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pointsman

Lawyers in Recovery

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Hey guys,

 

I'll be starting my third year of LS this fall at an Ontario school. I'm looking forward to articling and practicing after I graduate. I understand well that prospects for work/life balance are going to be dim for at least a few years, but this doesn't concern me very much because I know that I will be passionate about the work that I will be doing.

 

However, I have a bit of a problem. I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. I have been clean and sober since my last semester of undergrad, 4.5 years ago. Between undergrad and LS I took two years to work at a 9-5 job that would allow me to focus on my recovery and develop a healthy no-substances lifestyle. I go to plenty of 12-step meetings and try to exercise lots. I have accepted that I will have to do this for the rest of my life. In the past few years I have seen lots of people--unfortunately, usually those who fall on the more accomplished and intelligent side of the spectrum--think that after a few weeks/months they are "fixed," stop going to meetings or whatever they were doing, and then end up worse than ever before. I know that this could happen to me if I let my guard down but I'd rather it didn't.  Although LS has been insanely busy, I have been able to maintain my healthy lifestyle mostly due to LS's flexbility, i.e., I can organize my study schedule around the things I need to do for my recovery.

 

I am concerned that I might end up working somewhere where this won't be possible. I realize that addiction is a recognized disability and that an employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to accomodate it, but it's hard not to imagine it hurting me in some way in the future. It also doesn't help that drinking is such a huge part of the legal profession.

 

I am wondering if anyone has any direct or indirect experience with this kind of situation. Is it best to tell your employer up front that you are an addict? Do you think employers at big firms where everyone works long hours will understand if someone needs to go to a meeting or counsellor or whatever a couple of nights a week?

 

Thanks.

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I don't work in a firm, so I can't give you any input based on experience, but some of these threads might be of interest to you:

 

Mental health on Bay Street

Mental Illness and the Legal Profession

The Hurting Profession

 

Fwiw, the legal community is rife with addiction. If anything, having already recognized and developed methods to deal with the situation puts you ahead of the curve in many respects.

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Hey guys,

 

I'll be starting my third year of LS this fall at an Ontario school. I'm looking forward to articling and practicing after I graduate. I understand well that prospects for work/life balance are going to be dim for at least a few years, but this doesn't concern me very much because I know that I will be passionate about the work that I will be doing.

 

However, I have a bit of a problem. I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. I have been clean and sober since my last semester of undergrad, 4.5 years ago. Between undergrad and LS I took two years to work at a 9-5 job that would allow me to focus on my recovery and develop a healthy no-substances lifestyle. I go to plenty of 12-step meetings and try to exercise lots. I have accepted that I will have to do this for the rest of my life. In the past few years I have seen lots of people--unfortunately, usually those who fall on the more accomplished and intelligent side of the spectrum--think that after a few weeks/months they are "fixed," stop going to meetings or whatever they were doing, and then end up worse than ever before. I know that this could happen to me if I let my guard down but I'd rather it didn't.  Although LS has been insanely busy, I have been able to maintain my healthy lifestyle mostly due to LS's flexbility, i.e., I can organize my study schedule around the things I need to do for my recovery.

 

I am concerned that I might end up working somewhere where this won't be possible. I realize that addiction is a recognized disability and that an employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to accomodate it, but it's hard not to imagine it hurting me in some way in the future. It also doesn't help that drinking is such a huge part of the legal profession.

 

I am wondering if anyone has any direct or indirect experience with this kind of situation. Is it best to tell your employer up front that you are an addict? Do you think employers at big firms where everyone works long hours will understand if someone needs to go to a meeting or counsellor or whatever a couple of nights a week?

 

Thanks.

 

I think this is a conversation you can have with your mentor or human resources or someone you trust after you start work, I don't think this is a conversation I would have during interviews. I also note that even giving advice on this is kind of close to the line on employment law/human rights advice, but I suppose it's in keeping with a lot of commentary on here over the years.

