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President's Message
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What progress, you ask, have I made?
I have begun to be a friend to myself.

-- Hecato of Rhode

On the evening of March 7th, our Lawyer Assistance Committee presented a program entitled An Evening With Brian Cuban.  Mr. Cuban is a mental health and recovery advocate and the best-selling author of The Addicted Lawyer, Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow, and Redemption.  The presentation, which described his long struggle with addiction and mental health challenges, was tragic, at times humorous and, ultimately, inspiring.

Mr. Cuban’s story, while unique in its details, mirrored the challenges experienced by the vast majority of those who suffer from addiction and mental illness.  Anyone who has attended a Drug Court graduation has heard remarkably similar stories of heartbreak, pain, lost opportunity and broken relationships.

A history of low self-esteem and poor body image prompted Mr. Cuban’s illness.  He described his abuse of alcohol during college and law school coupled with anorexia nervosa and, eventually, bulimia nervosa.  Abuse of alcohol progressed to a cocaine addiction.  Inevitable consequences followed such as multiple failed marriages and the loss of his career as an attorney.

I believe that Mr. Cuban is very fortunate to be alive.  He would, no doubt, agree.  His illness led him to contemplate suicide but, luckily for him, mental health intervention and twelve step programs eventually provided him with a path to recovery.  As of this year, he has been sober for eleven years.  Mr. Cuban described how he has managed to come to grips with the issues that gave rise to his addiction and how he has made great progress in learning to love himself.

Of all of the stories and anecdotes shared by Mr. Cuban, one particular comment resonated with me.  He lamented the fact that, despite his clumsy efforts to practice law (including going to court) while drunk and high, not a single colleague at the bar attempted to intervene.  No one asked if he was okay.  No one asked if he needed help.

Fortunately, significant progress in lawyer assistance has been achieved in recent years.  Our Association’s efforts began in earnest in the 1970s following the death of a prominent member of the bar.  The BAMC formed what was then known as the Lawyer to Lawyer Committee, now the Lawyer Assistance Committee.

The problems in our profession are widespread and profound.  The most recent comprehensive study on attorney well-being was commissioned by the American Bar Association.  Partnering with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the effort studied approximately 13,000 practicing attorneys.  The report, published in 2016, found that between 21 and 36 percent of attorneys qualify as problem drinkers.  Twenty-eight percent struggle with depression.  Nineteen percent experience anxiety and 23 percent reported significant problems with stress.

The ABA report became a springboard for renewed efforts to address these issues, including the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.  The task forces’ recommendations are summarized in The Path to Lawyer Well-Being:  Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, published in August 2017.  Among the many recommendations are heightened awareness by the bench and bar of impaired lawyers and partnering with lawyer assistance programs.

Our Lawyer Assistance Committee is tasked with providing help to attorneys in coping with depression, substance abuse, personal issues and stress.  Through timely intervention, the committee attempts to minimize the impact of these problems and direct the affected individual to resources that address the underlying issues.  In practice, our committee acts as the local arm for the MSBA’s Lawyer Assistance Program which has more substantial resources and staffing.

As members of the bar, we are uniquely situated to identify symptoms of addiction or mental illness in our colleagues.  We notice (or should notice) when a lawyer begins missing deadlines and court appearances or appears to be impaired during a meeting or deposition.  Mr. Cuban described such behaviors which, presumably, were noticed by other attorneys and ignored.  A similar situation is described in The Lawyer, the Addict, a July 2017 New York Times article about a brilliant and successful attorney who died alone of a drug overdose.  That piece describes the blind eye that the profession turned on that particular attorney’s addiction.

Great progress has been made in erasing the stigma of addiction.  In part, because of the opioid crisis, we have come to understand addiction better as an illness as opposed to a weakness or personal failing.  Nevertheless, many attorneys are either in denial or afraid of the impact of admitting addiction.  We can and should be brave enough to intervene.  We should ask what no one asked Brian Cuban:  Are you okay?  Do you need help?

Resources are available.  If you are aware of an attorney who needs help, you can make an anonymous referral to the Lawyer Assistance Committee.  All referrals are, by statute, confidential.  Further, under the Rules of Professional Conduct, information received in the course of lawyer assistance is exempt from the ethical reporting requirements.

The statistics above speak for themselves.  The BAMC, like all bar associations, has members who need help.  You can literally save a life.  Let’s recommit ourselves as a profession to reaching out to our members who need help.  Educate yourself about the life-saving work of the local and state lawyer assistance programs and take the time to intervene when necessary.

(Many thanks to William Hewitt (who, along with Karen Alegi, co-chairs our Lawyer Assistance Committee) and Richard London for their assistance with this article.)

Post-Script:   With this piece, I am relinquishing stewardship of this column to our incoming president, Steve Bienstock.  It has been a pleasure and a privilege to serve as your president for the last year.  I would like to extend my congratulations and best wishes to Steve as he begins his year at the helm of our Association.  I have no doubt that he will continue the successes and proud traditions of the BAMC in the year to come.

I would also like to thank the Executive Committee with whom I have had the privilege of serving during the past year:  Lauri Cleary (Immediate Past-President), Magistrate Keith Rosa (Treasurer), Donna McBride (Treasurer-Elect), Hon. Karen Ferretti (Secretary), Theresa Chernosky, Paul Chung, Aindrea Conroy, Leslie Janis, Rhian McGrath, David Merkin, Hon. Eric Nee, Jeremy Rachlin, Hon. Holly Reed, Revee Walters, Magistrate Clark Wisor, Carlotta Woodward and New Practitioners Chairs Joshua Bienstock and Joshua Schmand.

Last, and most certainly not least, my most heartfelt thanks and gratitude go out to our incredible bar staff who tirelessly conduct the day-to-day heavy lifting for our Association.  Special thanks to our Executive Director Julie Petersen (whose assistance and guidance have been invaluable to me during the past year) and Cindy Brandenburg (who has, among her many other duties, assisted me in the publication of this monthly column).

I look forward to seeing you at Law Day on May 4th!

Jim Mood