Drugs and the law

Craziness! A top barrister has been admitted to hospital. He collapsed in a hotel, allegedly after a prostitute administered drugs to him. It is not clear at this point what the drug was or whether it was administered with the barrister’s consent.

Another top barrister has said lawyers should be drug tested because of drug use in the legal profession. The head of the Victorian bar has said that this is nonsense.

It has to be admitted that about 10 years ago, Legal Eagle heard rumours of rampant cocaine abuse amongst some groups of solicitors and barristers. Some lawyers purportedly held cocaine parties, where all tabletops and cupboard tops were covered with cocaine.

Legal Eagle has actually tried cocaine herself. What?! When was this, I hear you ask?

Sorry to disappoint. It was under medical supervision during an operation. I broke my nose as a child, and had to get it straightened out again, because I was getting constant sinus infections. Anaesthetists administer cocaine during this operation as it stops bleeding and dulls pain. I wouldn’t recommend it as a way of trying cocaine. It did feel good for about 15 minutes after the operation, but then it wore off and my poor schnozzle hurt like hell. I had a nose like a strawberry for two weeks. My husband had to get a sinus operation, and was hoping he would get to try cocaine too, just once, but either he didn’t get given it or it had worn off by the time he came to. He was most disappointed.

Anyway, that’s the only time I’ve come across cocaine in my legal career. I’ve never seen or heard of any drug use by lawyers of my acquaintance. Obviously, I just move in the “wrong” circles? Or perhaps all those rumours are false?

I know that they do have drug tests at some companies already (eg, mining companies). Perhaps that’s the way of the future. I was thinking of the prospect. I would be pretty offended if someone wanted to test me for drugs. I spent years (a) cramming knowledge into this brain and (b) getting myself into a happy state. I’m not the kind of person to mess with that by taking drugs. So on a personal level, I’d hate it if they introduced drug tests for lawyers. But on a more abstract level, it would be interesting to see what the results would be if they did introduce drug tests amongst lawyers…?

Update

Peter Faris QC has prepared a fiery open letter to Michael Shand QC, Chairman of the Victorian Bar regarding cocaine use at the bar.

Update 2

Vale Peter Hayes QC, who died today. As I have said in a comment below, one of the problems with drug and alcohol use in the legal community is the devastating impact it can have on the physical and mental health of users.

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12 Comments

Filed under barristers, drugs, law, law firms, solicitors

12 responses to “Drugs and the law

  1. I knew a lot of accountants who had “ice” parties, that sound much like the cocaine parties you describe.

    And I’ve known plenty of lawyers who take speed.

    And you would have heard of the young associate from Freshfields who plunged to his death at the Tate Modern? link here http://www.thelawyer.com/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=125861&d=122&h=24&f=46

  2. Oanh, that’s a terrible story about the young lawyer. I’ve been to that gallery – makes my palms sweat to even think about what happened.

  3. As someone who smoked a bit of dope in my hippy youth but has long since straightened out, I must admit I’ve been pretty stunned at the casual acceptance of drug use among lawyers. In many cases, it seems to be an extension of widespread alcohol use for ‘self medication’ purposes.

  4. LDU

    When I came across that article I wasn’t surprised. Today drugs are everywhere and used by many people in many different fields. Drug use has become something accepted in society.

  5. pete m

    Never tried illegal drugs, never will – not my cup of tea. I can never understand why reality is so bad one must escape it with something so dangerous.

    Never come across any drug taking lawyer – solicitor or counsel. Sad to hear of it.

    When I first heard of this “let’s drug test the lawyers” I thought it was a joke. But ask yourself this – if you were an accused in any sort of serious criminal matter, would you be concerned to know if your lawyer was doped up? The question is, who pays for the testing?

  6. Good points, Pete M,

    I wouldn’t want a doped up lawyer representing me, any more than I’d like doped up surgeon operating on me.

