Should I Help the Impaired Lawyer?

We are a self-regulating profession with a duty to, promote the administration of justice and preserve the integrity of the organized Bench and Bar. Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct establishes an affirmative duty to report a lawyer engaging in unprofessional conduct. This canon is analogous to Rule 8.3 “Reporting Professional Misconduct” (Rules of Professional Conduct) which requires lawyers to report the substantial misconduct of attorneys. (See Rule 8.3 and the Comments thereto.)

Lawyers suffering from untreated alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, emotional or mental health disorders will eventually harm their clients, disrupt our system of justice, and cause problems within your court. Sooner or later you will be faced with the decision of whether or not to report an attorney’s professional misconduct. Although JCJ cannot advise you in these matters, we can put you in touch with an ethics lawyer who can assist you in making an informed decision about whether or not to report.

There is also a humane side to the issue – can we really sit on the sidelines and watch a lawyer descend into the depths of despair, dysfunction, disbarment and sometimes death?

Nevertheless we may hesitate getting involved. Isn’t this a private matter better left to friends and family? The fact is that friends and family may not know what to do or have been unsuccessful in their efforts to intervene. Attorneys are adept at overpowering non-lawyers. Sometimes it takes an authority figure to pierce the cloak of denial. No one can catch his or her attention as well as a judge.

Do I Have the Authority to Get Involved?

There is no specific rule or canon that expressly authorizes judges to call JCJ regarding an impaired lawyer. However, the following is undeniable evidence that the Supreme Court understands (1) that lawyers can suffer from debilitating illnesses that may contribute to professional misconduct; (2) lawyers should be provided an opportunity to demonstrate rehabilitation; and (3) lawyers and judges are encourage to utilize LCL/JCJ’s services.

  • Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Seymour Braun, 553 A.2d894 (Pa. 1989); “We conclude, as the Board did, that the evidence supports the finding that respondent’s neurotic condition was a causal factor in producing the several elements of his professional misconduct. Psychiatric disorder is an appropriate consideration as a mitigating factor in a disciplinary proceeding, and in this case, the psychiatric disorder persuades us to impose a sanction less severe than disbarment.”
  •  204 Pa. Code §89.293 Substance Abuse Probation: provides a mechanism for an attorney to be placed on probation in cases of alcohol or drug abuse with the appointment of a sobriety monitor.
  • Numerous disciplinary decisions by the Supreme Court utilizing probation and the appointment of a mental health monitor in lieu of suspension.
  •  Authorizing the funding of LCL from lawyers’ license fees since 1992.

Learn More:

Warning Signs of an
Impaired Lawyer

Some Practical Advice

“Motivational Interventions – A Proven Strategy to Reach Someone in Distress”