QI’m a mid-level litigation associate at a no-name firm in a no-name mid-level city. You can tell I love my job. I’m also a big drinker. Like take a shot before court. Party at night. Normally, it doesn’t interfere with work but two work friends recently said I “looked like shit.” Verbatim from both friends, different days. I also recently missed a court appearance in a pretty insignificant matter, not because of drinking but because I overslept. Honestly. That led to the firm’s managing partner having a sit down with me. Not that I revealed that I was an alcoholic, but I did say in my defense I had been up late drinking the night before because of work-related stress. I know, bad admission, and I suspect I’m on the short list now for a layoff or I’m being closely watched. Probably both. Advice?
AOK, so I’m going to piss you off and also piss off about thirty-five bar associations. You first.
You are a high-functioning alcoholic. And most of the friends and lawyers I know who have addressed drug or alcohol addiction ended up in rehab only after first hitting rock bottom. Serious rock bottom. As in lose your car, job, license, and dog rock bottom.
So, hombre, pick your rock bottom. Details of your DUI and a mugshot published in gossip-whore Above the Law? Viral YouTube video of you drunk in court? License suspended, job gone, piss in your pants at work rock bottom? Or is it none of the above and muddle your way through a bleak, guilt-ridden, angry, and paranoid hide-the-issue existence? Your choice, and that’s what it is. A choice.
Get help now. This is what I would do: first, plunk down at least $500 to hire a good employment lawyer whom you know and trust. An employment lawyer who handles PR cases would be a bonus. Get some advice. You aren’t suing anyone, just confidential legal advice about work. Get the lay of the land about how you should approach work and what you should or should not disclose. It’s investing in your career and can help you make, we hope, rational and sober business decisions.
Then get counseling. Sure, you think you can handle it, but your letter is just dripping with denial and avoidance (“I also recently missed a court appearance in a pretty insignificant matter, not because of drinking but because I overslept. Honestly.“) You aren’t handling it, and your two “work friends” are not the only ones who are noticing. Your secretary, your paralegal, the mailroom dudes are already pegging you as the guy who’s going to flame out. They’re probably taking bets, and your job now is not to give them better odds.
Now for the bar associations. Most bar associations have a service called Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, or LCL. It provides advice about drug and alcohol addiction, among other things, and can hook you up with counseling and services that are lawyer-friendly. I’d avoid it, other than to make a call to see what drug and alcohol rehab or other counseling referrals they have. Why? Because, like networking for clients, you are better off mixing it up with other professionals in some program. For me, it’s about being discreet. No matter what you do, inevitably they’ll be some LCL-sponsored meeting at the bar association office and, voila, some colleague runs into you and thinks, “whoa, he’s hanging with all the lawyers who fucked up.” Unfair, real shitty, but it’s reality. I invite LCL folks—or lawyers who have experience with it—to pipe in here and say otherwise.
Remember, you are a high-functioning alcoholic. But you’re not alone. Don’t handle it alone.