St. Mary's Law Journal


This Comment describes the nature and scope of alcoholism and chemical dependency in the legal profession. It reviews the current state of the law regarding alcoholism as a mitigating factor in attorney discipline. Addictive illnesses manifest themselves in ways which leave afflicted attorneys unable to practice law in accordance with professional rules of conduct. The majority of attorney-discipline cases involve alcoholism or chemical dependency. An attorney whose illness remains untreated will likely become the subject of grievance-committee investigations. For disciplinary cases involving alcoholism, a suggested analysis includes establishing a nexus between illness and misconduct. Additionally, it includes a causal connection between recovery from the illness and cessation of the misconduct. This Comment proposes a direction for the development and application of attorney-disciplinary policies in Texas when alcoholism is a mitigating factor. It specifically addresses the need for rule changes and program development. State bars responded to the problem of substance abuse in the profession by suggesting and approving relevant disciplinary-rule changes. They created Lawyers Assistance Programs, monitoring and diversion programs, and increased education requirements. By establishing the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program, the state bar began to recognize the problem of substance abuse among its members. To protect the public and maintain the integrity of the profession, amendments to the Rules should facilitate the earliest possible identification of impaired attorneys. Substance-abuse education should be a required component of continuing legal education and law school curricula. Although Texas acknowledges a problem exists, ignorance and fear continue to fuel denial and enabling within the profession. This endangers the lives and careers of attorneys and clients. The practice of law is a self-regulating profession. It is time for Texas attorneys to fully and competently tend the Texas bar.


St. Mary's University School of Law