    Who would pay for the testing? I suppose if solicitors worked in a firm, the firm would have to institute tests. A bit more difficult if they were sole practitioners or barristers – then it’s up to the individual.

    LE

  7. Tried cocaine twice but believe it was really only speed. Would it be a big issue because if members of the legal profession are using then they might know and protect suppliers? Otherwise, private lives, private business.

  8. Lad Litter,

    I know what you mean. To an extent, why shouldn’t what one does in one’s private life be a lawyer’s private business?

    However, I think drug use by lawyers raises public issues for the following reasons:
    1. We are people who are supposed to uphold the law and be ethical to a higher degree than others. Drug taking is illegal – so how can we be said to be a profession which upholds the law if we tolerate illegal practices within our ranks? It seems a bit hypocritical – it suggests that we’re above the law.
    2. If drugs use affects performance and service to clients, it also becomes an issue.
    3. The conflict of interest point which you have already made. For example, Andrew Fraser, was a lawyer who got jailed in 2001 for heroin importation and trafficking, was involved with various criminals and traffickers, and acted as a defence lawyer to some of them.

    Have a look at this interesting article in The Age the other day – provides a fair and balanced perspective.

    LE

  9. I read the Age article and there was more in the Sunday Age today to repudiate Peter Faris’ claims. I think
    “1. We are people who are supposed to uphold the law”
    is only potent if the profession condones drug use among its ranks. Clearly it does not. Individual practitioners make the same choices, to dabble or not, as the rest of the community, including footballers, with whom there is a parallel.

  10. You are right, the people who are administrators of the profession (the Bar Council, the Law Institute) do not tolerate the use of drugs or condone the use of drugs in any way. I take your point that individuals make a choice, and that’s their responsibility.

    Personally, I think drug testing of lawyers would be a waste of time, but it’s good that at least the issue is being discussed. There have been heaps of rumours going around for years, and lots of stuff just swept under the carpet.

    The unspoken issue is the relatively high incidence of depression and alcohol abuse by senior practitioners – there is evidence to suggest that some turn to abuse of alcohol and, by extension, drugs, to self-medicate and deal with the pressure (as Skepticlawyer says).

    I think it would be better to try to deal with the problems in the industry than to allow people to self-medicate and potentially put themselves at risk of harm.

    LE

  11. Baby Barrister

    You won’t be surprised to hear that this has been the source of much gossip at the Bar in the past week.

    In my personal opinion, drugs are an issue throughout society and all of the professions. The law is not an island in this regard. Just as in the rest of society, some people will lose control and jeopardise their and others’ interests. So it is in the law.

    On Faris, it seems that he has achieved his goal. Everyone is talking about him and his speculation on hearsay. It’s not good publicity but that does not seem to matter.

    Finally, on drug testing, where do you stop? I don’t just mean in relation to drugs but which other of our liberties need to be impinged to appropriately sanitise and sterilise?

  12. Yes, Baby Barrister, I guess it’s a matter of how far we want to infringe on people’s rights. Do you start stopping barristers from overeating? Drinking too much? Smoking? As I said in my post above, my gut reaction is that I would hate someone else monitoring me. It’s my business if I choose to take drugs or not, as much as it is if I eat hot chips for lunch every day or a healthy lettuce sandwich instead…

    In light of Lad Litter’s comments, I was thinking about the contrast between drugs (illegal) and alcohol (legal). I guess it’s because drugs are perceived as more “dangerous” to those who use them. So we regard that as an area where the law can impinge on people’s personal freedoms to an extent. Some drugs are more addictive than alcohol, and can lead people to take actions that they would not otherwise undertake (eg, heroin and ice). They cause social problems and health problems for society. But if we want to drink ourselves into a stupor, there is no law against that. Alcohol can equally well cause social and health problems. It’s a tough one to work out.

    As I said in my response to Lad Litter, I think the drug testing idea is not workable or appropriate. But I don’t like the pretense that the law is “immune” from drugs. We’re human beings too (honestly, we are!) I think it should be discussed and debated.

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