Mentioned in This Episode
State Bar of Texas Podcast
Depression and Addiction in the Mind of a Lawyer
Outro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice with your host, Rocky Dhir.
Rocky Dhir: Hi and welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, this is your host, Rocky Dhir. Thank you for joining today, I hope you’re well.
You know, that’s something we say very casually “Hope you’re well”. We write it in emails “Hope all is well.”
How many of us actually sit down to think about what that means? Wellness, wishing somebody well. We’re going to talk about that today. Wellness is not only a state of being. It is not only a matter of being happy. It’s something very important to our practices.
Just recently, I remember being a little surprised with news that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Right? Everybody has heard of him, “Smell what The Rock is cookin”, WWE, one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood; he admitted he’d suffered from depression for years. He linked it back to his mother’s suicide attempt when he was 15-years-old but the effects lingered with him. And it got me thinking, who else do we know out there who’s suffering from some sort of either depression, or addiction, or something that is just affecting their overall wellness?
We’re going to talk about that today. We’re going to talk about wellness, how to understand it, how to help yourself or how to help others, but I’m not an expert. I’m not an expert on how to help people, but we have some folks that are.
First, my co-host today. I’m honored to have her here with us. We’ve got Bree Buchanan, she is the Director for — it’s called TLAP, it’s the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program. I’ve got Bree her with me.
Bree, thank you for being here. This is an important topic. Can you tell us a little bit more about your background and how you got into the subject of Wellness?
Bree Buchanan: Sure, it is an important and timely topic, absolutely. So, my datum is, I’m the Director of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program with the State Bar of Texas and it goes like TLAP. I also am currently the Chair of the ABA Commission on Lawyers’ Assistance Programs for all of the LAPs across the country, and I’m also the co-Chair of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, which just issued its report last August and was basically endorsed by the ABA at their mid-year meeting, so we’re really excited about that and it’s a report with recommendations around Lawyer Well-Being. And you asked, how I kind of got into this; well, I have my own story, just really quickly I have a long history of dealing with depression and anxiety particularly that really started and blew up in law school. And what happened over the next couple of decades is that I started dealing with those really uncomfortable and painful feelings with drugs and alcohol and ended up with an addiction, and I’ve been now in recovery for nine years. And so, I’m able to really make a part of my work life, my recovery as well.
Rocky Dhir: Well, congratulations on your recovery and I am very happy to hear that you’re doing well and that you’re helping others. Our guest today Bree, as you know, is somebody who needs no introduction to most lawyers, especially lawyers in Texas but he’s been going all over the world really, trying to raise awareness of this topic, and so, I’m hoping that between you and our guest, we can kind of get our arms wrapped around this a little bit, maybe help some folks out there. So, are you ready for our guest?
Bree Buchanan: Absolutely.
Rocky Dhir: So, Brian Cuban, if you’ve not heard the name you need to look him up. Brian Cuban has got his own story, that has brought him to this table to talk about wellness but he’s also the author of ‘The Addicted Lawyer’. It’s a topic that most of us don’t think about, most of us kind of — there’s a stigma, I think. Once you say, Bree, there’s a stigma to the concept of depression and addiction, and Brian has kind of — he’s making efforts and I think he has been very successful in breaking through that barrier and getting us to talk more about it.
Bree Buchanan: Absolutely.
Rocky Dhir: So, Brian, thank you for being with us today.
Brian Cuban: Thanks for having me here.
Rocky Dhir: Brian, can you tell us a little bit about your story?
Brian Cuban: Sure, well, I am a Dallas-based attorney, although I no longer practice. I do still have a license though. I am in recovery from alcohol and cocaine addiction, substance use disorder. I’ve been in long-term recovery for 11 years and those addictions basically took over my life and started well before law school, started in college. The drinking, and then drinking went through law school and then I discovered cocaine in my first summer in Dallas and they took over my life and really destroyed my career as a practicing lawyer before I finally found recovery in 2007.
Rocky Dhir: So, Bree, you’ve been in recovery for nine years, and Brian, for you. It’s been 11?
Brian Cuban: 11 years, yes.
Rocky Dhir: Do you remember the day when you started your recovery?
Brian Cuban: Yes, I do. It was my second trip to a psychiatric facility here in Dallas, Texas, after my girlfriend at that time and now wife, came in, and we’d only been dating a short time and found me lying in bed with cocaine and alcohol and drugs scattered around the room.
We went to Green Oak Psychiatric where I’d been once before when I become suicidal in 2005 as a result of drugs, alcohol and clinical depression. And so, I was standing in that parking lot and in that parking lot I really realized that there wouldn’t be a third trip back to that psychiatric facility because I’d be dead. I realized that I was really close to losing my family because families may love us unconditionally and we hope they do, but there maybe limits on their willingness to watch us destroy our lives and if we’re not going to at least try and take that first step into the unknown, into the scary, into recovery, and I realized that I had really reached that point where kind of the gray area between love enablement and recovery had come together and my family had had enough and I didn’t want to lose my family.
My two brothers, Mark and Jeff, I’m very close with, my mom and my dad and I didn’t want to lose that, and I had really started to distance from them because I didn’t want them interfering with my drug use and my drinking and all those things. And I don’t know why it was that moment and not say, in 2005 where I had to go — when they came in my house and I had a 45 Automatic on my nightstand and planned on taking my life, but it was that moment. And the next day I began my journey and 12 Step began getting honest with my psychiatrist. I’ve been lying to my psychiatrist for a couple of years, well, why would you lie to your psychiatrist, right? Well, shame knows no hourly rate, right?