 

I will say that this issue will come up from time to time, you will be around alcohol at events and parties, and you just need to find a way to deal with that or avoid them. I don't think attending meetings is an issue, but you'll have to probably schedule your work commitments around them.

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Thanks Hegdis,

 

I know what you mean. I've met many lawyers in the past few years in treatment and elsewhere. All of them were partners who didn't realize they had a problem until after they had gotten married and raised a family or whatever. What I haven't met is any articling students or juniors--people who are expected to suck it up and sacrifice nearly everything to make the cut.

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A few thoughts, usual don't rely on them without checking/researching/considering yourself, I'm not even thinking about employment/disability-related law.

 

Check with LSUC (or whoever it is in your province) e.g. LSUC has resources, reports (sometimes a few years old) with experiences, people working re discrimination, you're not the first person with these concerns. Whether or not anything should be told to the firm (I don't know requirements), don't conceal anything from the law society.

 

If TLDR stop here.

 

First, focus on being professional and having good articles and maintaining your healthy drug-free status ahead of being hired back. I say that not to be negative, but to keep your priorities straight. Turning down work because you genuinely have a health-related reason why you can't do it, and there are others in the office who can, is something you may have to do.

 

Second, as you and pretty much everyone knows, addiction (especially related to stress) is common among lawyers, I don't know if the free assistance programs are also open to articling students or law students, but if not I'm sure there are other resources, make contacts and follow-up now if at all possible.

 

Third, let's say there's one person in HR, or a trusted partner/mentor (whether or not your articling principal) at the firm who is aware of your situation and agrees you need e.g. 2 specific evening time slots for meetings or counselling or whatever. Couldn't you just tell lawyers assigning work, "I'm happy to do that for you, I have a regular required health-related appointment Tuesday evenings so I'll be getting to that afterwards around 9 PM" or whatever. I fenced regularly a couple of evenings a week while articling (admittedly years ago), and almost never had to miss it, I just frequently had to return to work afterwards -- and that was for fun (and stress release) not required for my health/life/stress as programs may be for you. 95% of the time (for me, at the time years ago) lawyers might need something by tomorrow morning, but with the rare exception of some motions or if in court the next day didn't need my work by a particular time that evening (e.g. I was still able to fence, take a dinner break, etc.). Assuming you are OK with occasionally missing meetings etc. when you are genuinely needed at a specific time and place, and are willing to return to work (either at the office or home) afterwards, I wouldn't think most lawyers would have a problem even with the vague "health-related appointment" reason.

 

Fourth, for the social stuff someone mentioned, assuming you have no problem being in the presence of alcohol so long as you avoid drinking it, what's wrong with simply ordering non-alcoholic drinks and if anyone asks say it's for health reasons? I say "for health reasons" and "health-related appointment" because I think that's true, and also you're not revealing anything that's none of their business. Some people -- even one recent business lunch -- choose to say that e.g. they've been sober for X years, but there's certainly no need to do so.

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Fourth, for the social stuff someone mentioned, assuming you have no problem being in the presence of alcohol so long as you avoid drinking it, what's wrong with simply ordering non-alcoholic drinks and if anyone asks say it's for health reasons? I say "for health reasons" and "health-related appointment" because I think that's true, and also you're not revealing anything that's none of their business. Some people -- even one recent business lunch -- choose to say that e.g. they've been sober for X years, but there's certainly no need to do so.

 

I'm with epeeist on this. The specifics of your health concerns are none of their business. You can choose to share this information with them, but you don't owe it to anyone to do so. A vague reference to health should suffice; no one is going to be rude enough to pry.

Edited by omph

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Yeah, I don't see much benefit to disclosing it, until you find someone you feel you want to trust with the information because you know they'll support you.

 

There is a lot of social pressure to drink as a lawyer because of the amount of dinners, cocktail parties, after-work drinks etc. always going on. But there are always people at those things who don't drink. Just politely decline and tell people you don't drink. They could think it's because you're a recovering addict, but it could be personal health, religious, maybe you're pregnant... could be anything.

