Alcoholism is a common modern medical issue. It seems to run in families, and it is also a coping mechanism used by those with traumatic backgrounds or stressful occupations.
Attorneys often have very high levels of personal stress, compounded by massive student loan debt and the impact of a demanding job on their personal relationships. Relying on alcohol to alleviate some of that stress is a common practice.
According to self-reported data, one in three lawyers has a drinking problem. Many attorneys who drink save it for after work and know how to limit themselves. Unfortunately, some lawyers will allow their drinking problems to affect their clients.
Alcohol can absolutely affect a lawyer’s performance
An attorney who has made the transition from drinking at night after work to day drinking could easily endanger their clients. They might show up to court after having something to drink, with possibly devastating consequences.
Alcohol affects someone’s rational thought processes, recollection and decision-making abilities. An attorney under the influence could doze off during court. They can become unnecessarily argumentative. They might make nonsensical claims that undermine the validity of their client’s defense strategy or personal injury claim. They could also fail to make it to court because they stopped for a drink, passed out in their office or get pulled over for drunk driving.
Even if an attorney doesn’t drink right before going to court or meeting with a client, their alcohol abuse could still affect their job performance. Someone with a hangover will not be operating at capacity and could make many of the same mistakes that someone would commit while under the influence.
Substance abuse could lead to inadequate representation
You expect your attorney to know the law, show up to court and advocate for you to the best of their ability. When they let their chemical dependence interfere with their job performance, you will be the one to pay the price.
Providing clients with inadequate representation and attempting to practice law while under the influence of alcohol are both examples of legal malpractice. Holding attorneys responsible by bringing a civil claim for legal malpractice may be one of the ways clients affected by lawyer misconduct can seek justice.