Q:I am a partner in our fairly large law firm. After a secretary and several colleagues expressed concern about a senior partner's behavior (often seeming depressed and impaired by alcohol, although as far as we know his work has not suffered), several of us confronted him. He readily admitted to the problem, and has agreed to a month-long stay at a private facility. We were fortunate that he was so cooperative, since we really had no guidelines for handling the matter. We also wonder how we can be sure that he will continue, upon his return, to do whatever he needs to do in order to avoid slipping back to the condition that initially aroused our concerns.
A:LCL has two possible approaches to offer your firm.
In managing this particular situation after the partner completes inpatient rehabilitation and/or a residential program, LCL's longstanding monitoring program may be of use to him and you as a means of documenting his ongoing diligence in pursuing recovery. He, you and LCL would sign a contract for follow-up (often for two years) during which time he would agree to a number of provisions including (a) frequent attendance at self-help group meetings; (b) frequent contact with an LCL volunteer, a lawyer in longstanding recovery; (c) random urine testing; and (d) LCL communication with his professional outpatient treatment providers.
This process maximizes the likelihood of his sustaining recovery and continuing to function fully as a valuable contributor to the firm's mission.
With regard to future concerns about lawyers/firm employees, your firm may want to consider adopting an alcohol/drug/mental health policy. The ABA developed standards for a "model policy" some years ago, and we also have copies of sample policies previously implemented by Boston firms.
Typically, this kind of policy provides for:
• A committee of appropriate individuals (from various levels within the firm) who serve as a confidential point of contact;
• Spelling out what kinds of drinking/substance use are unacceptable where the firm is involved;
• A mechanism to identify and intervene with those who are impaired but do not seek assistance;
• Education/training for staff;
• A connection with a lawyer assistance program and/or employee assistance program; and
• An understanding that recurrent episodes of poor performance or inappropriate behaviors will lead to separation from the firm, but that the act of accessing treatment will not.
Our hope is that Massachusetts law firms, like individual lawyers, will think of LCL as a supportive resource for these kinds of situations where personal health and professional functioning intersect.
Questions quoted are either actual letters/emails or paraphrased and disguised concerns expressed by individuals seeking assistance from LCL.
Questions for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers may be mailed to LCL, 31 Milk St., Suite 810, Boston, MA 02109; e-mailed to [e-mail email]; or called in to (617) 482-9600. LCL's licensed clinicians will respond in confidence. Visit Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers online at www.lclma.org.