Monica Bay is a Fellow at CodeX: The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics. She also writes for Thomson Reuters, ALM (Legaltech News),...
The responsibility and pressure of the legal profession can often leave lawyers feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, but there are healthy ways to face this stress. In this episode of Law Technology Now, host Monica Bay talks to Brian Cuban about his own experience as an addict and how he now works to help those with similar struggles. Whether it’s through speaking or writing, Brian aims to share healthy alternatives to drug and alcohol use.
Brian Cuban is an attorney, author, activist, and brother of Mark Cuban. His most recent book, “The Addicted Lawyer,” is about his struggles as a law student and attorney with depression, alcohol and drug addiction.
Law Technology Now
Brian Cuban on Overcoming Addiction and Stress
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Monica Bay: Hi. I am Monica Bay and welcome to Law Technology Now. We have a terrific guest today. It’s Brian Cuban and yes he is the brother of Mark Cuban. He has a new book. It’s called The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow, and Redemption. It is an amazing book and I recommend it highly. Welcome and we’re delighted to have you Brian. Why don’t you start off a little bit and tell us about yourself.
Brian Cuban: It’s great to be on your podcast Monica. Thanks for having me. As you might guess from the title of the book, I am a lawyer. I do not practice anymore but let’s get the elephant out of the room and I have not been disbarred and my license has not been suspended but it’s not for a lack of trying.
Monica Bay: Why did you decide to not practice anymore?
Brian Cuban: It was an evolution. As you know from the book I never really wanted to be a lawyer. I went to law school for a lot of reasons that are not associated with the typical trajectory that people generally go through wanting to change the world or wanting to make money, do this or do that?
So I was somebody who went to law school for lot of the wrong reasons and when I finally decided who I really was and found out who I really was as a person, we’re a profession of thinkers, right? If you look at a recent Myers-Briggs study on the type of people who are in the legal profession, we are predominately a profession of thinkers.
I’m a feeler according to Myers-Briggs. Less than 5% of all those in the legal profession are feelers so I transitioned from a profession of thinkers to a profession of feelers, where I am much more at home and happy and helping other people. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a feeler in the legal profession.
Monica Bay: For people who might not be familiar with that, what do you mean by that?
Brian Cuban: It means I tend to as a feeler, I tend to feel other people’s emotions, I tend to wear them on my sleeve, I might externalize other people’s emotions in how I express things and so that can take a toll on somebody in the legal profession when we’re dealing with depending on your area of law you’re dealing tragedy, especially if you’re a criminal defense lawyer, a family lawyer, you’re feeling a lot of stress, other people’s tragedy and you can tend to internalize that as a feeler.
So for me, it was much better for me to get in a profession where I am just focused on helping other people to my experience, using my feelings, using my emotions, that is how I best define that, does that makes sense?
Monica Bay: So are you doing full time as an author now?
Brian Cuban: I speak and I help other people deal with the other issues.
Monica Bay: Terrific.
Brian Cuban: I am not a counselor. I don’t have a PhD after my name but my goal is always every day is to hopefully use my experience in recovering from addiction to help somebody either take another step in their journey or take that first step in a recovery whether it’s a lawyer a law student or anyone that just approaches me, just paying it forward.
Monica Bay: So let’s go to the beginning of your book. It is one of the most fascinating intros I’ve ever read in my life. What gave you the courage, especially because you are in an arena where you have a lot of being visible? How did you start this book and how did you decide to be so out there and that looked really scary to me?
Brian Cuban: So we’re talking about the introduction, where I talk about trading Dallas Mavericks Championship tickets in 2006 to my cocaine dealer.
Monica Bay: Right.
Brian Cuban: I did not tell that for until two years ago okay right around when I started writing the book because when you’re writing a book Monica and you’re searching through all the stories in your life to find out what has a message and what doesn’t and what’s salacious and what’s going to hurt people, that was a story where I really waited because I didn’t want to hurt anyone of my family, I didn’t want to embarrass my family but ten years later and in conversations with Marc I thought it was okay to finally tell that story. So it wasn’t a story that I told back when happened, that’s for sure.
Monica Bay: That makes a lot of sense.
