LAWYERING FOR A LAWYER WITH A ?DISABILITY?

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As a result of a 1987-88 review of the disciplinary procedures in other states, the Texas Grievance Oversight Committee concluded that the Texas disciplinary rules lacked a system to deal with lawyers impaired by mental illness or substance abuse. The previous rules did not make special provisions for the disabled lawyer, other than lawyers who had been adjudicated incompetent by the court system. In 1990, the Texas Supreme Court approved a revised Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure (TRDP) which includes a comprehensive system for protecting the public from lawyers who have become incompetent due to mental illness or substance abuse through the mechanism of a new sanction: indefinite disability suspension. This sanction operates to prevent a disabled lawyer from causing irreparable harm to the public, the courts, and the profession. Furthermore, disability suspension assures that the disabled lawyer will receive treatment for his condition before returning, if at all, to the practice of law. This article focuses on the procedural considerations of triggering a referral to the ?disability docket? and successfully navigating the Texas disability rules when a lawyer faces a grievance complaint resulting from mental illness or substance abuse.

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