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3 ways that a lawyer’s substance abuse could lead to malpractice

On Behalf of | Aug 8, 2023 | Legal Malpractice |

Working as a lawyer is an incredibly demanding profession. Attorneys must attend years of college and then law school. They often put in incredibly long hours on the job and have to make personal sacrifices to become top performers in their field. Unfortunately, a large percentage of lawyers struggle to manage the pressure generated by their profession. Research indicates that roughly a third of lawyers may have issues with alcohol abuse, meaning that they drink more than they should or more frequently than medical professionals recognize as healthy.

Unfortunately, choosing to self-medicate with alcohol can potentially impact a lawyer’s job performance and contribute to legal malpractice. The three issues below are among the most common reasons that substance abuse disorders like alcoholism lead to legal malpractice claims against attorneys.

They show up intoxicated or hungover

Whether a lawyer needs to be present for a mediation session, business negotiations or a hearing in court, they need to be sober and healthy to provide the highest standard of representation for their clients. Sadly, those that have trouble controlling their alcohol consumption may sometimes show up to an afternoon court session under the influence because they had a second drink at lunch. They could also struggle to do their job if they have a hangover the day after overindulging.

They don’t show up for their clients at all

If a lawyer has to be in court on behalf of their clients and they do not show up, a judge could potentially declare the client to be in contempt of court. A lawyer who does not show up to court or misses important appointments may put their clients at a disadvantage or may cause significant consequences for their clients.

They over-promise and under-deliver

Alcohol has a way of bolstering someone’s self-confidence, but that isn’t always positive. A lawyer who meets with their client over dinner or drinks might let the liquid courage they consume influence what they promise to their clients. They might take on a case that is outside of their area of expertise or make claims about what they can do for a client that they cannot fulfill. Clients might then refuse settlements because they expect a specific outcome, only to end up completely losing the case or walking away with a less favorable outcome than the lawyer indicated was likely.

Provided that clients can show that alcohol may have affected a lawyer’s job performance and that they can show the unfavorable outcome of their case related to their lawyer’s failings, they may be able to pursue a legal malpractice claim against the attorney who provided them with inadequate representation due to a substance abuse disorder. Pursuing a legal malpractice claim is a reasonable way for those affected by an unprofessional attorney to minimize the harm caused by someone else’s challenges with alcohol and/or other substances.