I was ashamed, I wasn’t giving him the truth and I finally started getting honest, and that began my journey into recovery, and since then, it’s been a continuous growth process and I am very happy to be 11 years in.
Bree Buchanan: Yeah, and I would say that there’s no one who enters recovery is going to forget that moment when they finally reach out and ask for help because it is the most difficult thing to do, to really get humble and really, like Brian was saying, get honest, and be willing to step up and with what we do at TLAP we ask people to make a call and ask for help, and it’s really, really difficult, especially for lawyers.
Brian Cuban: And it was difficult for me. TLAP existed then, I didn’t use them. I knew they were —
Rocky Dhir: Why not?
Brian Cuban: I knew they were around, I really didn’t understand it though because, there was — I had isolated, I’d really lost. I wasn’t interacting with lawyers anymore. I didn’t know what was out there although I kind of knew they were there, but, I really didn’t understand what they were about and none of my colleagues stepped forward at any time to say, hey, this is what you might consider, I see you are struggling, which is something I talk about today are obligation to use our gift of empathy to encourage our colleagues to seek help.
Rocky Dhir: Why is that? I mean, for Bree, Brian, either or both of you, why do you think it’s hard for those that are — I guess for lack of a better term, on the periphery of somebody who is suffering from these issues? Why is it hard for us to recognize those signs and then step in and intervene?
Brian Cuban: Well, I have my anecdotal experience on that, if Bree wants to jump in.
Bree Buchanan: Sure, I think it’s really difficult for us when we see a colleague struggling to take the action of stepping forward and asking them how are they doing and can you help, and there are a variety of reasons for that.
One of them is that we think it’s none of our business. We don’t want to embarrass the other person. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves because still, these medical conditions, they’re still somewhat stigma and shame-wrapped up that we’re afraid to even speak up and have a conversation about this, which is to me in my mind just a kind of a crazy situation that we’re still dealing with.
And people also — decides that it’s not my business, they’re thinking, well, I’m not an expert, and lawyers, we like to be experts about everything, and so, there’s the idea, well, I’m not — I didn’t go to law school to be able to diagnose this, so who am I to come in and speak up to this person?
So, those are a couple of things and then the idea of, this is messy stuff and it’s painful stuff. The person says, yes, I am suffering from, fill in the blank, then what? We don’t feel confident to handle these issues.
Brian Cuban: And what I have also seen to add a number four to this is that we project a response, we project a negative response, we project an angry response, we project. I’m going to sue you for defamation response.
Rocky Dhir: Right.
Bree Buchanan: Right.
Brian Cuban: And so, rather than deal with the response, it becomes — the path of least resistance becomes to say — it becomes easiest to just say nothing.
Rocky Dhir: So, I’m going to throw something out there to the two of you, as kind of maybe additional factors, and admittedly, to my knowledge I do not have an addiction or a depression issue, at least to my knowledge. You never know, there maybe something lurking deep inside any one of us that we’re not aware of.
So, I’m coming at this as the proverbial layman, but I feel like if I was going to go to somebody and say, are you suffering from depression or addiction? And those are two separate things as I understand it, right? Two separate illnesses; depression and addiction.
Brian Cuban: Yes, correct.
Rocky Dhir: So, if I was to ask either one of those, I’d be afraid that the other person would feel offended.
Brian Cuban: Absolutely.
Rocky Dhir: Or if I was to say, well, this person might be suffering from depression or addiction; I’d be afraid that person — well, let me rephrase that. I think people sometimes use that as a weapon, where they say, well, my opposing counsel I think must have an addiction problem or a depression problem because they wouldn’t be doing X, Y or Z if that wasn’t the case.
Bree Buchanan: Yeah, well, here’s what I think is really important in regards to that is we tell people — when I say “we”, I mean, TLAP; it’s really important to not try to diagnose and to never say to somebody I think you’ve got an alcohol addiction. The issue is because we are not confident to do that and the only thing that that’s going to do is raise the senses and hackles and enforce denial more.
What we coach people to do about having what we call a difficult conversation is to say, Joe, I’ve known you for a long time and I really respect you as a lawyer and I’ve noticed that over the past six months that you’re kind of acting differently. I’ve noticed that you’re not coming in to work regularly and you just seem really down and I’m worried about you. What’s going on? Is there anything I can do to help?
And come at them with a strong sense of openness, of curiosity, and a desire to be helpful, and expressed compassion, and empathy like Brian was talking about. And that is going to be more likely to get a response and know you may not get.
You’re right, I’m depressed and I’m going to go to treatment now. Sometimes it’s just the beginning of an ongoing conversation but you’ve let that person know that someone has noticed that they are having problems and that there’s somebody out there who cares and is willing to actually step into the breach and have a conversation with them.
Brian Cuban: I totally agree with that and what I also encourage is within that conversation let them know twice at the beginning and the end that you are there because within a conversation, somebody can change their mind that quickly. Okay? So, have that empowering, I’m here if you want to talk moment twice within the same conversation; and somebody may respond angrily. I’ve gotten those responses and there’s nothing you can do about it, that’s not about you, and I think it’s important for us to realize that when we approach somebody and we get an angry response or we get a deflective response, it’s not about us. And so that we shouldn’t use that to suddenly go radio silent on the issue. You may get eight angry responses but the first time you get that, you’re right, thank you. I would like to explore help. You’ve changed a life.
