Overambitious lawyer facing BBO discipline seeks help

Issue September 2010

Q. After 15 years in practice, it is very hard for me to tell you that I expect shortly to be subject to BBO discipline. My income sometimes does not keep pace with my lifestyle (I prefer an Audi to a Civic), and, in a quest for a quick injection of money into my bank account, I made what turned out to be a mistake - I took on a couple of cases that were beyond my sphere of experience but potentially lucrative. I consider myself a very capable, talented lawyer, and overestimated the extent to which my general knowledge and savvy would help me navigate unfamiliar territory.

Although no one suffered major harm, as you can guess, my errors in handling these cases led to complaints, and now, to likely disruption of my career. One thing that concerns me is that I still need money and, if I'm prevented from practicing my profession for a time, I don't want to find myself making keys at Home Depot or having to move from my upscale condo to a rented room somewhere. Friends and family members are all saying that they're too financially strapped to help me out. I know that there's nothing wrong with me other than having made a foolish choice, but I'm actually feeling depressed. Can you help me out?

A. You are, of course, in an inherently depressing situation. If you are facing a period of suspension, you will not only experience an extended interruption in your source of income, but a disruption in your sense of professional identity. And you seem to be aware on some level that, while suspended, you will be prohibited from doing work that overlaps with your current career and professional training, and will also not be able to work in any capacity for a colleague in the field.

It sounds as if your image of yourself as socioeconomically successful, and partaking of life's finer things, has been quite important to you. You of course deserve all due credit for your years of education and toil to build your practice. But these kinds of image-related motives also comprised the "tragic flaw" (related to the ancient Greek concept of hubris) that threatens to at least temporarily derail your career.

The episode of suspension, if it comes to that, may thus also be an opportunity to work on developing your sense of humility. It is a good time to step back and take a new and realistic look at yourself - your guiding values and drives, your strengths and weaknesses, your genuine passions and sources of fulfillment, as well as your blind spots, the value of your connections to others and of asking for their help when your own instincts or skills are not sufficient.

Working at a hardware store is honest, respectable work, as are some of the other kinds of jobs suspended lawyers have found - driving a cab, plowing snow, working the desk at a hotel, substitute teaching in elementary schools. This would be a good time to learn more about budgeting, and to come to grips with longstanding childhood/family issues that may have contributed to your current crisis (we'd be glad to refer you to a good therapist who takes your health insurance). We also want to be sure you know that we continue to offer an ongoing, twice-monthly support group specifically for lawyers facing BBO investigation/disciplinary measures.

While there's no denying that you may face a very stressful chapter in your life, and quite likely some major downgrades to your lifestyle, ultimately, you may not only get past your depressed mood, but renew and reconfigure your life and expectations in a healthier, more gratified and more sustainable way. n

Questions quoted are either actual letters/e-mails or paraphrased and disguised concerns expressed by individuals seeking assistance from Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers.

Questions for LCL may be mailed to LCL, 31 Milk St., Suite 810, Boston, MA 02109; or called in to (617) 482-9600. LCL's licensed clinicians will respond in confidence. Visit LCL online at