Law professionals, students at risk of substance abuse


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Eric Tindal sat casually at the edge of the table, his arm resting on the podium, and delivered a phrase he’d clearly uttered more than once before.

“My name is Eric Tindal. I’m a practicing attorney in Johnson County, and I’m an alcoholic,” he said.

Tindal spoke before a group of University of Iowa law students and faculty members Thursday on the topic of substance abuse among legal professionals and their clients. The discussion, titled “Substance Abuse in Our Clients, Our Colleagues, and Ourselves” is part of the “Lawyers and Leaders” series at the UI College of Law.

“It’s a topic I don’t think gets discussed at all,” said Tindal. “Certainly not enough.”

Tindal, now nearly five years sober, shared the story of his battle and eventual victory over alcoholism. Experts said his tale is a common one among legal professionals.

According to a study by the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 18 percent of lawyers in the United States suffer from alcohol problems — nearly double the general population’s 10 percent.
Linda McGuire, a UI associate dean of the law school, said alcoholism is one of the dangers of a legal profession.

“Substance abuse is an occupational hazard,” she said.

Link Christin, the director of the legal professionals program at Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in St. Paul, Minn., said a variety of factors can influence a lawyer’s problems with alcohol, including the high-stress nature of the job, and a clientele that often suffers from substance-abuse problems themselves.

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He said 70 to 75 percent of all crimes are committed while the criminal is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Christin said law students are also more susceptible to substance abuse, though for a different set of reasons. The competitive nature, pressure to perform, and lack of available jobs results in a higher rate of addiction among law students than those of other programs.

“The competition with other students ends up as stress,” said Christin. “And that develops isolation because the other students are enemies — it creates a breeding ground for addiction.”

He said the Socratic method, a type of instruction that’s commonly used in law schools, may also contribute to the problem.

“Instructors will sometimes pick one student at random and grill him or her for 20 to 30 minutes in front of a class of 100 students,” he said. “It’s meant to be a bit of a test to make sure they have what it takes.”

Christin, now six years sober, speaks from experience as law professor and recovered alcoholic.

“I realized if I got help, I had potential to live a more productive and successful life,” he said.

UI law student Brent Claricoates agreed with Christin in that law students are susceptible to alcohol problems, partly because of the culture of the legal field.

“You spend a lot of hours by yourself, and then you go out and drink,” said Claricoates. “And when you drink, you drink a lot.”

Christin said he was unsure if he’d still pursue a career in law if he’d known the dangers as a student.

“I loved being a trial lawyer,” he said. “It’s an incredible, exciting profession — but there’s a lot of serious risk.”

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