Addiction

The most e-mailed story on the New York Times this morning is The Lawyer, the Addict.

The short version is that a Silicon Valley patent lawyer who had been #1 in his law-school class died on his bathroom floor from a drug-related infection. His ex-wife found him. She also found his phone, which indicated his last communication with anyone had been a conference call at work. That is the “heartbreaking” and “haunting” detail many are talking about, discussing the competitive workaholic winner-take-all culture of law school and BigLaw practice.

Another detail is equally haunting:

For the last two years of his life, every time Peter and I were together — whether it was back-to-school night, our son’s cross country meets or our daughter’s high school graduation — people would ask me if he was O.K. They asked if he had cancer, an eating disorder, a metabolic disorder, AIDS. But they never asked about drugs.

Neither friends, nor law-firm management, nor the lawyer’s own ex-wife could conceive that this man had, for years, been consuming through various means “Vicodin, Tramadol, Adderall, cocaine, Xanax, crystal meth and a kaleidoscope of pills.”

People just can’t believe that a professional so seemingly successful could be a serious drug addict. And even if they could believe it, there are other barriers pointed out by an ABA Lawyers Assistance official quoted in the article:

Law-firm leadership…doesn’t really know what signs to look for when it comes to addiction. And when it’s happening, she said, they are so busy themselves, “they just don’t see it.”

So everyone is reading this article and talking, talking, talking about it. To honor the work of this lawyer’s ex-wife in revealing these details and spending so much effort to bring this story forward, it’s crucial to change and improve the profession. As lawyer Kendall Burchard said on Twitter:

The question is, how to recognize signs and how to try to help. Listening is of course crucial. But someone, somewhere along the line, has to speak up in a way that is likely to help, or at least unlikely to prompt denial and more isolation and covering up. Please share comments on how to do that, here or on social media or really anywhere, with anyone in the legal profession. What the experts say about “how” will be a subject for another post.

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