Brian Cuban: Yes it was a story that there was a message and the message is the sanity of addiction. You know what we go through and the things you can do and so I thought it was an important message that balanced out and is a lingering embarrassed and in my family was on bored with it, so that’s why I waited so long to tell that story.
It’s funny when I first told the story, three years ago it got picked up as a front page sports story in our local newspaper here and I’m like dude that happened six years ago but they thought it was salacious and posted it on the sports section and that was funny.
But it shows, it just shows you where addiction can take you. Everyone who has struggled with addiction whether it’s alcohol, cocaine, heroin, I mean we all have those stories right? This one just happens to be a little more high-profile and interesting because of its nature.
Monica Bay: What struck me on it was two things, one was the amazing risk that you were putting yourself into at the time, being in an environment with the amazing amount of the NBA folks and being in very high visibility, that must have been very scary for you and could you share with our listeners a little bit about the day that you actually went and got a bunch of stuff to be able to cut through your walls and hide your stuff and then turn around and throw it in the toilet, that was very, very intense.
Brian Cuban: Absolutely. You have to ask when you are in recovery. When I look back now, it’s a funny story what do I hold it and it has a message. The Mavericks in 2006 the Dallas, Mavericks to the NBA, my brother had bought the team in 2000 it was their first trip to the NBA championship, we were playing the Miami Heat.
I was deep in addiction. I was already at the point where it had cratered my legal career. It was a very difficult time for me and I saw the team going to the championship not as a great thing for the city, for my brother, proud of my brother but as an opportunity to take tickets and trade them to my cocaine dealer at scalpers prices in cocaine.
So I got two tickets that I positioned that I was getting them for friends, very good seats and I took those tickets and I traded them to my cocaine dealer. He showed up at my house. I was a high class drug addict, cocaine addict he delivered and he had a thousand dollars of cocaine in the Ziploc baggies, so I traded the tickets he gives me the cocaine, I run up to my home office and I lay out all the cocaine on my desk like I’m Scarface, you’re looking at my cocaine kingdom and I do little…
And at that point in my life and in my journey to addiction, drugs and cocaine had really stopped giving me the high I had sought and I had obtained the very first time I did it in a bathroom in Dallas, Texas, in 2007 and instantly became addicted. I was really chasing a high that was never going to come again. I did some and really every time now just produced shame and guilt and pain and then I was also deep in cocaine paranoia.
I had all this cocaine on my desk. I starting imagining that I heard police outside and so I took the cocaine and I hid it and I drove up to Home Depot and I really I had enough cocaine to go away for a long time. I’m a warrior. I know these things.
So I put all the cocaine in the closet and as I drove to Home Depot not far from my house. I bought a drill, a saw, an electrical out faceplate outlets, I drove back to my house. I went to every closet in my house and I drilled through the drywall and cut through the drywall and created these fake electrical outlets and I put all the cocaine in these separate Ziploc baggies and put it behind all the electrical outlets like the cops the DEA and the drug dogs have never thought of that right?
But I thought I was being brilliant. It was perfectly logical. So, I kept a little out to do some more. I did another line of cocaine and again I wasn’t no longer — I was just off getting that high anymore that had abandoned me years ago and it was a high that the first time I did it in a bathroom, I looked in the mirror for the first time in my life Monica I saw Brian 10:31 that was accepted by others and that was not shy, that was confident and I had to have that feeling again and again and again and that was the instant psychological addiction to cocaine that occurred at that point, the physical addiction developed over time.
So not getting that high anymore, I get paranoid again thinking the cops are going to get me, I am looking out the window, the shades are drawn, thinking I see the lights out front. I go back to each closet I take the drill I unscrew each electric outlet I put it all back in the Ziplock Baggie, I go up to my bathroom get down on my knees and dump it all down the toilet.
Monica Bay: And it was about how much money that we were throwing out with that?
Brian Cuban: Okay about a thousand dollars in cocaine.
Monica Bay: So is that a turning point for you?
Brian Cuban: Oh no. That was not my turning point. The next morning the only thing that occurred to me was what an idiot I was for flushing all my cocaine down toilet. As the paranoia gets in to reach here I thought what an idiot I am. Now I have no cocaine. There’s another game tonight. Now I have no cocaine to get high for the game.
