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How an attorney’s addiction could lead to legal malpractice

Lawyers spend more time in school than most other professionals. They have to have both an undergraduate and a graduate degree. Then they have to pass a grueling exam, secure state licensing and develop their practice to attract clients.

When you hire an attorney, you probably assume that they are competent, stable and professional. Unfortunately, the pressures of working in the legal system can lead to bad decisions. Sometimes, lawyers let their personal issues affect their professional performance.

Many attorneys struggle with substance abuse. Drug addiction and alcoholism can impact the representation a lawyer provides their clients and potentially open the door to legal malpractice claims.

How common is addiction among lawyers?

It can be hard to accurately study substance abuse because the statistics rely either on enrollment rates in addiction treatment programs, arrests for criminal infractions or self-reported data. Self-reported information by attorneys paints a dismal about substance abuse among those who practice the law.

Approximately 21% of attorneys admit to having issues with alcohol. In the same survey, over three-quarters of the lawyers who responded refused to answer questions about drug use. Obviously, that means that a substantial number of lawyers may let chemical impairment affect their job performance.

How addiction might affect your representation

Someone who drinks every night after work may have memory issues, as could someone who abuses pain medication or smokes marijuana daily. They may wake up feeling sick or hungover in the morning, impacting their mood and their job performance.

Someone who frequently uses drugs or alcohol may run afoul of the law themselves, forcing their clients to change attorneys in the middle of a case if they lose their license. It’s also possible that a lawyer could make mistakes in judgment or in research and preparation for a case because of intoxication or corner-cutting.

Perhaps the most egregious example of how addiction can affect representation relates to impairment on the job. It’s possible that your attorney might show up to court drunk or high. They could also completely fail to be there if they stop at a bar or go on a bender, which might lead to a negative outcome in your case.

Identifying potential risk factors for legal malpractice can help you hold an attorney accountable if their subpar performance affected your life.