An Untimely Death – Preventable

Do you realize how many times suicide is the cause of the “untimely death” of many lawyers? It is preventable. It is unpleasant and scary to admit there is a concern.

Here are some signs of impairment that can help alert you that someone you know may be at risk.

• Not returning phone calls to clients and opposing counsel.
• Not available when clients or opposing counsel attempt to reach lawyer at the office.
• The voicemail has a message that says it is full.
• The lawyer doesn’t follow through in delivering work product, answers, or return calls as promised.
• Contact with the lawyer leaves impression of distractibility, difficulty tracking conversation, or other indications of cognitive difficulty such as slurred or halting speech.
• Lawyer may be abusing alcohol or drugs and now exhibits disheveled appearance or poor personal hygiene, alcohol on breath or exuded from pores.
• Lawyer’s behavior has changed dramatically. Edginess, agitation, hair-trigger angry outbursts are often dismissed as “just having a bad time lately.”
• The lawyer seems to disappear for periods of time that is unexplained.
• The lawyer has missed deadlines and court appearances.
• The lawyer’s personal finances are in bad shape: loans and credit cards and other accounts in collections and is dodging evictions.
• The lawyer, if working for a firm, is in trouble for chronic absenteeism or “flakiness” or has recently been fired or subject to an abrupt “mutual parting of the ways.”
• The lawyer has recently moved to an executive office suite or virtual office but is never there when you check with the receptionist.
• There may be multiple “attempted delivery” tags taped to the door or a pile of mail can be seen through the mail slot in the door.
• The lawyer doesn’t come to the door though you can hear sounds of someone in the office.
• The lawyer begins to vanish or self isolate a few months before he or she finally commits suicide.
Resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
ABA Commission of Lawyers Assistance Programs (CoLAP)
Directory of State Lawyer Assistance Programs
For further information, I highly recommend you download and listen to the following provided as a free service to ABA members. What Lawyers Need to Know About Suicide During a Recession: Prevention, Identity and Law Firm Responsibility (Free MP3 Audio Download)Co-sponsored by the ABA Commission of Lawyer Assistance Programs.

About smblackford

Sheila Blackford received her B.A. from Mills College and her J.D. with Tax Law Concentration from McGeorge School of Law. A member of the Oregon State Bar since 2000, she is active with the American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section, where she is Editor-in-Chief of Law Practice magazine and Chair of the Law Practice Magazine Editorial Board 2011-present, a member of the Section Council (2010-present), State and Local Bar Outreach Committee (2008-present), and Ethics Committee (2011-present). She also served as a member of the track advisory board for ABA TECHSHOW (2007, 2008, 2009, 2012). Ms. Blackford has been a Practice Management Advisor for the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund since 2005. She is a member of the Adjunct Faculty at University of Oregon School of Law, teaching Law Practice Management. A former sole practitioner, she provides confidential practice management assistance to Oregon attorneys to reduce their risk of malpractice claims and ethics complaints. In addition to her legal experience, she has over 10 years of teaching and marketing experience. She is a frequent speaker about practice management for law-related organizations, including the Professional Liability Fund, the Oregon State Bar, the American Bar Association, and the Upper Law Society of Canada. She is a contributing author to the Fee Agreement Compendium published by the OSB and to the PLF law practice management handbooks. Her articles frequently appear in legal publications, including the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, In Brief, Law Practice Magazine and Law Practice TODAY, and LTN Law Technology News. In between articles, she writes the Just Oregon Lawyers blog and tweets technology and practice management tips on Twitter, @sheilablackford.
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