So I called my cocaine dealer again. I get two more tickets while to my family get two more tickets, trade them again to my cocaine dealer for another thousand dollars in cocaine go through the same process of putting it into the electrical outlets, doing a line feeling the shame and the pain of addiction and then I take it all back out again go up to the toilet again drop to my knees and like I had done so many times in praying or hoping for someone to take the pain and shame of my addiction away, I flushed it all down the toilet again. Now they say when Dallas flushes it, it ends up in Houston so people in Houston go really high that night.
Monica Bay: Nice, so what was your turning point?
Brian Cuban: The turning point was a little over a year later in April 2007 when I had a drug and alcohol and Xanax-induced blackout, cocaine, alcohol and Xanax induced blackout that lasted over two days and I had begun dating someone, she moved in with me and she went away for the weekend and I went to a bachelor party in Dallas and the next thing I know it was two days later and she’s looking over my bed.
There’s alcohol everywhere, there’s cocaine everywhere, there’s Xanax in about the room and she knew nothing about this. I had a JD in the law but I had a PhD in being able to hide these things from people and putting on a mask of respectability and being able to function for a period of time to fool people. You get really good at that when you’re dealing with this stuff.
So and it was at that point where I went up my second trip back to a local psychiatric facility. The first trip was in 2005 after I became suicidal and that wasn’t even my low point in terms of turning my life around, beginning recovery, and we can talk about that if you want but at this point, I go back to the psychiatric facility and my girlfriend’s crying and I’m thinking she’s gone, she actually stood behind me and stuck with me in recovery and we dated for ten years and ended up getting married in October, so she stood by me.
Monica Bay: Congratulations.
Brian Cuban: Thank you. I wouldn’t know. I would have left if I were her and a few things occurred to me standing in that parking lot of the psychiatric facility while waiting for to check in. One was that she was going to leave and she did and two that I would be dead because there would be a third trip back, I was going to overdose or become suicidal again and kill myself and this time actually complete the Act.
And Monica I also thought about my family in that parking lot. I thought about my father and my two brothers Mark and Jeff growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, decades before, I mean we’re all in our fifties now, my father is now in his nineties. He’s a veteran of the Pacific and the Korean War II, he is still a lot, he was the middle of three children like I am.
He used to say something to us growing up all the time. He would say kiddingly he go, hey guys wise may come and go well for me. They are certainly have, I’ve been married three times. This one will certainly lapse.
Girlfriends may come and go, he is just kidding of course, being tongue and cheek but when push comes to shove all you have is each other no matter where you go in life. This is in the 70s in Pittsburg, PA. No matter what you do, no matter where your journey takes you, you pick up that phone regularly and you call your brother and you tell your brother you love him. You ask your brother if there is anything you could do for him.
My father understood this gift of brotherhood, the bond of brothers. He was in middle of three. He and his older brother Marty fixed cars in the same place in Pittsburg, PA, from the end of the Korean War until his older brother passed away in 99, decades. They fixed cars in the same place. Now it was often like a bad marriage but this was the bond. I thought about that. That would turn me around. I didn’t want to lose my family.
Monica Bay: So we’re running out of time and I want to talk a little bit about the legal profession and what we need to do. I think, you know, we’re both lawyers and I also don’t practice because I went right back into journalism but the best decision I ever made in my life was to go to law school and get my ticket and I will never let go of my ticket. I don’t care if I am not practicing. I’m happy well not completely happy but I send that 500 plus check to —
Brian Cuban: I do too, I do too, I let my Pennsylvania license lapse because I’ll never know I’m never going back but I keep my checks like —
Monica Bay: I keep. It was so hard for me to get it and that’s a whole another story and I will never go out off of that. That being said, I think doctors and lawyers and folks like that, it’s very, very hard from what I have heard from what I know to be able to go to ask help and because we’re all the ones, the lawyers are the ones who are the fixers.
I don’t mean that negatively but they you go to them when they have trouble and I think it’s hard for lawyers to admit that they have problems. What does a organized bar need to do to help people with addictions whether it’s heroin whether it’s alcohol, whatever it is what does the bar need to do because there’s a lot of people with this?
