Perhaps the biggest challenge facing those in the problem gambling field is creating awareness about the addiction. One of the more productive ways to increase understanding of gambling addiction – and ultimately to provide help to those who need it – is to reach groups of professionals who may come into contact with problem gamblers. These groups include bankers, healthcare professionals and lawyers.
Through its relationship with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL), Northstar is working to make more lawyers aware of behavior that suggests a problem with gambling. LCL is an organization that serves lawyers, judges, law students and their immediate family members who have mental health disorders or addictions, including compulsive gamblers.
“Depending on the type of law a lawyer practices, they might be more or less likely to be aware they have clients with gambling problems,” says Joan Bibelhausen, JD, executive director for LCL who also serves on the Northstar board. “Bankruptcy lawyers often are tuned into the potential for gambling addiction in their clients, but in the case of family lawyers or business lawyers, there may be less awareness of gambling as the reason for the breakdown in the family or problems in a business. It’s a hidden addiction in the law as everywhere else.”
“I think the educational sessions we give to lawyers are helpful,” says Susan Campion, training manager at Northstar. “When we ask for a show of hands as to how many lawyers have clients with gambling problems, the number is always higher at the end of the session after they’ve learned more about the warning signs and symptoms,” says Susan.
LCL receives calls from individuals or their affected others who seek help for a variety of addictions including gambling. “We get a lot of calls from people seeking help and it’s great when we can direct them to a resource,” says Joan.
Still, lawyers themselves are not immune to developing their own gambling problems. “Given that lawyers are generally considered to be risk takers, it’s logical to assume they’re at greater risk,” says Joan. In the event that lawyers become compulsive gamblers, it can be particularly concerning because they have access to client funds. “Though accessing a client’s funds would be the most unethical thing a lawyer can do, it can happen.” In fact, the book Never Enough by Michael Burke, is a first-person account of a lawyer who gambled his career away by using client funds.
One limitation that lawyers, like bankers, have in “airing” a client’s gambling problems to family, employers and others is the client-attorney privilege, which limits what a lawyer can share with others. However, in situations where “diminished capacity” (a legal term which brings into question someone’s mental abilities) may be present, the lawyer has options to provide protections for the client’s interests.