 

It's not that hard to fence off a few evenings a week. Most people around here have at least one where they're playing sports, or in some other social group. Sometimes you have to cancel for work, but it's not that often where you really can't get away. One great thing about this job is that although you have a lot of work, there's generally a ton of personal flexibility about when and where you do it.

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One of the things you might want to focus on when you start your articling job search is smaller offices.

 

While this is an extremely general statement and there are always exceptions, smaller offices that only hire one or two students frequently lack the competitive atmosphere that big firms with more students than positions do. Smaller offices are also more likely to have a 9-6 kind of atmosphere with weekends off. That isn't to say you wouldn't be called in to work overtime when there's a deal or a trial in the works; but it's less likely this would be the norm. (I am assuming here that stress may be a trigger for relapse; these suggestions are about reducing your stress level where possible.)

 

As for social occasions, I agree with other posters - "I don't drink" is sufficient if you're asked. I don't think you'll find many people attempt to pry past that. But if you are able to be present where alcohol is consumed without risking your recovery, make sure you go out along with the crowd. Just order a perrier or whatever. The face time and networking is the point, not the consumption.

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A few thoughts, usual don't rely on them without checking/researching/considering yourself, I'm not even thinking about employment/disability-related law.

 

Check with LSUC (or whoever it is in your province) e.g. LSUC has resources, reports (sometimes a few years old) with experiences, people working re discrimination, you're not the first person with these concerns. Whether or not anything should be told to the firm (I don't know requirements), don't conceal anything from the law society.

 

If TLDR stop here.

 

First, focus on being professional and having good articles and maintaining your healthy drug-free status ahead of being hired back. I say that not to be negative, but to keep your priorities straight. Turning down work because you genuinely have a health-related reason why you can't do it, and there are others in the office who can, is something you may have to do.

 

Second, as you and pretty much everyone knows, addiction (especially related to stress) is common among lawyers, I don't know if the free assistance programs are also open to articling students or law students, but if not I'm sure there are other resources, make contacts and follow-up now if at all possible.

 

Third, let's say there's one person in HR, or a trusted partner/mentor (whether or not your articling principal) at the firm who is aware of your situation and agrees you need e.g. 2 specific evening time slots for meetings or counselling or whatever. Couldn't you just tell lawyers assigning work, "I'm happy to do that for you, I have a regular required health-related appointment Tuesday evenings so I'll be getting to that afterwards around 9 PM" or whatever. I fenced regularly a couple of evenings a week while articling (admittedly years ago), and almost never had to miss it, I just frequently had to return to work afterwards -- and that was for fun (and stress release) not required for my health/life/stress as programs may be for you. 95% of the time (for me, at the time years ago) lawyers might need something by tomorrow morning, but with the rare exception of some motions or if in court the next day didn't need my work by a particular time that evening (e.g. I was still able to fence, take a dinner break, etc.). Assuming you are OK with occasionally missing meetings etc. when you are genuinely needed at a specific time and place, and are willing to return to work (either at the office or home) afterwards, I wouldn't think most lawyers would have a problem even with the vague "health-related appointment" reason.

 

Fourth, for the social stuff someone mentioned, assuming you have no problem being in the presence of alcohol so long as you avoid drinking it, what's wrong with simply ordering non-alcoholic drinks and if anyone asks say it's for health reasons? I say "for health reasons" and "health-related appointment" because I think that's true, and also you're not revealing anything that's none of their business. Some people -- even one recent business lunch -- choose to say that e.g. they've been sober for X years, but there's certainly no need to do so.

 

In Ontario, the Member Assistance Programs are open to lawyers, articling students, spouse, dependents... It is paid for by the law society of upper canada and offered at no cost.

https://www.homewoodhumansolutions.com/MSA/lawsocietyuppercanada

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Hey guys,

 

I'll be starting my third year of LS this fall at an Ontario school. I'm looking forward to articling and practicing after I graduate. I understand well that prospects for work/life balance are going to be dim for at least a few years, but this doesn't concern me very much because I know that I will be passionate about the work that I will be doing.

 

However, I have a bit of a problem. I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. I have been clean and sober since my last semester of undergrad, 4.5 years ago. Between undergrad and LS I took two years to work at a 9-5 job that would allow me to focus on my recovery and develop a healthy no-substances lifestyle. I go to plenty of 12-step meetings and try to exercise lots. I have accepted that I will have to do this for the rest of my life. In the past few years I have seen lots of people--unfortunately, usually those who fall on the more accomplished and intelligent side of the spectrum--think that after a few weeks/months they are "fixed," stop going to meetings or whatever they were doing, and then end up worse than ever before. I know that this could happen to me if I let my guard down but I'd rather it didn't.  Although LS has been insanely busy, I have been able to maintain my healthy lifestyle mostly due to LS's flexbility, i.e., I can organize my study schedule around the things I need to do for my recovery.

 

I am concerned that I might end up working somewhere where this won't be possible. I realize that addiction is a recognized disability and that an employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to accomodate it, but it's hard not to imagine it hurting me in some way in the future. It also doesn't help that drinking is such a huge part of the legal profession.

 

I am wondering if anyone has any direct or indirect experience with this kind of situation. Is it best to tell your employer up front that you are an addict? Do you think employers at big firms where everyone works long hours will understand if someone needs to go to a meeting or counsellor or whatever a couple of nights a week?

 

Thanks.

 

Do you consider yourself to still be an "addict"?

 

Not going to comment here re employment.

 

You may of course already condisered how you will tackle the good character requirement/declaration on the articling and/or membership application forms of your chosen law society.

 

Edit: I have gone back to underline the subjective element here. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, your professional obligations to disclose matters to the law society, and to your employer, are not one and the same thing; your post is silent on the former.

Edited by HuskyHwy16

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Do you consider yourself to still be an "addict"?

 

Not going to comment here re employment.

 

You may of course already condisered how you will tackle the good character requirement/declaration on the articling and/or membership application forms of your chosen law society.

 

Once an addict always an addict, isn't that the theory? I don't know how that suggests he would fail the good character requirement, particularly if his addiction is in check and under control.

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Once an addict always an addict, isn't that the theory? I don't know how that suggests he would fail the good character requirement, particularly if his addiction is in check and under control.

 

Tough call - is it that easy?

 

No suggestion of the sort there at all.

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Do you consider yourself to still be an "addict"?

 

Not going to comment here re employment.

 

You may of course already condisered how you will tackle the good character requirement/declaration on the articling and/or membership application forms of your chosen law society.

 

Edit: I have gone back to underline the subjective element here. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, your professional obligations to disclose matters to the law society, and to your employer, are not one and the same thing; your post is silent on the former.

 

I agree with Pyke. "It's waiting for me in the hallway, doing pushups," we like to say, "it" being the addiction. I don't know of anybody who has been "cured." 

 

As for the good character concern, the disease concept of alcoholism was accepted by the AMA and the APA in the 50s or 60s, I believe. Probably the same with drug addiction. What I'm getting at is that no one worth taking seriously has viewed addiction as a moral failure in at least 50 years. Some people lag behind, sadly.

Edited by pointsman

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You seem sensible enough to me; sounds like you already know the answer to your original question then.

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In Ontario, the Member Assistance Programs are open to lawyers, articling students, spouse, dependents... It is paid for by the law society of upper canada and offered at no cost.

https://www.homewoodhumansolutions.com/MSA/lawsocietyuppercanada

HOW did I not know this? That would have been useful a while ago.

 

Aren't there AA meetings pretty much any time of the day or day of the week? There doesn't seem to be any need to tell your employer.

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