In his dark days, Dallas lawyer Brian Cuban would snort lines of cocaine in his law firm’s bathroom to keep going, masking the hangover from his night spent drugging and drinking.
In recovery for 10 years for substance use disorders, bulimia, depression and other mental health issues, Cuban, who worked as a solo and of counsel at small firms, stopped practicing law in 2007 and devoted his life to writing and public speaking around the country to help others with drug and alcohol addiction. His new book “The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow and Redemption,” goes into extreme detail about problems that started in college, progressed throughout his legal career and led to recovery.
We interviewed Cuban—who graduated in 1986 from University of Pittsburgh School of Law and whose billionaire brother Mark Cuban owns the NBA team the Dallas Mavericks—about his addiction and recovery. Here are his answers, edited for clarity and brevity.
Before you entered recovery, what substances were you using and how did it impact your career?
Jack Daniels was my drink of choice. Cocaine was my drug of choice. I also misused opioids when I could get my hands on it. I went from earning six figures as a lawyer to having one client left and no clients left. I spent every free cent I had—to the point of neglecting other things like bills and student loans—on cocaine. It became the linchpin in my destruction, my loss of a gainful career as an attorney. There were other mental health issues, too. You have to consider: I never wanted to be a lawyer. When I finally reached the point of no clients and went into recovery, getting sober and getting a lot of psychiatric therapy and exploring childhood mental health issues, I came to terms that [being a lawyer] wasn’t for me.
You’ve been in recovery since 2007. What work does it take every day to maintain that?
My family wanted me to go to residential treatment, but I refused. But I did go into 12-step, and for me, fortunately, 12-step combined with psychiatric therapy and medication—I take antidepressants—has been successful for me. I am lucky to have a strong family support structure. That together has helped me in long-term recovery. I do my own version of mindfulness. I think every day about where I am in my recovery, what I can do better and how I can be a better person. What I try to do every day is work with someone who needs help and I consider that very, very important in my recovery. It gives me the gratitude of knowing someone might take that first step. Every time I work with a law student or lawyer, someone in the legal profession, when I hear their story, I learn something new about myself. Every week, taking that new thing I learn, I hopefully improve my recovery.
What are the elements of “lawyer culture” can lead a lawyer toward addiction?
There’s a culture of drinking in the profession that starts in law school. Addicted law students become addicted lawyers. Depressed law students turn into depressed lawyers, unless you get help. The bar association happy hours, the law firm functions, the hard work, the social isolation—and you rely on previously learned coping skills of drinking to cope with that. Even in big law, you are billing all this time and don’t have a life. What happens? You turn to learned behaviors—learned in law school—going out to these happy hours, partying with other lawyers. We don’t learn the appropriate coping skills.
How should the legal profession change to stop this?
It’s a systematic issue that needs to have a systematic response. The response needs to start in law school, and law schools are getting better. Deans of students are getting better in being open to students with mental health issues. Law firms don’t have to be counseling units, but we can make it user-friendly for lawyers to seek help. The easiest thing to do: Get the lawyers assistance programs in to talk to your lawyers more than once a year. Make sure the lawyers and staff know what is available in the employee assistance program. Create a mental health committee that has a point person for lawyers to go to, for staff to go to, without repercussions. What paralegal wants to go report his named partner? What associate wants to go report his named partner? There needs to be a point person where people are comfortable they can go talk without repercussions.
Why do lawyers hide their addictions?
Fear is one [reason]: fear of losing your ability to maintain your style of living, fear of losing the ability to maintain any living, fear of the state bar, fear of your partner, fear of losing your job, fear of losing your client. The list of fear-based reasons is long. Two, vulnerability. Lawyers, as a profession, we have a difficult time showing and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. We are trained to take advantage of vulnerability in others. It’s an adversarial process. What’s the problem? One of the constant essentials in recovery is vulnerability; be vulnerable, and explore your feelings.
What should lawyers do instead about their addictions?
Tell somebody. Most addicts or people dealing with alcohol use or drugs hide it for as long as they can. It’s part of it—they are ashamed. They don’t want anyone to find out. I had a Ph.D. in hiding. Reach out to somebody. If you don’t trust the lawyers’ assistance program, reach out to someone in a 12-step; reach out to someone who went through it; reach out to your wife. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. People want to help you. You have to take that first step. That first step is scary: It carries all the fear of consequences. But it’s the fear of consequences coming any way, if you don’t do it now. It’s just a matter of time.
If there’s a lawyer who struggles with addiction who is reading this, what message do you hope to convey to him or her?
Recovery is possible. Redemption is possible. Start now, because today is as good as it’s ever going to get. No matter how bad it seems, no matter how bad it’s gone in your mind or in consequences, redemption and recovery are possible. The stories in my book prove it. My story proves it.