the clients that rely on them. Clients may vent their emotions at attorneys because they often only need legal help when they are in very difficult situations, such as when they are mid-divorce or facing criminal charges.

Some lawyers handle the stress of their profession well, while others do not. Unfortunately, the stress of a legal career often leads to mental health and substance abuse issues that may affect the quality of representation that an attorney provides. Research indicates that roughly 28% of lawyers suffer from depression, which can lead to self-medicating. Approximately one-third of lawyers admit to having a drinking issue. In some cases, alcoholism may lead to a legal malpractice claim.

How alcohol abuse can affect legal representation

The most obvious and immediate way that someone’s abuse of alcohol could influence their job performance involves them showing up to work while under the influence. An attorney who attends a key meeting or a court hearing while under the influence could make mistakes or become so emotional that they do their clients a major disservice.

There’s also the secondary risk that they may put their desire to drink after work ahead of the research and preparation necessary to represent their clients, which means they may show up sober but unprepared. Finally, there are also the potentially debilitating symptoms associated with a hangover after drinking that can impact a judge’s perception of a lawyer and also their performance in the courtroom. Lawyers who struggle with alcoholism may not offer their clients a professional standard of representation and may negatively affect the outcome of their legal matter as a result.

What rights do clients have?

Those who believe that their lawyer’s failings may have directly affected the outcome of their legal case may have grounds to pursue a legal malpractice claim. Evidence that someone did not adhere to best practices can help substantiate a client’s allegations that they did not receive the professional legal service for which they paid.

Of course, it can be difficult to trust another attorney after one has failed in their professional obligations, but those pursuing legal malpractice claims will typically require support if they hope to prevail in court. Connecting an attorney’s poor job performance with their alcohol abuse and seeking legal guidance accordingly could be a good starting point for someone hoping to hold a lawyer accountable for substandard representation.