Rocky Dhir: Now, let’s talk for a second about warning signs or maybe signs that those of us again on the periphery of somebody who maybe suffering from these issues, what should we be looking for to kind of give us the yellow flags or possible red flags that there might be a problem and we need to reach out.
Bree Buchanan: You can just see things that in your gut, you start to notice that their maybe something wrong. Sometimes, certainly not all the times there’s the sort of standard telltale sign of somebody with alcohol on their breath or you see them drinking in the bathroom, that happens; but more often you’re going to see people start to be late to work, unexplained absences from work, calls not being responded to, emails are unanswered, perhaps you may see inappropriate responses to circumstances so that they may react very angrily to a situation that just didn’t call for that. Sometimes it’s a disheveled appearance.
The way they are maintaining their hygiene has taken a turn for the worse and a lot of times it’s going to be a combination of these factors such that because we are just human beings and we are attuned to people. We start to get a feeling there’s just something not right, and that’s all you need to know to be able to approach them and just say, how are you doing? I’m worried about you.
Brian Cuban: And Bree brings up an important point here is that, there is no magic thing. I get asked that all the time. What is that one thing I need to look for that tells me, the magic pill? And there is one, it is going to be your knowledge of the person and the context around that person works, lives that person’s life, how that behavior has changed and the things that go along with that change in behavior and those are going to raise the red flags. There is really going to be just one thing unless you see something that is just — any one would notice, relating to being intoxicated or something like that. It is usually a combination of things within the circumstances or within the context that raises the red flags.
Bree Buchanan: And what I would encourage people to do is when you get that feeling that there is something wrong, approach them. Have this basic conversation and if you’re rebuffed say, okay, thanks, I just care about you and I was worried. And then, maybe check back and say, hey, let’s go to lunch, let’s go have a cup of coffee and maintain a relationship with them and keep that door open and the line of communication open.
And as a footnote to all of this, I really encourage lawyers who start to have this feeling, I’m worried about Joe down the hall to call TLAP and we can strategize and consult with you; we don’t have to know Joe down the hall’s name, you don’t even have to tell us your name, we are here and available all the time just to strategize and help you figure out what is the right path to take.
Brian Cuban: Yes and that’s what I was going to add and you filled those gaps nicely, Bree.
When you’re at that point of, I think, I don’t know what to say, it doesn’t become full stop. You go to someone who can coach you on what to say. That’s why we have TLAP, that’s why we have Bree, that’s why we have that there for you to call them and it’s all confidential when they will help you find the words.
Rocky Dhir: So I’m going to kind of confess something here, which is, if I saw somebody who is not answering emails, not answering phone calls, late everywhere, I would either think that they’re just very, very stressed and overwhelmed with whatever is going on in their lives or I might think they’re just being lazy and they’re not being good lawyers or good —
Brian Cuban: But you would notice something is up, right?
Rocky Dhir: True, true.
Brian Cuban: So, whatever your preconceptions are, the question is still the same. I noticed something is going on, do you want to talk?
Rock Dhir: So, then do we need to be careful not to just jump to the ideas of depression and addiction and just say, hey, what’s wrong, and keep it open?
Brian Cuban: We need to be careful not to judge what anyone is going through because then it becomes about accusation and not about empathy and not about just getting the story.
Bree Buchanan: Much of this really is getting back to us just being human beings with one another.
Rock Dhir: Sure.
Bree Buchanan: And the idea that we start to care for our own, sometimes I’ll talk about us, so we need to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. Another thing that I’ll say, especially when I stop talking about suicide awareness and prevention, is that, we need to stop minding our own business. We are charged with being a self-governing profession and a piece of that responsibility is that we look out for one another and help one another when we have trouble.
Brian Cuban: The only reason that I’m here today on this podcast is because three people did not mind their own business.
Rocky Dhir: And who were those three people for you?
Brian Cuban: My very good friend who I dedicated my first book to for saving my life and my two brothers. They did not mind their own business when I was at that point of in my mind thinking I was a burden on my family and they would be better off without me and I had a weapon on my nightstand, they did not mind their own business and got me the help I needed.
Rocky Dhir: Brian, in your case, let’s talk a bit about your background story because this may resonate with someone. Someone may know somebody who is in this position and I don’t think your story can be told enough. So, your story with addiction and depression, it actually goes back to childhood in your case.
Brian Cuban: Correct.
Rocky Dhir: And I have to confess, Brian and I have known each other for – it’s almost 10 years now, I think, it’s been a long time. So, it started with body dysmorphic disorder.
Brian Cuban: Correct, my journey does go back to childhood, not in terms of the drinking and drugs, but in terms of, I was very shy, very middle child syndrome.
There was bullying in my childhood. I was actually physically assaulted over my weight. I was a heavy-set kid, difficult relationships at home, though that is not to blame parents, for any of this parents don’t cause addiction, parents don’t cause. I’ve also suffered from eating disorders, bulimia — and exercise bulimia. Parents don’t cause eating disorders. There is a difference cause and correlation, but home environment and how we’re treated at home and bullying can correlate with a lot of feelings that can lead to disorders.
So, being a very shy child who was fat-shamed and who was bullied, I developed anorexia in 1979 as a freshman of Penn State Law and before anyone was talking about it, the singer, Karen Carpenter passed away from complications related to anorexia in 1983 and kind of brought it into the pre-digital national spotlight, this was before even that. And then I transitioned into binging and purging bulimia, and then I became exercise-bulimic, which is the obsessive-compulsive exercise for the primary purpose of offsetting calories. I was running 10 miles a day, 20 miles a day, and this was all wrapped around the development of body dysmorphic disorder.
