Most of my professional contact with my legal colleagues involves answering their questions about the ins and outs of dui defense. However, on some unfortunate occasions other lawyers consult with me as to the legal ramifications that may come to their law licenses because of a criminal arrest based upon alcohol and/or drugs.
It is estimated that as many as ten percent of the U.S population presently suffers from some form of alcohol and/or drug dependency issues. This figure is estimated to be higher for attorneys and those within other high stress occupations.
Many decent, hard working and otherwise brilliant attorneys can fall to the dependency issues of alcohol and drugs no differently than other good people. Too many among the general population are prone to put lawyers and doctors on a pedestal, somehow believing that professional and educational achievement renders such individuals immune to the chemical dependency issues befalling our society as a whole.
Lawyers themselves too often are reluctant to seek the help that they need. Not unlike other hard working people I deal with on an every day basis, many believe that a prideful self image simply cannot allow the suggestion that they are too weak to tackle any potential alcoholism or drug dependency issues on their own. While dogged self determination and confidence has often served such individuals well within their professional endeavors, waiting to long to address potential underlying issues of alcohol and/or drug dependency can risk putting the career one has worked so hard for in jeopardy.
My experience consulting with lawyers in this regard is a cautionary tale to members of all professions who needlessly delay confronting such issues head on for fear that their professional standing in the eyes of others, or to themselves will suffer.
Other professions have taken the lead in aiding those with alcohol/drug dependency issues. Nurses assistance programs nationwide have recognized the correlation between high stress environments nurses must operate in and the dependency that too often results from available access to drugs. Thankfully, the legal community in Indiana has now stepped up to get their own proverbial house in order in the form of the the Judges & Lawyers Assistance Program, also known as JLAP.
This valuable program stands ready to assist those within the Indiana legal community before potential alcoholism or drug dependency spirals out of control. In so doing, otherwise competent lawyers in Indiana can ensure that their abilities are at the highest level in handling cases for the public good. Further, JLAP’s very existence underscores that such lawyers needn’t be afraid of being castigated for admitting that they may be in need of help and that they are not alone.
Although the JLAP office in Indianapolis is in close proximity to the lawyer disciplinary commission, confidentiality is paramount to their efforts as no lawyer faces risk of being reported to the legal commission who has not been found guilty of a criminal offense.
At the present time, lawyers with first time dui arrests that are dismissed on the merits or through withheld legal prosecutions do not need to disclose such arrest. For this reason it can become unnerving for some lawyers to learn compelled reporting upon conviction must apply yet other lawyers who have been arrested within Indiana counties for which diversion agreements are still available may not be required at any time to report such an out of character first offense incident.
Whatever the factual or legal circumstances may be of a dui arrest, I am pleased to continue to aid any of my colleagues as I have done for many years in consulting how to most effectively preserve one’s legal standing while at the same time fulfilling all required ethical obligations required under Indiana’s disciplinary rules.
Should a lawyer suffer a first time dui conviction in the State of Indiana, proper handling, reporting and corrective action both pre and post conviction can in most circumstances allow the lawyer in question to continue his or her legal efforts without much career impediment. However, a first time offense involving verbal altercations with police officers, assaults, leaving the scene, etc. could prove more exhaustive as to the corrective action that may need to be taken even in first offense occurrences.
Self reporting requirements as to criminal convictions must be made as to any and all criminal convictions wherever or whenever they may be. Undisclosed former criminal convictions of which the Indiana supreme court is not made aware can result in a sanction as severe as disbarment from the practice of law.
One of the most rewarding experiences I have undertaken is to be entrusted to consult with other lawyers who have felt comfortable turning to me in the wake of alcohol and/or drug dependency issues in one form or another.
I much prefer for that dialogue to be in the preventative stage of assistance where a legal colleague can discreetly address his or her problems in this area effectively, so as to return as expeditiously as possible to a productive legal career. However, more often than not, I am on the receiving end of attempting to prevent a dui conviction from derailing a legal career one has worked so long and hard to undertake.
One presently engaged in any high stress profession is no different than any other good person among the general population fighting potential alcohol or drug dependency. As human beings, some of our genetic codes are more pre disposed than others to become dependent upon alcohol or drugs. This reality makes one’s individual efforts to break such addictions harder for some than for others.
As such, it it the role of a lawyer to recognize his or her own potential challenges as a human being, in conjunction with those as a lawyer. Only by acknowledging any potential alcohol and/or drug dependency issues that may at the present time or in the future be permitted to negatively impact their ability to practice their chosen profession can lawyers fulfill their ethical responsibilities to the public at large who depends on them.
Lawyers like myself as well as recognized organizations in Indiana such as JLAP are always available to speak with lawyers on a personal or professional basis should preventative action be needed or legal intervention be required.