Brian Cuban: There are several things we can do, the local bars can do and it takes more than a local bar because it’s a systemic problem. We need to start small and changing the culture. We need to stop or rethink all these happy hours, the Bar Association happy hours. I see it all the time.
Monica Bay: Good point.
Brian Cuban: My own local bar here included. There is a culture of drinking that starts in law school that goes through the legal profession and lawyers become cultural eyes to rely on that to assume the risk to mask their problems to not feel the pain or to not be feelers, right? So the bars need to stop catering to that and pandering to that. We can do other things. We need to change the culture of drinking. We can start small but other things beyond that besides happy hours.
Monica Bay: That’s a really good idea.
Brian Cuban: And Monica I see in my local bar, it is on Twitter you know happy hours men. Young lawyers happy hour tonight, guys it’s only Wednesday and you are tweeting m0y young lawyers happy hours and this is especially problematic Monica when you look at the recent ABA Hazleton study which found that lawyers under ten years led the highest risk for problem drinking over 33% percent. One in three lawyers under ten years practicing lawyers has a drinking issue and firm inviting them to happy hours that is the problem.
Monica Bay: That’s a really interesting thing because it’s not just law. I think it’s probably anything. It’s you know I grew up and the whole thing where people just do that so that’s an interesting thing and maybe if they want to have those things and they have some of the alcohol maybe what they do is make sure they’ve got a lot of other foods or drinking or whatever.
Brian Cuban: That’s true. That’s an issue within law firms too. I mean that we call the champagne circuit, the networking circuit and how they deal with that, that’s an issue law firms need to deal with too as well as the bar but moving on number two, there is a huge distrust of the systems in place.
I spoke at a Dallas Bar event one time and I was talking about legal assistance programs, every state has one but there’s a great distrust to them because they are viewed by many lawyers as arms of the State Bar. So in the State Bar building, they had they share the same numbers as the state bar and lawyers don’t always trust these programs, so they’re not open to use them.
Monica Bay: Absolutely because if they lose their ticket, they’re out.
Brian Cuban: That’s right, that’s right. So we need to figure out, our state bars need to figure out ways to break this distrust and it’s difficult because legal systems programs don’t have big budgets.
Monica Bay: Right.
Brian Cuban: And we need to be going into law firms. We need to make sure we are accessible to law firms to the solo practitioner where social isolation is a big deal. I spoke at a lunchtime Dallas Bar event and a very seasoned litigator came up to me afterwards and said yeah that’s all great fine but it’s not confidential, you know, the State Bar will find out.
I am like it’s protected by statute. It is confidential. Every state is protected by statute, no it’s not, how do you know that another lawyer told me, how does he know that I don’t know. So you’re a seasoned litigator and you’re going with a guy told a guy who told a guy that it’s not confidential, right, the triple hearsay.
Monica Bay: I get that and I think people are terrified because I don’t practice and I would go bananas if I lost my ticket you know.
Brian Cuban: That’s right well so the legal assistance programs, the Bar Associations, the firms all have to play your part in making this stigma because lawyers don’t want to lose your ticket and lawyers also were trained in law school on that being vulnerable is being weak.
Monica Bay: Yes.
Brian Cuban: Vulnerability is what we take advantage of another people, right? Vulnerability is not what we allow ourselves to feel. Forget being a lawyer in anyone’s recovery, the ability to allow yourself to be vulnerable, allow yourself to feel, allow yourself to delve into your pain is a key to anyone’s recovery and lawyers are especially resistant as a profession to doing this.
Monica Bay: Yeah, I think lawyers and doctors in particular.
Brian Cuban: That’s right and lawyers have a higher addiction rate than doctors according to the ABA Hazleton study.
Monica Bay: Oh. I didn’t know that.
Brian Cuban: And we have an almost equal rate of depression about 30%, 28 to 30% and anxiety but the lawyers need help how are we were going to empower them, how are we going to empower law students to allow themselves to feel. It’s a difficult issue. When I speak to law students or lawyers who are struggling, I don’t talk to them about you know drug and alcohol use, they wouldn’t be talking to me if there was a problem right? I want to know about them as people.
Monica Bay: You were very, very lucky to have a very strong family.
Brian Cuban: Yeah.
