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The Legal Industry Has A Drinking Problem, Study Says

The Legal Industry Has A Drinking Problem, Study Says


Source: Law360

By Aebra Coe

February 3, 2016


More than one in five practicing attorneys can be considered problem drinkers, and younger attorneys in their first 10 years of practice are at an even higher risk of abusing alcohol, according to an American Bar Association study released on Wednesday.


Attorneys in the U.S. experience problematic drinking that is hazardous, harmful or otherwise consistent with alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations and report high levels of other mental health issues as well, the study by the ABA and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation revealed.


The study was published this week in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. According to the ABA, it marks the first nationwide attempt to capture data on alcohol abuse within the legal profession. Approximately 15,000 attorneys from 19 states participated.


“This long-overdue study clearly validates the widely held but empirically undersupported view that our profession faces truly significant challenges related to attorney well-being,” attorney and clinician Patrick R. Krill, lead author of the study, said. “Any way you look at it, this data is very alarming, and paints the picture of an unsustainable professional culture that’s harming too many people. Attorney impairment poses risks to the struggling individuals themselves and to our communities, government, economy and society.”


The study found that 21 percent of licensed, employed attorneys qualify as problem drinkers, 28 percent struggle with some level of depression and 19 percent demonstrate symptoms of anxiety.


The study compared attorneys with other professionals, including doctors, and found that lawyers experience alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations.


Associates in their first decade of practice experienced the highest rates of problem drinking, 28.1 percent, the study found. The number dropped to 19.2 percent among attorneys in their second decade of professional life, and 15.6 percent for attorneys in their third decade of practice.


The study also found that within the profession, men are much more likely to abuse alcohol than women. The rate of problem drinking among men was 25.5 percent and among women it was 15.5 percent.


Reasons cited by attorneys for not seeking help include a fear of others finding out and general concerns about confidentiality, the study said.


Linda Albert, a co-author of the study and representative of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, said there are “countless” ways this data could benefit the profession.


“While the numbers themselves are disheartening, the instructive value of the information is enormous and tells us that the problem is best approached from a systems perspective. All sectors of the profession will benefit from reading, understanding and utilizing this important study, and now we can better develop strategies for preventing and addressing substance use problems and mental health concerns in this population.”