Above the Law claims it provides legal analysis and relevant commentary on the legal industry. After reading senior editor Joe Patrice’s recent missive, Finally, A Reason to Drink!! Here’s your guide to making the State of the Union bearable, it seems ATL has discovered a new mission: encouraging attorneys to consume copious amounts of alcohol.
Perhaps ATL thought this was funny. It isn’t.
Putting aside the fact that many reporters (lawyers too) don’t really need to find a “reason” to drink, the State of the Union Drinking Game goes above and beyond any semblance of journalism. Instead, it lowers itself to the depths of tabloid fodder and actively encourages its attorney readers to engage in a night of binge drinking.
ATL apparently believes it is beyond hysterical that one can turn the State of the Union Address into a frat party.
Drinking Game incites ATL’s readers to drink, drink, and drink some more. All while watching the president’s speech. This is twisted.
According to the rules of Drinking Game, you must drink:
- For each Supreme Court Justice who fails to attend the State of the Union Address (that would be four shots—one each for no shows Sotomayor, Thomas, Gorsuch and Alito);
- At any mention of term limits for Supreme Court justices (one “sip” for each)
- At any mention of expanding the Court (now you must “finish your drink”);
- At any mention of any Supreme Court case (one sip each);
- At any mention of qualified immunity (sip your drink);
- At any mention of an existing Constitutional Amendments (one sip per Amendment);
- At any proposal for another Constitutional Amendment (finish your drink);
- Whenever the president uses the words “fear” or “favor” (two sips each); and
- When the speech hits one hour (drink), and then for every ten minutes until it ends (drink again at each interval).
That’s a lot of drinking. And it would have made for a nasty hangover for anyone who followed the Drinking Game rulebook.
All of this causes me to wonder what the hell was Above The Law thinking?
The Legal Industry Health Crisis
Just in case the editors and staff of Above The Law have been living on another planet, here is breaking news: the legal profession has a serious drinking problem.
And mental health issues.
But alcohol abuse is at the top of the list. IPethics & INsights has written about these concerns before, including here, here and here.
In 2016, the Journal of Addiction Medicine published “The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys.” This landmark study was the result of a comprehensive survey of some 13,000 U.S. attorneys conducted by Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association.
The JAM study observed that “Attorneys experience problematic drinking that is hazardous, harmful, or otherwise consistent with alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations.” Indeed, the JAM study found that 20.6% of the participants–all of whom were practicing attorneys–had a significant alcohol abuse disorder. Even more concerning, 28.9% of attorneys in their first ten (10) years of practice were flagged as problem drinkers.
JAM was not a one off. A 2020 study in ALM showed that 44% of attorneys surveyed used alcohol as a means to deal with stress. Another 2021 study by California Lawyers Association and the D.C. Bar (CA/DC) found that over half of the participants screened positive for risky drinking, and 30% were identified as high-risk hazardous drinkers (interpreted as alcohol abuse or possible dependence).
All of these findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for many lawyers’ basic competence.
Most people in the practice of law recognize that drinking and drug use is a significant problem for the profession. They just didn’t realize how significant a problem it was. Now, we have data to back observation. Considering there are over 1.3 million licensed legal professionals in the United States today, that means there are likely hundreds of thousands of U.S. lawyers who are suffering from alcohol related disease and addiction.
ATL Responds With History and a Yawn
In response to a request for comment about this article, Patrice, the Drinking Game author, acknowledged the problem in the profession. “Obviously, the legal profession has a higher incidence of substance abuse than others,” says Patrice.
Yet Patrice, when given an opportunity to walk-back the behaviors he encourages in Drinking Game, double downed on his original premise–that drinking in the law is not such a big deal.
Patrice says (and I am NOT making this up): “While some lawyers have unhealthy relationships with alcohol, it does not follow that all or even a majority do.”
Yeah, he really said that. I do feel SO MUCH BETTER now.
Patrice also says that “social drinking games and this [SOTU] speech have a long-standing history.”
There we have it–HISTORY! It commands our idiocy!
ATL’s attempt to make light of an existential threat to the legal profession is a giant step backward. National, state, and local bar organizations, law firms, private companies, and state and federal governments have strived to create programs educating the public on this crisis of alcohol and substance abuse, and related issues.
To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer, and yet our profession is falling short and continues to struggle. Encouraging lawyers that excessive drinking is okay because of a supposed “long-standing history” of such “games” is not just incredibly ignorant. It is extremely dangerous.
To maintain public confidence in the profession, and to reduce the level of toxicity that has allowed mental health and substance use disorders to fester among our colleagues, we must act to destigmatize these issues, encourage the profession to seek treatment, and work tirelessly to change and improve the health and wellbeing of the profession. To joke about the issue, as Above the Law has, and suggest ill-advised binge drinking games, is antithetical to this movement. It is not a laughing matter. Not even close.
Call for Action
Above the Law needs a wakeup call. I urge you to take action. Instead of drinking shots, try one or more of these healthier alternatives:
First, let the editors at Above The Law know how you feel. Write to Joe Patrice at email@example.com.
Second, contact Breaking Media, which owns and publishes ATL. Write to John Lerner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Third, unsubscribe to Above the Law.
Fourth, boycott ATL’s product and service offerings.
Finally, if all else fails, hit ATL where it really hurts—advertising revenues. Complain loudly to its sponsors. Those include familiar companies like United Airlines, Hertz, Major, Lindsey & Africa, and Thomson Reuters, to name but a few. I wonder if they too support a culture of systematic self-harm.
ATL needs to learn that drinking, like drug abuse, is not just some game.
It is Russian Roulette.