What body dysmorphic disorder is, is a DSM 5, it is a psychological disorder in which someone exaggerates the aspect of their perceived appearance in the reflection to the point where it affects their ability to function “normally” in life for me because I was fat-shamed and bullied over my weight. No matter how thin I got or no matter how muscular I got, I became addicted to steroids as well.
Rocky Dhir: Oh wow.
Brian Cuban: I still saw this fat little boy in the mirror. So, I cycle through all of these destructive behaviors trying to basically love that little boy and love myself which I could never find. And that led also to becoming an “alcoholic” at Penn State. I was drinking every night. In the morning, I was going to class drunk, I was going to class hung-over.
Fortunately, I was able to do okay at Penn State and kind of give back information, pulling all night before an exam doesn’t work in law school, right? And so, I decided I would go on to Pitt Law and not because I wanted to be a lawyer, not because I wanted to change the world, not because I wanted to make a lot of money, but because I wanted to survive day to day and that made perfect sense to me that I could spend three years in law school and I could just repeat the same behaviors, binging and purging, drinking, running 20 miles a day and not have to give up ownership with any of my disorders to anyone.
Rocky Dhir: But then what happened after law school because then you’re in the “real world” right?
Brian Cuban: Well, I barely graduated from Pitt Law as you might imagine. I wasn’t a very good student. I did my Trial Moot Court drunk, I was going to class drunk, I was going to class hung-over, repeating the exact same cycles as at Penn State because that’s all I had, that’s all I knew. I wasn’t in recovery; I had no concept of recovery.
And then when I moved to Dallas, Texas after graduating, I discovered cocaine. I studied for the Texas Bar. I took it out in Fort Worth the first time. My study age for the Texas Bar, the first time I took it, were 3.5 ounces of cocaine, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a liter of Tab and some borrowed Barbri books.
Rocky Dhir: Wow.
Brian Cuban: So, as you might imagine I did not pass and I failed it twice. Actually, all relating to is more important to engage in drug and alcohol use than study and pass, because I really didn’t care. I was just surviving. I was repeating cycles right up through then.
Rocky Dhir: And was there a history of any of this in your family?
Brian Cuban: No, I have no history of addiction to my family. We know that genetics can account for about 50% of predisposition to addiction. There’s no way to know for sure, but in my mind, looking back on my story, I would say the majority was environmentally triggered just because there is no genetic history that I am aware of.
Rocky Dhir: Bree, how about you, did you have a family history of any of this or was this hitting you alone.
Bree Buchanan: I did, I had — my father was an alcoholic. And so I had the genetic predisposition for this and I talk to people — I would talk to my son, he’s 21, about the idea that if you have a genetic predisposition towards this, and then effectively you pour a lot of alcohol on top of that for a good number of years, you have created an alcoholic. I mean, that’s not the only way that you get one, but that is a sure far away to get to a very severe alcohol use disorder to use the current nomenclature.
Rocky Dhir: So, we’ve really got two stories here, one which is a complete surprise, Brian in your case, because there was no family history, you didn’t know there was any predisposition towards anything.
Brian Cuban: No, no, every destructive behavior I engaged and revolved around trying to soothe the pain of a little boy.
Rocky Dhir: And then, Bree, in your case, there’s a family history there, and you said something very interesting which is that if you’ve got a genetic predisposition and then you feed that predisposition with the addictive substance that is a subject of that addiction, then you effectively created an addicted person.
Bree Buchanan: It’s very simple thought, but yeah, if you do that in large quantities over an extended period of time, yeah.
Rocky Dhir: Okay, the reason I’m asking about that is, I think because there is a shame and a stigma attached with these issues of addiction and depression, do you think that lends people to thinking, oh, whoever the addicted person is, it’s their fault, they should have known better than to drink too much or to get involved in drugs or whatever.
Brian Cuban: Sure, there are those who think — and again this goes back to a much deeper conversation about the etiology of addiction. We have the disease model which is the accepted AMA model that addiction is a brain disease, but we have people who view addiction as a moral failing, and that addiction is a choice, and when I talk to people, I tell them, was the first time I use cocaine in the bathroom of a hotel in Dallas, Texas and instantly became psychologically addicted, not physically dependent, that’s different, and that would come later.
Rocky Dhir: Okay.
Brian Cuban: The first time I became psychologically addicted, was that first line of choice, a pure choice? Of course it was. Now, it was a choice influenced by a lot psychological issues that made me think I had no choice, but it was a choice.
The process that took over when I did it on my brain that started firing signals, that I looked in the mirror and finally saw someone after decades of hating what you saw on the mirror suddenly loved what he saw in the mirror —
Rocky Dhir: Because of the cocaine.
Brian Cuban: Because of the cocaine, that site was one of the most powerful feelings I’d ever experienced in myself. That feeling of self-love artificially induced that I never experienced before. Who wouldn’t want to have that again? And I had to have it again and again and again, and that was the psychological-addicted addiction, but my brain would rewire for that and I did become physically dependent.
Bree Buchanan: And I think it’s really important at this point to point out that, yes, unfortunately, there are some people who are stuck in mid 20th Century thinking that these addictions are moral failings, but again, the AMA has classified these as medical conditions, disorders, alcohol use disorders, substance use disorder, and they have been doing that for a long time.
