JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)   by Sheila Blackford   ©2011   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.
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.