Monica Bay: What can other families and friends do you know based on your understanding and experiences, what can they do when there are folks in the family that are having addictions of any kind? I mean it’s so rampant and I think the families themselves often are either breathtakingly naive or nervous or embarrassed or whatever.
Brian Cuban: Or the riddle was shame and guilt. The riddle was shame and guilt. The first thing I tell families one it’s not your fault. Families, spouses, parents, and siblings do not cause addiction. There is a saying genetics loads began, environment is the trigger. We don’t know what causes addiction. We know that environment does not equate with cause. So that’s the first step getting them past the guilt.
The second is letting people know you aren’t expected to know what to do but you can educate yourself. Okay, there is no magic pill for recovery. Have you looked at Al-Anon which is you know a co-thing with Alcoholics Anonymous, 12-steps for families going through stuff. Have you gotten any support for yourself? Are you in counseling?
You know what options are available for your family member because education leads to pathways for recovery. You can’t force someone to go down that pathway but you can lay the path if you educate yourself.
So these are the things I discuss with families because there’s no magic pill. Families want to magic pill and there isn’t one but you can waive the best odds possible and that’s all you can do but most importantly what I tell families is you have to take care of you.
Monica Bay: Yes.
Brian Cuban: Okay because you can’t let someone struggling drag down with them, take care of you, get into counseling, get support, get advice from other people going through the same thing, fight through the guilt and be sure you are dealing with your ability to deal with life on its own terms versus dealing with life on a family members’ terms who are struggling if that makes sense.
Monica Bay: It makes complete sense and I think it’s wonderful advice, so is there a question that I haven’t asked you that you think is important for our audience?
Brian Cuban: I want to make it clear that when we use the term, a lot of people, and one of the problems I have with lawyers Monica and even law students who think of doing all studies is, they keep readjusting what they believe is high functioning as their performance because of addiction.
They tell ourselves as long as I have not hit rock bottom as long as there are no consequences, I haven’t hit rock bottom so everything’s okay and I understand how that is because if you go back to 2005, I was suicidal when I was putting a weapon in my mouth practicing to end my life before I was finally taken to my first trip to a psychiatric facility.
Even at that point it was not my recovery tipping point because I did not go into recovery so we don’t know when that’s going to happen and there’s no way to predict and so lawyers often keep redefining their level of being high functioning while addiction is dragging them down lower and lower and their performance is getting worse and worse.
Others see it and may not want to say anything. They’re afraid to say anything, what associates going to tell the main partner hey, now there’s an issue here right? We have that stigma with the law firms so I try to encourage lawyers to not get caught up in trying to define your own rock bottom as a means of not getting help okay.
What I tell them and what I’ll tell anyone is today is as good as it’s ever going to get because addiction is progressive. Eventually there will be consequences and it is only going to get worse and if you wait for consequences, it gets a lot tougher with the State Bar.
Monica Bay: That is such good information and I can’t thank you enough for your candor. It’s an amazing trip you’ve taken and you are taking, I think you’re going to help a lot of people. One last question, how long have you been in recovery?
Brian Cuban: I had my tenth year in long-term recovery from drug and alcohol use on April 8, 2007.
Monica Bay: Congratulations.
Brian Cuban: Thank you. I’ve been in recovery for over ten years now and it’s been quite a journey of ups and downs.
Monica Bay: Well what you’re doing is important and I’m so impressed with how kind you were to take time with us today and again the book is The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow, and Redemption. I think you’ve inspired a lot of people and I’m really grateful for that. Before let you go, can you let us know the listeners would like to reach out to you and how do they get your book.
Brian Cuban: My book is available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. It’s in some bookstores but the easiest way is to go online and get it. You can reach me at HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]” [email protected]. I am open to anyone whether your lawyer, law student, or just anyone in recovery. I mean I always willing to give the benefit of my experience and that’s all I have is my experience, my journey.
Monica Bay: Well it’s quite a journey and I think you’re helping a lot of people and it’s just fantastic. Well I thank you so much Brian Cuban. I hope you’ll come again.
Brian Cuban: I hope so too. Thank you for the interview Monica.
Monica Bay: Again thank you so much Brian and thanks to our audience. We hope you’ll join us for the next edition of Law Technology Now.
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