And so, the idea that these are — like I said, moral failings are very outdated and really they’re looking at just models that are no longer appropriate or accurate and certainly do so much damage in trying to get people to come forward and ask for help. It is the stigma and the shame that almost inexplicably still in 2018 and is attached to these medical conditions that are killing people. I see lawyers die every year because they are too afraid and too ashamed to pick up the phone and ask for help. This outmoded way of viewing things is killing lawyers and killing people across the country. And I just have to pull up my soapbox about that because I sit here on a phone at the Lawyers’ Assistance Program and I get these calls, and I read the reports of lawyers dying, and I spend every day and I know Brian does too to stop that litany of news articles about lives being destroyed.
Brian Cuban: And let’s make no mistake about this, there is a demographic of our profession who believe that addiction is a moral failing, they just do, and I don’t know — we don’t have a study on that but I can tell you, anecdotally, that I know lawyers who believe it is. And so within our own profession we are dealing with that stigma and have to fight against that.
Bree Buchanan: Yes, I know, but I want to have — a question I wanted to ask you and just exploring this some more, how do you think we can get more lawyers to ask for help for themselves, I mean, we talked about how lawyers go and have the difficult conversation, but how do we get lawyers and law students and even judges who are experiencing things to pick up the phone and ask for help or go somewhere and ask for help.
Rocky Dhir: Thank you, Bree, that’s a huge question. Wow.
Brian Cuban: There’s no magic code to that but I think the power of storytelling is a powerful motivator to people and we need more lawyers, more law students speaking up.
Now, one of the issues of course is, like for me, Brian, I have nothing to lose, right? I’m not practicing. People are like, okay, well, he has nothing to lose. Lawyers, we have the stigma, lawyers may silently in social media anonymously talk about it, but they may be resistant to speak up because they have jobs and they’re afraid of stigma, they’re afraid of losing their job, they’re afraid of losing a partnership track.
Rocky Dhir: Clients.
Brian Cuban: A law student has the stigma of character and fitness they’re afraid of, and so we have all these barriers — say barriers to entry to breaking stigma that have to be broken as well to put forth the message. Does that make sense, Bree?
Bree Buchanan: It does, and I will have to say, you know, I have a dream that someday in the very near future we are going to start seeing the way these disorders are viewed, like other medical conditions which are chronic, treatable, not curable, just like diabetes or some forms of cancer or heart disease.
Brian Cuban: I agree.
Bree Buchanan: Yeah, we need to get there.
Brian Cuban: And a good illustration of the dichotomy, of the stigma here is the recent article, was it the Quinn Emanuel Partner who came out about depression? There was a big article about a partner; I believe it was at Quinn Emanuel, who came out about how he was suffering depression and encouraging people to come forward. Good luck finding a lawyer who is currently employed who would do that about substance use.
Rocky Dhir: Well, and so if I can play devil’s advocate because I am sitting here nodding my head at everything you are both saying, but I am trying to — and again, I am coming at this completely untrained, but I am trying to put myself in the position of somebody who needs help.
So Bree, you made the analogy with diabetes, but a diabetic lawyer can still successfully represent clients as long as they are taking their insulin and they are managing their diets. But imagine a lawyer who says, I am suffering or I am about to suffer from dementia or I am at early stage Alzheimer’s and that’s going to affect his or her ability to actually represent clients.
Now, when we are talking about the stigma and somebody is seeking help, if I am suffering from addiction, I might be afraid that my clients, once I come out with that, my clients might choose other counsel because they don’t want a lawyer who has got an addiction issue. How do you overcome that if you are in the trenches?
Brian Cuban: Well, first, let’s separate out the dementia and Alzheimer — let’s separate the dementia and Alzheimer issue because of the nature of that, no lawyer would probably say that. It would be other people having to notice it of having —
Bree Buchanan: Yeah, it’s a completely different animal.
Brian Cuban: And it’s a different animal we are going to have to deal with as the baby boomers age, but it’s another issue.
Rocky Dhir: But I am trying to draw the analogy with disease —
Brian Cuban: I was going to ask you to repeat the question.
Rocky Dhir: You know, I am trying to draw the analogy with — so the analogy that Bree drew was with diabetes, addiction and how diabetes is a —
Brian Cuban: Well, you have to remember, okay, the disease model. Does addiction have different characteristics than diabetes as within the disease model, of course it does. There are different correlations, people — I am very honest about this, there is not a high correlation with offending with diabetes, right?
Rocky Dhir: Right.
Brian Cuban: So we acknowledge that there are these differences, but people get caught up in that instead of going to the basic biological rewiring of the brain of why it’s a disease. Does that — do you agree with that, Bree?
Rocky Dhir: Well, I — oh, sorry, go ahead Bree.
Bree Buchanan: Yeah. What happens is that when you are exposed to these chemicals over an extended period of time, there are actual structural and chemical changes to the brain and science is really clear on those things.
Rocky Dhir: I guess my question guys is, all right so, if I am the client, all right, and if I have got a lawyer who says — I am talking to my lawyer and she says, you know what, I have to tell you, I am suffering from depression. Or you know, I have been suffering from an addiction. As a client I might be inclined to say, you know, look, I wish you well. You know, God love you, but I have got to find another lawyer. And so that might stop lawyers from wanting to admit that they have a problem in the first place.
Brian Cuban: The projection —
Bree Buchanan: And I can see that there’s a fear there, but I will tell you having counseled lawyers over the past eight years in this area, what actually happens is very different. Clients love it when the lawyers are honest with them and the piece of this has to be of course not just that, I am an alcoholic but the idea that I am an alcoholic and I am in treatment and I am in recovery, of course there is really actually not much of a reason that you would ever need to say that to a client, but let’s say that you decide that’s necessary for whatever reason.
