I had an opportunity to deliver a lecture on “Looking at Substance Abuse through a Different Lens: The impact of Drug and Alcohol Use on Legal Practice” this week. In preparation, I did considerable research on the subject. What I found, to my surprise, was that alcohol and drug abuse seemed to be a recurring, but always unstated theme as the driver of conflict and the impediment to resolution in many of the cases I’ve heard. Living and working in a large, metropolitan, expensive and competitive place like Los Angeles, I’ve seen evidence of substance abuse in business, real estate construction, employment and personal injury cases. It’s no surprise, since the statistics suggest that abusers are generally both more aggressive and less likely to accept blame or responsibility for their own actions. Those that have access to attorneys to fight their battles consequently become regular clients in litigation. Whether the conduct is driven by substance abuse, or the litigation is confounded by it, mediator’s and lawyers would be well advised to routinely investigate whether substance abuse plays into the conflict they’re asked to resolve. The next time you have an inexplicable or intractable conflict, think about it through the lens of a drug abuser or alcoholic and see if that doesn’t help you to understand why, for example, the story keeps changing, the recollection of facts has so faded, or the client refuses a reasonable settlement offer which will mean the end of their legal fight, representation and medical treatment on liens.
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