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September Newsletter

Substance Abuse and Other Addictions

in the Legal Profession

(condensed from the MO Bar publication)

Substance Abuse Is a Big Problem

According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (or NCADD), alcohol is the most often used addictive substance. One in 12 adults faces an alcohol concern; several million more engage in risky drinking. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports an 8.8% rate of substance use disorders in the US. Alcoholism ranks as the 3rd leading lifestyle related cause of death in the United States.

The NCADD estimated that 20 million Americans used an illegal substance in the past month. Illicit drugs include substances like marijuana, hashish, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and so forth. The NCADD also estimated that of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the US exceed $600 billion per year.

In the legal profession, attorneys have above average rates of substance concerns, depression and suicide. Alcohol continues to be the most frequent problem chemical for legal professionals. Approximately 40-70% of attorney discipline proceedings and malpractice allegations are linked to alcohol abuse or mental illness.

Early professional warning signals of substance abuse for lawyers include unreturned phone calls, being late for depositions, cancelled appointments, numerous sick days or client neglect. Late stage concerns include failure to come to the office or appear for hearings, appearing intoxicated or under the influence in court, unprofessional appearance or hygiene, inappropriate mood and abandonment of one’s practice.

Recovery reduces claim and disciplinary complaints.

An Oregon study confirmed lawyers in recovery have low claim rates.

5 years before sobriety                                            5 years after sobriety

Malpractice claims – 83                                            Malpractice claims – 21

Disciplinary complaints – 76                                    Disciplinary complaints – 20

During that time frame, average complaint rate for attorneys in the state was 9%. The attorneys had an annual complaint rate of 28% before sobriety and 7% after. The malpractice claim rate for attorneys in the state was 13.5%. The rate of malpractice claims was 30% before sobriety, and 8% in recovery.

Lawyer Assistance Programs Offer Help

Almost every state in the US has a Lawyer Assistance Program. Lawyer Assistance Programs are broad brush programs to assist attorneys with a variety of matters such as substance concerns, mental health concerns, stress management, coping with grief, adapting to life changes and other personal concerns. Check out your state’s program for specifics. Substance concerns are one of the most common concerns lawyers assistance programs help attorneys address. Do not delay if you or someone in your office is in need of assistance. Seek help.

“Risks Of A Personal Injury Case”

“Risks Of A Personal Injury Case”

 

According to the Department of Insurance Statistics, the most “risky” area of practice is Plaintiff Personal Injury work. In 2018, 26.5% of paid claims involved this area of practice. Statistics also tell us that 26.5% of all closed 2018 claims resulted out of the “commencement of action” phase of the practice.

 Missed filing dates have consistently been the largest category of error that result in a malpractice claim for attorneys in Missouri. How do these errors keep happening and what can we learn from these errors to help avoid the risk of an error in the future?

 A claim arising out of a missed filing deadline can develop out of a number of different factual settings:

1. An administrative error where the date is incorrectly input into a docket system. This is one of the reasons why malpractice insurance carriers advocate a dual docket system.

2. Incorrect information from the client or in a police report. Clients can be nervous or in pain when they first meet an attorney after an accident. Their memory of a particular date of an accident may be clouded. Dates should be double checked with medical records and police report dates.

3. Incorrect knowledge of the law regarding the statute of limitations for the client’s claim.

  1. The accident/injury occurred in another state with a shorter statute of limitations. Many states have shorter statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Some states have a statute of limitations as short as one year.
  2. The accident/injury occurred on a cruise ship which restricted the statute of limitations.
  3. The claim was against a local or municipal government, which may have specific notice requirements, such as a slip and fall claim against certain municipalities in Missouri, or a shorter statute of limitations for claims against local governments, such as in Illinois.
  4. The accident/injury recovery arises under the Federal Tort Claim Act.
  5. The client was in the military.
  6. The claim is against healthcare providers or other professionals with a shorter statute of limitations.

 

The practice of law is complicated. Knowing the risks and what you can do to address these risks is vital for a successful resolution for your client, as well as your own success.