These are conditions that are manageable and treatable. If somebody is in long-term recovery and is getting the type of program that they need to go through, in talking to people in long-term recovery, you are going to find out that they are better lawyers than they have ever been because of the structure and the types of tools that they implement into their lives.
Brian Cuban: Absolutely. And let’s not kid ourselves here, clients, everyone knows somebody in long-term recovery, everyone knows somebody. It’s not like this happens in a vacuum, where it only happens to lawyers. The problem with that kind of projection of stigma is lawyers project out the fear, then they start kicking the can of recovery down the road, okay, and then suddenly it turns into conduct, where the consequences have now caught up with the problem and now you are going to lose the client, Now there’s a malpractice, now it’s risk management.
Bree Buchanan: Right, right.
Brian Cuban: Okay. And so that’s when it becomes the problem.
Bree Buchanan: So our whole idea here is to get people to step forward and ask for help before it gets so extreme, and currently, because of the stigma and the shame what I see happens too often is that lawyers wait until they have lost everything. They will first lose their family, their children, multiple jobs, a house, and it’s only when they are getting to the point sometimes when they are about to lose their license or their career that they finally are at the bottom. Things are painful enough that they are willing to ask for help.
And we need to shift that paradigm, where at the first sign of trouble or the second sign of trouble, they are coming forward in getting help and there are resources everywhere. There are so many different types of programs for people who are experiencing these problems. There is inpatient that we all know about. There is outpatient. There are stay programs. There’s 12 Step programs. There’s peer support programs. It’s everywhere. People just need to be willing to ask for help and realize that it’s not the end of the world; it’s the beginning of a new and flourishing way of life.
Brian Cuban: Absolutely. And in society and in recovery we have embraced this stereotype of “rock bottom” where recovery doesn’t have to happen until the worst happens in someone’s life, when they have hit rock bottom. I get asked all the time, what’s your rock bottom? Was that your — I prefer recovery tipping point.
So that one’s contrary to what Bree had said that we have to find ways to bring — empower people to seek help at the highest possible level of performance before it gets to “rock bottom” as a stereotype of the worst happening in our lives.
Bree Buchanan: Yeah. And I just want to take a moment to recognize Brian and the incredibly courageous work he does, because I looked a lot at what works in breaking through, in breaking down stigma and it’s what Brian is doing. It is putting a face on long-term recovery and getting out there and saying, this is me, this is what my life was like and this is what I have done, and what it’s like now, and being able — for people to see, wow, he is a great guy and I really wish I had what he has right now, and being able to put a face on that is what will end the stigma.
Brian Cuban: Absolutely. And thank you Bree, I appreciate those kind words. I want to circle back, because one of the problems we have now, not so much with depression, because depression is, I think, less stigmatized in the legal profession than substance — than addiction, although it is very stigmatized, a lawyer is not going to necessarily worry about losing his job as much if he talks about being depressed and decides he is going to come out.
As I said earlier, try finding a lawyer who is currently employed, who currently is doing well, who is going to put his current face and say I am in long-term recovery from alcohol or drugs; maybe alcohol, certainly not drugs. That is a much —
Bree Buchanan: And I will have one for you. Let’s come back on the show and I will have one — I will have more than one.
Brian Cuban: Good, because in my experience that is a very difficult barrier for lawyers, because of the stigma, they don’t want to jeopardize anything and especially with substance use.
Rocky Dhir: And Brian, you have not just put a face to the issue, you have actually put your face and your name on a book, right? So it’s called ‘The Addicted Lawyer’. We have talked about this before, you and I kind of individually. If you could tell us for a second who needs to be reading this, because it says ‘The Addicted Lawyer’, is it —
Brian Cuban: I hate to pander to my own book.
Rocky Dhir: Well, no, it’s not about pandering. What I am asking is, who is your intended audience, because you are saying ‘The Addicted Lawyer’.
Brian Cuban: Law students and lawyers.
Rocky Dhir: Because you are saying ‘The Addicted Lawyer’, is it geared towards lawyers or is it —
Brian Cuban: It’s geared towards law students and lawyers. ‘The Addicted Lawyer’ is not a pure memoir, it’s about 75% memoir, my story, but it also has stories from other law students and lawyers in recovery dealing with everything from alcohol to cocaine to heroin. It has advice from those who represent lawyers and law students in the disciplinary system. It has advice in general, recovery advice.
So it is a book meant to be not just an entertainment memoir, although, how many people have traded Dallas Mavericks’ Championship tickets for cocaine, come on.
Rocky Dhir: I am assuming you are one of them.
Brian Cuban: I am the only one in this country, I think. So I have some humorous stories in there, but the overall point of the book is to let people know that they are not alone and to give practical advice to people who are struggling and things they can do.
I talk about TLAP. I talk about all kinds of place — different recovery, peer assistance, 12 Step, SMART Recovery and different things law students and lawyers can do.
Bree Buchanan: Yeah. And I want the listeners also to know that if they want to get more information about TLAP, our website is tlaphelps.org and you can find that — use that as a portal to access services with us.
Rocky Dhir: And that’s T-L-A-P helps with an s dot org.
Brian Cuban: And Bree, I want to backtrack, when I talk about lawyers who are unwilling to put a face to it, I think in terms of full names. So I am thinking in terms of, okay, my name is first name, last name. Here is what I am going through. I am sure —
Bree Buchanan: Oh no, I am going to get you — I will get you people that will do the full name.
