September is National Recovery Month. Each September, I try to take a little time to reflect on my own recovery. I am at a café in New York City at the moment and felt compelled to write about it.
When I first became a lawyer, I was required to attend an in-person class called Practicing With Professionalism.
One of the speakers in the class was a gentleman who was there on behalf of Florida Lawyers’ Assistance, which is a Florida Bar-sponsored organization which assists attorneys struggling with substance abuse. He was speaking about the problem of substance abuse in our profession. He was a recovering drug addict himself.
He was sounding the clarion call to us new lawyers to be careful to not down the slippery slope of substance abuse. I remember sitting in that chair, thinking “Well, this is really good work this guy is doing but that will never be me.”
What an arrogant thought. Turns out I was wrong, too.
Three years later I would find myself in a very different seat, saying “Hi, I’m Ryan and I’m an alcoholic.”
Yep, three years after arrogantly thinking I was too good to have an addiction, there I was. I had earned myself a seat in Alcoholics Anonymous.
Today, I am grateful for the program as it has saved my life.
I have been public about being in long-term recovery from alcohol addiction and have shared on this blog how grateful I am to have been granted the gift of recovery.
I had this sense of gratitude as I was arriving at the hotel in NYC this evening. As soon as my wife and I checked in, we were invited to head to the rooftop bar to enjoy a few drinks at sunset.
When I was still in active addiction, I would have b-lined it to the bar, drank way too much and the evening would have turned into a disaster.
Tonight, instead of that, I was able to go walk to the local drugstore and get some things for my wife as she wasn’t feeling well. Because of my recovery, I was able to be the good husband I should be. Then, instead of just sitting at the bar, drinking, accomplishing nothing, I was able to take a walk to the local coffee shop and write this blog article.
If I said that I am ten times more productive in recovery than I was in active addiction, that would probably be an understatement.
With respect to addiction, though, I have been putting much thought into its horrendous impact on the profession that I am so honored to be a part of – the legal profession.
A study was released recently showing that more than 30 percent of all Florida attorneys under the age of 30 are suffering with a substance abuse problem.
When a new lawyer takes the oath of attorney, that lawyer swears to uphold and defend our constitution. Our lawyers are charged with being the guardians of our constitution and they do so courageously every day. From the fight for civil rights for African Americans to the fight for women’s rights to the fight for equality for our fellow LGTBQ Americans, lawyers have led these noble battles.
Can we rely on our lawyers of the future to zealously protect the guarantees of our constitution when so many can’t even think straight because their brains have been hijacked by addiction?
Our country needs and deserves the smartest, healthiest lawyers to protect our constitution when it is under attack in the future. Our democracy depends on it.
It is time for us to seriously reconsider the curriculum in our law schools, particularly in the third (and final) year of law school.
For those of you who are not aware, the first year of law school is really the most important. That’s when the lawyer-in-training gains a foundation in law, taking important courses from contracts to civil procedure to evidence. These important first-year courses build a basic framework for the lawyer to operate under and this knowledge makes it easier for the lawyer to “connect the dots” in the beginning of his or her career.
During the second year of law school, you take a lot of elective courses, which are basically courses you can take because you are interested in that subject matter. For example, a law student who believes they may want to practice employment law may take a course in employment law. A law student who may want to work for the United Nations may take international law.
The third year can almost be a waste. By the time you get to your third year, you have already had an entire year of fundamental courses and an entire year of taking elective courses. The third year, you are basically taking more elective courses and maybe a clinic or two.
What many law schools fail to do is to prepare the new lawyer for the real demands of the business and practice of law. For example, many more young lawyers are hanging their own shingle these days than before. Most law schools do not teach you one iota about running your own successful business, from controlling overhead to budgeting to managing staff, to learning how to scale a business, to marketing, and so on.
If a young lawyer has no clue how to run a business properly and is stressed out because the business is suffering, this will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the quality of the representation the lawyer provides to his or her clients.
Law schools should consider a mandatory third-year course called Business and the Law, where the basics of running a small law practice are taught. Even a lawyer who lands a job at a reputable firm can be laid off and find himself or herself without employment for a sustained period of time, giving rise to the need for the young lawyer to start his or her own practice to make ends meet.
Beyond business, law schools should consider mandating another third-year course called Wellness and the Law. This course would emphasize healthy stress-management techniques (not alcohol!) such as proper sleep and regular exercise and could also teach techniques such as deep breathing and mediation. In other words, healthy ways to manage the inevitable stress the practice of law can bring down on the practitioner.
Sadly, my profession is sick – very sick. For the sake of our country, our constitution, and all of the future clients who need and deserve healthy, smart lawyers, I hope our profession can soon be restored to good health. Whether this happens or not will depend on our law schools.
Ryan C. Torrens, Esq.
Consumer litigation attorney