Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 17

WHAT TO DO WHEN

YOU

THE CRISIS REACHES

T

he more than 2,000 opioid-related
lawsuits still pending have meant busy
dockets for attorneys and judges in
cities and counties across the United
States. However, legal professionals are
also involved in the epidemic on a
personal level.
In October 2019, an autopsy report revealed that
Guilford County, North Carolina, Chief District
Court Judge Tom Jarrell died from "fentanyl and
heroin intoxication," sending shockwaves to the
legal community. Jarrell was found unresponsive
on his bedroom floor in August.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of similar
stories. The opioid crisis has no boundaries,
so it should come as no surprise that the legal
profession has experienced the ill effects.
Furthermore, the 2016 American Bar Association/
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study on lawyer
impairment proved that legal professionals are
at an elevated risk of experiencing substance
use disorders.
No attorney is immune from these issues, and
when they suffer, so do their practice and potentially their clients. If you notice yourself or another
attorney having problems, what should you do?

Courtesy of Schumack Law Firm

Daniel Schumack of the Schumack Law Firm
works with attorneys on ethical issues and
defends Bar complaints. He emphasizes that
every situation surrounding mental health
and substance use is unique. In some cases,
Schumack says, the employee going through

difficulties may choose to self-report and seek
assistance to help manage his or her workload.
In other situations a firm may have good reason
to suspect a problem - due to personality
changes, a drop in productivity or attendance,
or an inability to remember events - and brings
it up with the attorney, who then opens up. And,
in other instances, a lawyer may not admit to any
mental health or substance use issues, even
when confronted.
"Most lawyers don't start any kind of outreach
until there's a crisis," says Schumack. "That's not
to say that substance use is not a crisis in and of
itself, but [it's] a crisis where they think they're
about to lose their job or have a client that's
unhappy with them."
Schumack adds that if the situation escalates,
coworkers are obligated to seek out assistance,
but the response depends on the situation and
their firm. "Pay attention to the hierarchy of your
firm. Discussions will be easier to have if you're
someone's manager, but could be relatively difficult if you're clerical level and confronting
someone above you," says Schumack. "Lawyers
have a duty to protect clients of the firm."
Created to safeguard the public and the courts
from unethical conduct by attorneys, the Office
of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) investigates misconduct and issues the appropriate resolution if
necessary. Joseph Perry, an assistant disciplinary
counsel with the ODC, agrees with Schumack
that clients must be protected.

"

Even if you don't perceive any harm
to your clients or firm, getting help
for that attorney is crucial.
DANIEL SCHUMACK
Schumack Law Firm

By Jeffery Leon

Perry highlights Rules 5.1 and 5.3, which
mandate that firms and firm leaders have a
duty to ensure compliance with the D.C. Rules
for lawyers and nonlawyers.
"If someone in that firm is suffering from a disability, such as a substance use or mental health
issue, and the situation goes awry, the firm is
likely to be sued," says Perry. "Someone else in
that firm might want to ask themselves what
their answer might be when asked on the
stand what they did about it."
Schumack says large firms usually have a system
in place to address attorney issues and protect
their clients. If an attorney notices a troublesome
change in a coworker's behavior, he or she
should bring the situation to a trusted superior
who can determine the best course of action.
Schumack also strongly recommends reaching
out to the D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program
(LAP) for further advice. The LAP can be especially helpful if you're in a small firm and lack
the resources of a larger firm. It also provides
extensive services to address substance abuse,
mental health problems, and stress management. If it seems that the attorney is compromised, he recommends calling the D.C. Bar
Legal Ethics Helpline for further advice. Both
of these resources are free and confidential.
"Even if you don't perceive any harm to your
clients or firm, getting help for that attorney is
crucial," says Schumack.
Denise Perme, manager of the LAP, says the Bar
offers a wealth of services for attorneys. "The LAP
is staffed by licensed clinical social workers with
many years of experience helping lawyers be
mentally and emotionally healthier lawyers," says
Perme. "We have helped folks with relationship
problems, family issues, grief, mental illness,
addiction, stress, and more."
The LAP offers free and confidential mental
health, addiction, and other well-being services
for judges, lawyers, and law students. The
confidential phone number is 202-347-3131.
Attorneys and others can also reach the LAP by
email at lap@dcbar.org.

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2020

*

WASHINGTON LAWYER

17



Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar Of Events
The Opioid Litigation Wars
The Art Of Wellness: Law Firms Get Creative
Combating Secondary Trauma
Debating The Path Forward On Health Care Reform
Taking The Stand
On Further Review
Member Spotlight
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Speaking Of Ethics
Disciplinary Summaries
Community & Connections
Special Section: Counting Down To The 2020 Conference
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 1
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 2
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 3
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 5
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 7
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 9
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 11
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Calendar Of Events
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 13
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - The Opioid Litigation Wars
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 15
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 16
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 17
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 18
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 19
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - The Art Of Wellness: Law Firms Get Creative
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 21
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 22
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 23
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 24
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 25
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Combating Secondary Trauma
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 27
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 28
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 29
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 30
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 31
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Debating The Path Forward On Health Care Reform
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 33
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 34
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 35
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 36
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 37
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Taking The Stand
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 39
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 41
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 43
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 44
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 46
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Speaking Of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 49
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Special Section: Counting Down To The 2020 Conference
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 53
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 54
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 55
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover4
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