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Businessman analysing report.

Dear Patrick:

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Law Firms Mentioned

[caption id="attachment_19878" align="aligncenter" width="525"]<a href="http://www.almcms.com/contrib

    /uploads/sites/292/2017/10/thumb.jpg"><img class="wp-image-19878 size-full" src="http://www.almcms.com/contrib

      /uploads/sites/292/2017/10/thumb.jpg" width="525" height="350" /></a> Businessman analysing report.[/caption] Dear Patrick: What is the role of law firm staff when it comes to the addiction or mental health problems of lawyers they support? What do you suggest we do when we observe these problems? Martha in California Dear Martha: Great question, and one I am glad somebody finally asked! In short, your role is entirely pivotal, yet often completely overlooked. For a variety of reasons, staffers are theoretically often in the best position to know when a lawyer is struggling with an addiction or mental health problem, yet practically speaking, they are frequently either ill-equipped or not empowered to make the difference that they could. <a href="http://www.almcms.com/contrib

        /uploads/sites/292/2017/10/Well-Counseled-Bug-Vert-201710021809.jpg"><img class="alignleft size-medium wp-image-19883" src="http://www.almcms.com/contrib

          /uploads/sites/292/2017/10/Well-Counseled-Bug-Vert-201710021809-199x300.jpg" alt="" width="199" height="300" /></a>Let���s start by examining why staff are well positioned to know when a lawyer might be struggling. First, they tend to work closely with the lawyers they support, and often are in regular���if not constant���contact with them. This level of interaction is typically far greater than lawyers in a firm may regularly have with each other, unless they happen to be part of the same small practice group, or are working on the same client matter. The sheer volume of lawyer-to-support staff communication makes it more likely that staff will have a better sense of what���s happening in the lawyer���s day-to-day life, as well as any changes in behavior or marked departure from routines. Second, staff frequently see the unfiltered���or at least <em>less</em> filtered���version of a lawyer���s personality. As a group, lawyers can be obsessive about managing their images and reputations with clients and other lawyers. The one group with whom they are more likely to let their guard down is staff, the same people who are often ���in the trenches��� with the lawyer and working hard to ensure that he or she is successful. This is not to say that the heightened candor and authenticity that may exist in a lawyer-staff relationship means a lawyer is always going to confide the personal challenges to an assistant or paralegal. It does mean, however, that staffers have a much better chance of catching a glimpse behind the curtain than other lawyers in the firm might. Third and most unfortunately, support staff are sometimes directly involved���wittingly or unwittingly���in the ongoing dysfunction of the lawyers they support. It is common for lawyers with a substance use or mental health problem to rely on their staff more than usual to bail them out of problematic situations, cover for their mistakes, or pick up additional slack to ensure a client matter doesn���t get botched. While this sort of safety net that many staff provide to impaired lawyers is exactly what a firm (and the client) should want, it���s critical to understand that in such a scenario, staffers are also functioning as enablers of the addiction or mental health disorder. The longer it takes for a lawyer���s problems to become apparent and for some sort of intervention to occur, the worse the underlying condition is likely to become, and the greater the ultimate risk to the attorney, the client and the firm. So, what should firms do to ensure that staff is playing a positive and productive role in this area? Educate and empower. Before I address those points, however, let me briefly acknowledge the perverse structural incentive that many staff mistakenly perceive to exist around attorney addiction and mental health. Put bluntly, staffers sometimes believe that by covering for or enabling a dysfunctional attorney they support, they are protecting their own interests���meaning, their jobs. Although on some level understandable, this thinking is both wrong and shortsighted. Staffers are employees of, and duty-bound to, the firm, not the specific lawyer they support. Personal allegiances must be put aside. Furthermore, the progressive nature of untreated addiction and mental health problems means that by covering for an impaired lawyer, they are likely delaying the inevitable and all but ensuring worse consequences when truth eventually surfaces. Returning to the education piece of the puzzle, at a minimum it is crucial that firms provide staff at least some training or educational materials related to addiction and mental health distress warning signs. Not only could such training help staff recognize problems in themselves or another staff member, it could make all the difference in the world in understanding and acting upon the strange, uncharacteristic, or troublesome behavior they may be witnessing in the lawyers they support. Equally as crucial as the education, staff must feel empowered to do something about warning signs or problematic behavior they observe. Firm management should ensure that staffers understand (and believe) that they will not face retaliation or retribution for reporting a problem, and that they in fact have a duty to do so which is just as important as their other essential job functions. In other words, failure to report a problem should carry the same consequences as failing to perform in any other area of their job. Only when staff personnel feel comfortable in their knowledge of what to look for, and secure enough in their position to take action, will a law firm realize the full potential that staff have to reduce the incidence of addiction and mental health distress among the lawyers they support. Have a question? Send it to <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a> and I���ll see you back here soon! <em>Patrick R. Krill is the founder of Krill Strategies, a behavioral health consulting firm focused exclusively on the legal industry. Go to��</em><a href="http://www.prkrill.com/">www.prkrill.com</a><em>��for more information.</em> <


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