Lawyers face higher risk of mental illness and the Fla. Bar Assoc. wants to help

If you need a lawyer chances are you’ve got a problem. Maybe a big one.

But the lawyer you’re depending on might have an even bigger problems. So who’s looking out for you?

Jack Schwartz runs a family business built on honesty, and the Better Business Bureau gives it an “A+” rating. When a business deal went bad in 2013 he got referrals and hired a lawyer.

Schwartz said the attorney that was supposed to protect him, J. Patrick Buckley, started taking money from him.

Within a year Buckley was suspended by the Florida Bar Association and disbarred.

“He took money from me after his license was suspended,” Schwartz said, wondering when it would end “…And he never stopped until he was arrested.”

DOCUMENT: Petition for Buckley’s Emergency Suspension

Buckley is serving prison time after pleading no contest to felony charges related to other clients, and for practicing law without a license.

Schwartz trusted recommendations, “He was referred to me by good local business people. So I would assume at some point he was a good lawyer, but something happened, something in his personal life.”

Buckley’s former attorney representing him said Buckley blamed his problems on alcohol and personal issues.

Michael Higer is the president of the Florida Bar and acknowledges the problems lawyers face, and he wants to get out in front of a staggering problem.

“33 percent of lawyers have been diagnosed with some kind of mental disorder,” Higer said.

Anything from mild anxiety to something more serious.

Higer added that 19 percent of lawyers have been treated for some kind of high anxiety disorder. 18 percent, or nearly 1 out of every 5, attorneys have an alcohol problem, which is double the general population.

Higer thinks getting lawyers to talk about issues like this can help, “If you don’t start having a conversation … If you don’t elevate the conversation … You’re not going to address the issue in a real, meaningful way.”

The Bar is starting a 24/7 hotline for lawyers and creating other ways they can more easily seek help in a system where showing weakness can be career ending.

“You want to give off this image that we’re invincible. Our clients want us to go to battle for them. To be that warrior.” Higer said.

He hopes it will help stop some issues before they get as big as Buckley’s.

How do you find a good lawyer, especially if you need one quickly?

Referrals are a good start.

The Florida Bar lets you search a lawyer’s education and discipline history. And if something doesn’t feel right at any point, you can start your research over.

There are links on the Florida Bar’s website that can help.

LINK: Florida Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service

Reporter:Chris Cifatte
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