Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

Avoiding Mental Health Care Can Increase Chances of Malpractice

If you've never been in a dentist's chair and watched the smoke float away from the drill grinding your tooth, you don't know what it means to have a root canal.

It's one of the reasons people avoid going to the dentist; they're afraid of the dreaded diagnosis that a tooth is rotten to the core. It has to come out or worse.

It's also a lot like the reason people don't get counseling for mental issues; they're afraid of the consequences. But in the practice of law, ignoring the problem can only make it get worse.

Undiagnosed Problem

Like tooth decay, mental illness is a disease. Sometimes we can help prevent it through a healthy lifestyle, but there's a point when you have to see a professional.

Lawyers, studies say, are not very good at getting that kind of help. They struggle inside while wearing a mask on the outside.

"This is a problem -- this is not something that should be swept under the rug," says Christopher Newbold, executive vice president of a malpractice insurer.

Newbold says a "significant" number of malpractice claims involve mental health concerns. He says if lawyers are not taking care of themselves, they are "more likely to commit malpractice."

Alcoholism, Substance Abuse

Self-medication, a euphemism for alcohol and drug abuse, doesn't work. Often, these behaviors are symptoms of underlying problems.

Studies show that alcohol abuse is increasing among lawyers. They have the 11th highest suicide rate by profession. Almost a third are depressed.

Some law firms provide an on-site psychologist and train staff to deal with mental-health issues. Such services are often offered after a suicide at a firm.

Is it time for a check-up for the lawyers at your firm?

Related Resources: