Las Vegas Sun

October 24, 2014

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1 in 5 would-be lawyers in Nevada has had substance-abuse problems

Based on evidence that shows higher-than-average alcohol and drug abuse among lawyers, the State Bar of Nevada is seeking greater awareness among its ranks.

In the past two years, almost 23 percent of those applying to practice law in Nevada disclosed a history of substance abuse.

And almost 33 percent of the disciplinary cases against lawyers "involve underlying abuse, addiction or mental health problems," says the board of governors of the State Bar.

It has petitioned the Nevada Supreme Court to require attorneys to take one hour of education each year "in substance abuse, addictive disorders and or mental health issues that impair professional competence."

The petition, signed by Bar President Francis Flaherty, says this proposed education requirement "is essential to public protection."

The court has set a hearing for Nov. 5 on the proposed mandate and is inviting comments from judges, lawyers and the public. The court will then decide whether to order the annual education requirement.

Lawyers are now required to take 12 hours of continuing legal education every year, and this would be one of the subjects to be included.

The American Bar Association in 1996 estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the lawyers suffer from alcohol dependence or substance abuse compared with 10 percent in the general population. And 33 percent of the attorneys will "experience either short-term or chronic symptoms of depression or stress."

The Nevada bar has a claims security fund to reimburse clients who have been victims of attorney theft.

"The Fund estimates that $447,378 or 26 percent of all reimbursed claims in the past decade were made on behalf of attorneys removed from practice due to an underlying substance use, gambling addiction or mental health issues," said the bar petition.

Previously the bar set up a program for evaluation and treatment of these problems. But there has been a lack of awareness and it hasn't been used as much as expected.

So the bar is now proposing the one hour of education a year to deal with these problems.

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