Here’s the worst kept secret in the legal industry: lawyers are, by and large, addicts. Seriously, it’s a massive problem in the profession. We drink to excess, both personally and professionally, pretty much from the moment we enter law school until the moment we retire from the practice. A bar event is almost always going to have an open bar at it, and, as a recent discussion in the Lawyer Slack pointed out, people that order something “not booze” at networking or professional events may be subject to suspicion or even ridicule for their choice to enjoy a nice, cold glass of milk rather than a white russian.
I have no snark for you today. I can’t make myself joke or curse about this topic. I know too many people that are or were in the grasps of it, and have seen careers and lives end because of it.
Not mine, of course. I’m lucky in that I discovered, after much worry, that I wasn’t an addict and I was capable of saying “No” and stopping after a couple. I know, I’m ruining the mystique. Fuck you. I get to. That was a concern of mine when I was younger. I like liquor, but I like living more.
Want the other worst kept secret in the legal profession? Your addicted lawyer likely isn’t seeking help for their addiction. Either we’re afraid of the very public stigma of admitting we have a problem, the professional stigma of admitting we have a problem, or we’re afraid of the almighty Disciplinary Board swooping in to deprive us of our livelihoods with the simple words “License Suspended.” A lawyer without a license to practice isn’t a lawyer, he’s an overeducated burger flipper and a disgrace to the profession. And, for an attorney, the loss of the license isn’t just the lost of a career…it can be the loss of your identity. You’ve been a lawyer for years, decades even. Most of your friends are lawyers. Your life has revolved around being a lawyer.
When a lawyer loses their license, they in some way lose a big chunk of themselves…and that’s fucking terrifying. So, we don’t seek out help when we’re one shot too many into the evening, or when we’re suffering from crippling depression, or when there’s a pile of cocaine calling us. Because we’re scared of the consequences, which can be swift and sudden.
So, when Brian Cuban , attorney and advocate for lawyers getting fucking help, announced the release of his new book, “The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow, and Redemption” , I was quick to pre-order a copy and then wait expectantly for its arrival. I devoured it. Twice. Then a third time. Then…well…then, in the immortal words of Elton John, I sat down to and wrote this song.
This is an issue near and dear to my heart. My father is an attorney who suffers from mental health issues which, with medication and therapy, are well under control. But as I became not just his son but his colleague, I heard the stories from him about self-reporting to the disciplinary board and the problems he faced keeping his license. I heard the stories of how offices and firms he was with called my mom to tell her he was on the verge of getting told to get out. I became aware of how much hell it was for him to admit the issue and seek the help, and while he never lost his license to practice, it was touch and go for a period of time when things got really bad. So, in a way, I read Brian’s book with my father in mind.
The first thing that stands out about Brian Cuban’s book is one fact: He never really wanted to be a lawyer. The middle child, with a billionaire brother and a younger brother that’s now an executive at a cable company, Brian was surrounded by success, but it’s clear from his writing that he felt, to an extent, overshadowed by his siblings. Not, apparently, from any fault of his parents, or his siblings, but just from the pure fact he grew up with such a large personality for an older brother, someone to idolize and try to imitate. So, after a lifetime as the fat kid, the outsider, the bullied, and the little brother, he decided that he would go to law school for the sake of going to law school, to stave off the real world a little longer after college and to be able to point to something and say “Look, I’m a lawyer.”
The second thing that stands out is the candor. Brian does not mince words, and he does not paint himself in a perfect light or as a victim. The book opens, very simply, with Brian talking about how, as a practicing lawyer, he sold tickets to the Dallas Mavericks championships for a literal fucking mountain of cocaine. Tickets that were given to him as a gift by his brother…and how, after doing some of the cocaine he, in a paranoid moment, flushed it all. Then repeated the process with the tickets given for the next night. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
It’s a moment that perfectly captures the cycle of addiction. No doubt Brian strained, and even destroyed, family and friends with his addiction, and no doubt it was obvious to them what was happening (because no addict is ever able to really hide what’s happening from those closest, even if they think they can), but somehow the image in the opening, the sale of a gift to fund a habit, the destruction of cocaine, and the repeating – even after an intense and vividly described hallucination of immediate consequences came to him – carries more weight than talking about his friends and family. For me, in part, because it all happens in solitude. It all happens with nobody around, alone in an apartment.
From there the book runs like a litany of bad decisions and the crevices an addict finds themselves in. Getting hit by a car while drunk, losing jobs, quitting before you could be fired, working far below potential…all things familiar to the addicted attorney. Lying to others to impress them without thought of the consequence, at one point impersonating a prosecutor while drunk in hopes of a quick lay. The actions taken by Mr. Cuban in the depths of his addiction, laid bare on the page, read like a list of charges from a Disciplinary Board hearing. You could almost pull out the Rules of Professional Conduct and play “Disbarment Bingo” with the things he admits to doing. It is an unflinching look at how addiction and mental health can destroy not just a lawyer, but a person.
It is also an unflinching look at the culture of addiction and mental health issues we try to sweep under the rug in the legal profession. About midway through, Brian’s book turns away from his own struggles and goes into those of other attorneys and law students, who are given space to speak about how they began drinking or drugging, and why. Tip: it’s stress. Stress, combined with mental illness and a culture that promotes the tight-lipped “Lawyers can handle anything” mindset. And, I won’t mince words…reading through Brian’s book, it was easy to see colleagues, friends and…yes, even myself…in some of their stories.
There is redemption, a story that Brian tells just as well as the story of his fall. There is explanation. There is commentary on current help programs, both good and bad.
Most importantly to me, though, is the fact there is a message. There is a message of “You are not alone.” There is a message of “It’s okay not to be able to control everything,” a message many lawyers desperately need. There is a warning, and there is a resource to recognizing, and understanding, those among us who need the help, professionally and personally. And it is done not from the perspective of a cold and clinical review, or a bar committee addressing the issues from an arms length, but from a man who once sat alone in his apartment with a mountain of cocaine in front of him. From a man who, had he not sought help, could have flushed his life with the mountain of coke that evening.
And there is that voice, well-written, sometimes meandering but always present, telling my friends and my colleagues “There is help here. Reach out.” The same voice that says, to the Bar and to the public, “Your lawyer is human. Your lawyer needs help.”
And that, for me, is the strength of Brian’s work, and his story. I’m truly grateful for his sharing it with me, and with the rest of the world. Even though I’ve never met the man, outside of Twitter, I’m proud of him for 10 years of sobriety, and for bringing a voice to those of us who can feel so alone in their struggles with addiction.
Thank you, Mr. Cuban.