The story of a Virginia lawyer who has now been suspended for 6 months as a result of apparently drinking and being drunk while in attendance at a CLE event is making the rounds. There is a part of me that is a bit surprised that something like this does not happen more often when you combine the problems of substance abuse and self-medication for stress and other concerns in our profession plus the widespread idea that time spent in the audience for CLE is either a chance to get some work done or to check-out for the day.
Yet, I have spoken now at well more than 200 CLEs over the years, and I have only ever experienced something like this once. I was speaking for an Inns of Court group, which offered a cocktail reception before the session and had to endure some intermittent heckling from a relatively-prominent member of the bar who, to me, appeared pretty clearly to have indulged beyond reason at the cocktail portion of the proceedings.
From an ethics rule standpoint, it is interesting to try to hypothesize what the rule infraction for being drunk at a CLE event might be, and I plan to see if I can track down the actual charges or order in the future, but it could be as simple, of course, as finding a violation of RPC 8.4(c) violation associated with signing off on the required forms about your attendance to obtain CLE credit.
Still, more importantly than any future update that explains what the violation turned out to be, if you read this and are struggling with substance issues or just overwhelmed with stress/anxiety/depression or anything else for which you might be taking it upon yourself to self-medicate, there are resources available to you to get some confidential help. If you are a Tennessee lawyer, take a look at our Tennessee Lawyer’s Assistance Program which is an invaluable resource.