Scott’s Story: Lawyer in Trouble

Scott works at a law firm and just gets by at work. He has been with the firm for 20 years and has a reputation as a prime litigator. Scott’s performance has dwindled over the past 2 years. He tends to have less patience in the court room with judges by losing his cool periodically. He tends to come to work late, misses meetings and appears sluggish and fatigued. There are times when his coworkers walk past Scott or speak to him and smell a whiff of alcohol or strong Listerine. His desk begins to pile up with paper and his office is disorganized. He often asks his office assistant to cover for him with phone calls he rather not take. He begins to pass off very important cases to less experienced juniors in the office. He doesn’t share his personal life with anyone and he can be gruff to his office mates when responding to questions. Many of his peers notice the change, but are reluctant to talk to him because of his status with the firm. Something must be done, but what do you do?

You could let Scott hang himself, because you know at some point he will make a major mistake and he’ll be forced to address what’s going on. You could tell a superior and face the consequences of going above a superior or feeling like a rat. You could approach Scott and face a possible reprimand or get fired. What would you do?

First things first, I would begin to understand the policies and procedures and resources of your employer. Is there an Employment Assistance Program (EAP)? EAP is a confidential service that most large firms provide to support the well-being of their employees. If your company doesn’t have an EAP, the Lawyer’s Assistance Program is available to offer confidential mental health and substance abuse services to lawyers. They provide supportive services to lawyers without informing their employers. You could approach Scott and inform him of these confidential services. There is a way to communicate with him without getting him on the defensive. You can contact a case manager from the LAP and he or she will coach you on what to say in order to reduce the potential of backlash.

You could consult confidently with a superior without offering names and gain advice on how to address this issue.

Ultimately, whatever you decide is a personal decision and you have to weigh the pros and cons of every option. I think the most effective way to handle these things is to be honest in a tactful way. I think it’s important to ask to speak to Scott privately. Maybe schedule a time to talk to him. Have your resources available to share with him and let him know you are informing him, because you care about him. You can let him know you would like to see him get support before he gets himself into trouble.

Here are some tips:

Tell him you’re concerned about him. Give him your observations of his behavior, only facts. For example, I’ve noticed you coming in late, appearing disorganized, curt when communicating with others and disheveled. Let him know about the Lawyer’s Assistance Program that can help him. He can call to get support and it’s all confidential. Let him know as a friend and colleague it’s important you say something, because you want to be supportive. Then you’ve done what you need to do. If there has been an unethical behavior he’s been participating in, then seek consultation before proceeding. It’s challenging when dealing with this situation, but just remember to listen to your gut.

Scott is a fictitious character, based on many stories of participants who have entered the Lawyer’s Assistance Program. The Lawyer’s Assistance Program is confidential and affordable. You can contact them for more information at Participation is confidential as mandated by Business and Professions Code § 6234. No information concerning participation in the program will be released without written consent from the attorney participant.
The LAP provides peer group support, individual peer support and individual counseling geared to the needs of legal professionals. Many of the following services are provided at no charge. You can contact the LAP at 877 LAP 4 HELP (877-527-4435) or

As a member of the State Bar, you are offered a free professional mental health assessment and an opportunity to experience participation in the LAP without making a longer-term commitment to the program. If you are challenged with stress, relationship issues, alcohol or drug use, depression or similar problems, call 877-527-4435 or send a message to

This article was written by Elana Clark-Faler, LCSW. She has been a therapist for 13 years working in Chicago, IL and Los Angeles, CA. She is a national speaker and speaks on topics related to improving effective communication in the work place and at home. She works with individuals, couples and groups. She has been contracted with the Lawyer Assistance program since 2007 where she facilitates support groups for those recovering from addiction and depression. She has helped many of her clients change their views of the work place and assisted them in increasing their love for the work. Your welcome to learn more about her by visiting .


Elana Clark-Faler
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