At first blush, the idea that a lawyer could develop a gambling problem might seem far-fetched. After all, the highly esteemed, socially acceptable profession is associated with high achievement and prestige. Yet, upon closer examination, there are a number of unique characteristics about attorneys and their work that put them at an elevated risk of gambling disorder.
According to Jeff Wasserman, judicial outreach and development director at the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems and an attorney and recovering gambling addict himself, there are four primary factors that contribute to the risk of a lawyer developing a gambling problem: stress, ego, opportunity and accessibility.
“Lawyers experience higher rates of stress than the general working population, including absorbing the trauma and intimate details of their clients’ issues as they craft a case to pursue justice,” says Joan Bibelhausen, JD, executive director for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, a confidential lawyers assistance program in Minnesota. “When lawyers don’t develop effective stress management skills, they turn to stress relievers that can lead to addiction,” says Jeff. “One of those stress relievers is gambling.”
Lawyers are commonly considered to have large egos, which can impact their gambling in two ways. The first is an issue of control. “If you’re an attorney and you gamble in an activity where there’s some skill involved, your ego feels that you can win,” says Jeff. “You think you’re smarter and wiser and can manipulate the system better.” The second part of ego has to do with the perceived ability to stop gambling when desired. “Despite all evidence to the contrary, I thought I could stop whenever I wanted,” says Jeff. “Then I told myself I just didn’t want to stop. Of course it was my ego that prevented me from reaching the proper conclusion.”
The schedule and routine of many practicing attorneys is such that they don’t always work a typical 9-to-5 job, providing the opportunity to stop by the casino. “Lawyers often have to be away from home or the office, whether meeting clients or going to court to argue a deposition,” says Jeff. They are also expected to work long hours, so time allegedly spent working late could be time spent gambling. “There’s also the opportunity to access online gaming since many lawyers spend much of their workday alone at their computers,” says Joan.
There are two aspects to accessibility that increase the risk of gambling addiction. The first, which is not particularly unique to attorneys, is access to betting, whether that’s online on a device or at brick-and-mortar establishments. The second, more concerning aspect of access is the ability to get money. “Attorneys have access to client funds through trust accounts, something that can be very dangerous for attorneys who have a gambling addiction,” says Jeff.
“There is a strong prohibition against misusing a client’s money,” says Joan. If a lawyer is thinking at all about touching those funds, it’s time to ask for help. Lawyer assistance programs can be that resource because they understand lawyer stress and offer help without judgment.”
Lawyers must also consider the possibility that staff members with gambling problems can access client funds. “If a staff member has a gambling problem and is accessing client funds, the lawyer can ultimately be held liable,” says Joan.
Different Risks for Different Types of Attorneys
Certain types of attorneys may be more at risk for developing a gambling problem than others. For example, Jeff says there is greater risk for attorneys in private practice who have control over client funds and for those who engage in a lot of negotiation and risk taking. “The enjoyment an attorney gets from taking risks provides the same type of dopamine excitement that a gambler can experience,” says Jeff.
Even attorneys that practice criminal law, which often requires waiting to learn jury decisions, are more at risk. “In those cases, you’re either a winner or a loser, just as with gambling,” says Jeff.
“Overall, lawyers are risk takers,” says Joan. “Most attorneys take risks in their careers, whether it’s pursuing a matter in the first place or pursuing it in a way that can bring big rewards by taking a chance.”
Enhanced Ability to Hide an Addiction
While many problem gamblers become adept at hiding their addiction from others, attorneys may be particularly skilled. “As attorneys, we’re trained to make an argument, right or wrong, that supports our clients based on a given set of facts,” says Jeff. “Unfortunately, that talent can also be used to try and convince people that what we’re doing is normal.”
For More Information
For more information about the risks of gambling addiction among attorneys as well as the role attorneys can play in identifying others with gambling addiction, click here. Minnesota attorneys who have concerns about their gambling may contact Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) at 866-525-6466. LCL provides free, confidential peer and professional assistance to Minnesota lawyers, judges, law students, and their immediate family members on any issue that causes stress or distress.