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Did your attorney’s substance abuse problem equal malpractice?

Maybe it’s the pressure, and maybe it’s the personality types that are attracted to the law in the first place – but the lawyers have substance abuse issues at a rate that is much higher than the average population.

Approximately one out of three attorneys has a drinking problem – according to a study in which they self-reported. Compare that to just 15% of surgeons – people in another high-intensity profession – and only 6.8% of the general population and you can easily see why the substance abuse issues among attorneys are a big concern.

But does the fact that your attorney had a substance abuse problem necessarily mean you are the victim of legal malpractice if your case didn’t go well? Maybe.

It all depends on whether their problem caused the bad outcome

Legal disputes are adversarial, and there are winners and losers in each case. Your attorney’s substance abuse problem may not have anything to do with the fact you lost your lawsuit. However, you may be the victim of legal malpractice if:

  • They showed up to court or a negotiation while intoxicated
  • They showed up while they were so hungover they could barely function
  • They didn’t show up to court or an important hearing at all 
  • They were sober in court but not functioning well because they needed a “fix”

If a lawyer is having trouble focusing on a proceeding, can’t make decisions, loses their problem-solving skills, behaves erratically, seems to forget important details about your case or fails to be prepared because of their addiction, there’s a strong possibility that you should be asking more questions.