Brian Cuban: Oh, great. Okay. I would love to get their stories out there.
Bree Buchanan: Yeah.
Rocky Dhir: It sounds like we have got part 2 of the podcast already done. This is great.
Bree Buchanan: Yeah, let’s do it.
Brian Cuban: Yeah, let’s do it. We need more voices and we need more voices with names and faces behind them.
Rocky Dhir: Well, and I have got to tell you, again, as somebody who is a layperson looking at this, I want to learn more about this. I mean there’s — it’s a whole another world for a lot of people that they are just unaware of. But you can both comment on this, but I know Brian, with your book, you said it’s geared towards lawyers and law students. So let’s talk for a second about what’s special or unusual for lawyers and law students dealing with addiction and depression versus people who may not be in our profession?
Brian Cuban: Special or unusual? Well, we have our own unique stressors to our profession. The law students have their own unique stressors and triggers in law school. But what is unique to us as a profession I think is that we are — as lawyers, we tend to not like to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. As law students, we tend to not like to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
Rocky Dhir: You think that’s special to our profession?
Brian Cuban: We view vulnerability as a weakness.
Bree Buchanan: Yeah. We are expected to be warriors. I mean that’s what we are trained to do, to put on armor and go out there and fight for our clients. And so we can’t show vulnerability, we can’t show a chink in the armor and that starts to become inculcated to us from the time that we enter the law school world.
Brian Cuban: And it’s not just the legal profession; vulnerability, the ability to be vulnerable is one of the gatekeepers to recovery across the board, but as a profession we are — we don’t like to do that. We take advantage in the adversarial process of vulnerability. We don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
Bree Buchanan: Absolutely.
Rocky Dhir: So how do we as lawyers overcome that I guess?
Bree Buchanan: Yeah, I think that there is — you can look — I am inspired by some of the models that come out of the military and their Warriors Programs, and the idea of changing how we frame this, that the courageous thing to do is step up and ask for help. When the warrior gets in trouble, they don’t just curl in a ball and hunker down, they ask for help.
Rocky Dhir: Ask for backup.
Bree Buchanan: And we need to reframe this and start thinking about it in a different way.
Brian Cuban: And Bree is absolutely correct and it circles back to one of the first things we talked about, it’s incumbent upon us as a profession to let our colleagues know that it’s okay to be vulnerable.
Rocky Dhir: What can law firms do? What do you think a law firm could do to help people?
Brian Cuban: Well, there are quite a few things in the Task Force report. I will let Bree take that.
Bree Buchanan: Sure. And there is actually — it’s exciting times for this whole topic. ABA President Hilarie Bass has a Working Group to Advance Lawyer Well-Being and a piece of that we are working on Model Policy on Impairment that should go before the ABA in August and be adopted as a model for the whole country.
And the idea here is for law firms to address this and look at it head on. Again, this is something that lawyers say, I didn’t go to law school to deal with this, but given that the rate of problematic drinking in this country is 1 in 5 for lawyers, all lawyers, 1 in 3 of lawyers under 30, we have got to open our eyes and address it.
And so you set out in a policy, what is the protocol within the law firm, if you are worried about somebody, well, who do you take that to? Who do you go talk to? Setting out, what is the law firm going to do for that individual lawyer? Are they able to take leave, clarify that? Set out the conditions under which they come back to work and just make it very clear. And we know that this is going to happen given the high statistics, so let’s just plan for it.
Also, another thing that the Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being is encouraging law firms to do is make this a priority, and the way that you make it a priority, not just with a Model Policy on the Impairment piece, but build into the infrastructure and the governance structure of the law firm that they are going to address well-being for their firm, whatever that may look like.
And so you may have a well-being czar, well-being managing partner or there may be a committee that’s looking at these issues for the firm and how they are going to address it.
Lawyers are incredibly resourceful and brilliant, and if we just have something, a task on our to-do list, we are going to succeed. We are going to accomplish it. The issue is not to micromanage with the law firms and tell them what it is exactly they need to be doing, although there’s plenty of folks that would like to do that. But just say, make this a priority and you figure out what does this look like for your firm and your lawyers.
Another thing that is happening nationally is we are developing a Pledge Program, a campaign for law firms to start addressing well-being issues for their employees and making a pledge to do so. And making it something by which clients can judge the value of the law firm. It’s something that was done nationally in the past few years around diversity and inclusion, which creates an excellent model for us.
And so nationally the plan is to carry that forward and get law firms to step forward and say, we are taking action to make sure that our lawyers are healthy and in good condition to be able to provide the absolute best services possible to our clients, because well-being of the lawyer really gets down to the core duty of our ability to provide competent representation to our clients.
Brian Cuban: And we can take that a step back further in that law schools are also looking at the same thing, what they can do, because these issues are often systemic and these issues are often culturalized, dating back to college or maybe somebody is even using drinking and substances as a way to deal with stress starting before college.
And so the students with these problems, I say it all the time, addicted law students become addicted lawyers if there is not some type of intervention. So law schools are looking at ways as well to empower students to help each other and recover and change the culture of drinking that is prevalent at so many schools.
When I was at Pitt Law, we had hard alcohol, happy hours right in the student lounge. I mean this was back in the 80s and that doesn’t happen now, so the culture has changed some, but there is still a culture of drinking. And so the culture of drinking becomes the same culture of using alcohol to relieve stress at the practice level, and law schools are starting to look at wellness committees. I think there are five or six law schools that have actual counselors full-time on staff.
