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Years ago, Georgia lawyer Michael S. always carried a half-full, half-pint of Scotch whisky under the seat of his car. When a policeman pulled him over, he’d turn off the engine, lock the doors, roll up the windows, grab the Scotch and finish it right in front of the officer. Then he’d take a Breathalyzer test. “I had five DUI arrests. No convictions,” he says. The trick: though he’d fail the Breathalyzer, there was no way to prove he’d been drinking while driving because he could argue that the Breathalyzer results came from the alcohol he’d drunk after he’d stopped the car. “I was insane with a law degree,” he says. “I was insane. I wasn’t stupid.” He also was an alcoholic. He still is, though he’s in recovery now and, after more than 20 years of sobriety, still attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings four or five times a week. He’s not alone. ALCOHOLISM AMONG LAWYERS Alcoholism affects 10 to 11 percent of the population; among lawyers, it’s 15 to 18 percent, according to three studies cited by Michael Cohen, a lawyer and recovering alcoholic who’s the executive director of Florida Lawyers Assistance Inc. and part of an American Bar Association team that coordinates lawyer assistance programs in the Southeast. Even more alarming, studies discussed in the Cleveland State University Journal of Law and Health suggest that nearly 70 percent of lawyers are likely candidates for alcohol-related problems. The question no one can answer, says Cohen, is whether the incidence of alcoholism among lawyers is higher because alcoholics have some psychological component that leads them to law school, or whether the stress of the profession triggers a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Either way, law provides lawyers with tools that may allow them to hide their problems more successfully — for a time, anyway — than those in other professions. Lawyers have the income to finance their habit and to buy their way out of some of its consequences; they have secretaries to cover for them; they have autonomy and control over their practices and they have the training, as Michael S.’s DUI avoidance method shows, to use the law to avoid detection. (Georgia law has changed, and his technique no longer would work). For Michael S., 52, heavy drinking was part of the Irish Catholic culture of his growing up years in the Northeast, he says. He’d go to local taverns to cash his paycheck (an accepted custom), then stick around to drink and talk, he says. When he moved to Atlanta to practice law about 30 years ago, he realized that heavy drinking wasn’t as accepted there, so he became less open about it. He was working for the largest law firm in Georgia at that point, and doing a great deal of real estate work “which bored the hell out of me,” he says. “Tracking titles, it was easy to drink and work at the same time.” He left within a few years to start his own litigation practice and says he drank up much of approximately $15,000 meant to finance his office and library. He rarely drank at his office, but says he recalls drinking his lunch, then going to court and successfully arguing cases. By the mid-1970s, he says, “I was scraping bottom.” He was drinking about 1� quarts of Scotch a day, plus beer. He missed filing deadlines and was informally reprimanded by the bar. TURNING POINT The turning point came, however, in a series of events. While using a brief he’d written five years earlier as a template for another case with similar points of law, Michael S. says he compared his work and saw in the new brief “the clumsiness of language, the lack of acuity … It was the intellectual arrogance. I was always proud of how smart I was, and I realized I wasn’t so smart anymore.” Then his wife gave birth to their second child, who was retarded and needed open-heart surgery. “I could see it needed fatherhood and I wasn’t prepared to give it,” he says. And then he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Through his doctor, he was referred to a psychologist, but says he lied to the man for seven or eight months about how much he drank and its effect on his practice. Eventually, he made it to Alcoholics Anonymous and has been sober since 1977. Now with his own four-lawyer firm, he was active until recently helping counsel other lawyers and judges with alcohol problems through a State Bar of Georgia program. But two years ago, he says, the bar decided to outsource its program to a clinical counseling service called The Resource Center. Michael S. is clearly frustrated by the change, saying, “Recovering lawyers have been kind of shut out of that process. … There’s not the kind of recovering peer contact that there used to be.” SEPARATE AA FOR LAWYERS There are plans for a statewide group of lawyers who’ll act as counselors for other attorneys, and to start a separate Alcoholics Anonymous-type group just for lawyers, says Robert D. Ingram, a partner with Moore Ingram Johnson & Steele and the former chairman of the Lawyers Assistance Program committee, a bar group that oversees The Resource Center. The Resource Center was needed because of a growing bar membership, says the program’s current chairman, M.T. Simmons Jr., a lawyer with Simmons, Warren, Szczecko & McFee. The Resource Center offers a hotline and trained psychologists. With more than 20,000 Georgia Bar members, Simmons says, it’s impossible to adequately serve those in need with volunteers. The center now monitors or counsels 25 lawyers for alcohol and drug problems. It gets about 40 calls per year related to alcohol or drug issues, says Steven M. Brown, associate director of the center. That’s not many, considering that statistics show 15 to 18 percent of lawyers are alcoholics. With 24,500 in-state bar members, as many as 4,400 could be alcoholics. Clearly, says Brown, many people need treatment, but aren’t getting it. And some of the very qualities that make lawyers successful in their profession — competitiveness, a manipulative nature and the ability to keep secrets — also make them vulnerable to alcohol and drug abuse and keep them from seeking treatment. But, says Michael S., getting help is essential because alcoholism is “an implosive kind of disease. You start burning off people who would otherwise be your friends.” The Lawyer Assistance Program hotline, available 24 hours a day, is at 1-800-327-9631. Services are confidential and callers are not reported to the bar or to any disciplinary committee. Bar members are entitled to two free counseling sessions and unlimited phone calls. Further counseling can be arranged.

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