When can you sue an attorney for substance abuse?

It’s no secret that many attorneys often have to deal with high levels of stress. They have heavy workloads, busy lives and their actions can have life-changing effects on a number of their clients. Unfortunately, this stress has led numerous legal professionals down a darker path. A 2016 study by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation shows that nearly 20 percent of attorneys have a serious drinking problem.

If an attorney tries to downplay their substance abuse problems and does nothing to remedy it for a long period, they can damage themselves as well as any client that hires them. Alcoholism and drug abuse can lead to negligent or brash behavior that could cost someone thousands of dollars in their case. However, given how much legal malpractice cases have been made about impaired attorneys over the years, you will need a lot to convince the judge that your attorney’s personal problems ruined your chances at winning the case.

Search for signs

The American Bar Association has made a list of the most common symptoms you see in someone when they have a drug use disorder. Some of these signs include:

  • Messy physical appearance
  • Smelling like drugs or alcohol
  • Dramatic change in weight
  • Constant exhaustion
  • Late attendance or failure to show up
  • Drastic mood swings
  • Slurred speech

As with most legal malpractice cases, it isn’t enough to just prove that you saw these symptoms in your attorney. You have to demonstrate how these symptoms contributed to the failure of your case. Some examples are more direct than others. For example, inconsistent attendance could play a large role given how important client and attorney meetings are, and maybe they missed crucial court dates in the process.

You can also connect some symptoms to general failures as well. If they had a planning error, miscalculated something or showed failure to apply proper law, then you could potentially connect their more obvious substance abuse signs such as exhaustion to them overlooking a key detail. However, the more direct the symptom is to the problem, the better. You can’t just say you lost your case because your lawyer had bloodshot eyes.

It may come later

Some attorneys are good at hiding their substance abuse problems in front of their client. However, those who do not handle their problems soon may deal with worse consequences later. Despite the State Bar of California’s attempts to offer programs to attorneys to deal with any alcohol or drug-related issues, it still states that an attorney failing to recognize any issues with stress or substance abuse is one of the leading causes of a legal malpractice lawsuit.

If your legal malpractice lawsuit may not happen immediately after you lose your case, you may still get the chance later on. Perhaps their unchanging habits led to another client losing their case, only this one tries to fight back by filing a legal malpractice lawsuit. With their substance abuse problems now more public than before, you may have the opportunity to gain back what you have lost from their mistakes.

While substance abuse is a common reason for legal malpractice lawsuits, it is not always straightforward. It can be difficult for some to determine if they have the proper proof to successfully file a claim against their former attorney. Whether it is during or after the trial, you may want to consider seeking out additional legal assistance if you suspect something is off about your current attorney.