Rocky Dhir: But just five or six?
Brian Cuban: Yes, obviously in a perfect budgetary world you would like to see more, but the realities of budgeting and we would hope that as we move forward and this becomes more of a topic, a more talked about issue that they will find money and budgets to do the same things.
Rocky Dhir: Now Bree, if I could ask you just to clarify, if somebody calls into TLAP, either for someone else, for themselves, then who all do you have to report that to?
Bree Buchanan: No one. And thank you for that question, it is so important. Everything that we do, all of the communications are completely wrapped in confidentiality. We do not, cannot, will not report or turn over any information regarding a lawyer that we are trying to help or any lawyer who calls about another lawyer or law student they are concerned for to anyone.
We are behind double locked doors. We don’t keep records. We don’t keep notes. There is no file open or case open when we talk to a lawyer. Confidentiality is everything that we do.
So to answer the question just head on, do we ever provide information or turn over names to discipline or the character and fitness of the Board of Law Examiners, and the answer is absolutely no, never, ever.
Rocky Dhir: Even if there is an ethics violation? Let’s say that somebody calls in and says —
Bree Buchanan: Even if.
Rocky Dhir: Okay.
Brian Cuban: And Bree, how do we break through the demographic of those who say, I don’t care what Bree says. I don’t care what they have on their website. I just don’t trust it?
Bree Buchanan: Sure.
Brian Cuban: How do we break through that?
Bree Buchanan: So what we do with that is that we will speak to people anonymously. We are not — we don’t do an intake when people call. Please don’t give me your Bar number. What your name is or your identifier is, is not of relevance to us.
So if you want to call, if you really just don’t believe it, okay, well, call us and speak to us anonymously and we don’t have to have your name and date of birth to give you referrals, which we can do to providers in your area.
It would be great if you said, for instance, I am in Dallas, that would be helpful, so we can give you treatment programs or a psychiatrist or a psychologist. But we are really just here to help and so we are going to do that in any way we can and at whatever level a person is open to and willing to engage in.
Brian Cuban: In fact, there is an anecdote I like to tell I — this was a while ago. I was talking to a trial lawyer and he said, Brian, I don’t care what you say, TLAP is not confidential? I said how do you know that? Well, a lawyer told me. Well, how does he know that? Well, I think he — someone may have told him. So you are a trial lawyer and you are coming to me with a guy told a guy who told a guy.
Rocky Dhir: It’s triple hearsay.
Brian Cuban: That it’s not confidential. But that illustrates the stigma. That illustrates the fear.
Bree Buchanan: Yeah.
Rocky Dhir: Objection sustained. The jury does not hear that one.
Okay, we are kind of nearing the end of our time, which I very much regret because this is, I hate to use the word fascinating, but it is a fascinating topic and yet it’s so serious and has such wide ranging affects on a huge demographic in our Bar.
Brian Cuban: Hey, I could talk about this all day, do another one.
Rocky Dhir: We will be happy to have you back and Bree, you have been an amazing co-host here, so we would love to have —
Bree Buchanan: Thank you.
Rocky Dhir: –both of you back to maybe do part 2. And Bree, you can bring some of those lawyers that Brian was challenging you for.
Brian Cuban: That would be wonderful, as many voices as possible, as many voices as possible encourages other voices.
Bree Buchanan: Absolutely. I agree.
Rocky Dhir: Well, good.
Bree Buchanan: Right. Get a critical mass.
Brian Cuban: That’s right.
Rocky Dhir: Now, I want to make sure that people know about this. So if you are listening, if you are concerned that you or another member of the profession is struggling with the substance use or mental health disorder, you can call the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, that’s TLAP, confidentially and even anonymously.
So get a pen and paper or open up your smartphone and take down this number, 1-800-343-8527. Again, that’s 1-800-343-8527.
Or go to the website, tlaphelps.org for more information. You might be able to help yourself. You might be able to help someone else. But please keep those numbers and that website handy, it could save a life.
Looks like in Brian’s case and in Bree’s case, it has definitely made a big impact on them, so thank you both for being here.
Bree, you have been a rock star, thank you.
Bree Buchanan: Thank you.
Rocky Dhir: And Brian, as always, thank you for everything you are doing. You have both been very courageous to come on here and to get your voice heard.
Brian Cuban: It’s always an honor to come on and share my story. Thank you.
Rocky Dhir: Thank you.
Bree Buchanan: Absolutely, thank you.
Rocky Dhir: And thank you for listening to the State Bar of Texas Podcast. If you liked what you just heard and enjoyed this programming, you can find us and a lot of other great content at legaltalknetwork.com. And also please remember to rate us in Apple Podcasts and/or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.
Thank you again for being with us today. Take care and be well.
Outro: If you would like more information about today’s show, please visit legaltalknetwork.com, go to texasbar.com/podcast, subscribe via Apple Podcasts and RSS. Find both the State Bar of Texas and Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or download the free app from Legal talk Network in Google Play and iTunes.
The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of nor are they endorsed by the State Bar of Texas, Legal Talk Network or their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
Brian Cuban: And I just realized — I don’t know why that it just occurred to me that I didn’t know that this was just audio so I didn’t have to wear a suit.
Rocky Dhir: It’s okay.
Brian Cuban: Okay.
Bree Buchanan: Well, we know that you look good.
Rocky Dhir: At least you didn’t come in complaining about where are the hair and makeup people.
Brian Cuban: I even shaved this morning because I thought this was video.
Rocky Dhir: I know, I know.