Lawyer with a video game addiction

Lawyer with a video game addiction

 

I just received the monthly newsletter of the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board.

Not Fun and Games: Lawyer with Video Game Addiction Suspended

This month's most interesting disciplinary decision is the case of Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Matthew J. Eshelman. By order dated August 17, 2011, Eshelman was suspended for three years by the Supreme Court, after the Disciplinary Board found that he had committed misconduct, much of it in the nature of neglect and failure to discharge various ethical duties, in seventeen cases.

The Respondent testified that he had for more than ten years sought refuge from professional and personal stress in computer games, to the point where he left or lost employment with three law firms. He then entered solo practice, where he retreated even more deeply into the games. He acknowledged that he could not practice law until he overcame his claimed addiction to electronic recreation. Finally he sought assistance from Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and took nonlegal employment.

Since Eshelman offered no expert testimony, the Board did not find mitigating factors under Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Braun, 520 Pa. 157 [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], 553 A.2d 894 (1989) [enhanced version ], but determined that a three-year suspension, consistent with prior cases involving similar misconduct, would allow Respondent to deal with the problem and restore his prior competence before returning to the practice of law.

Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania is a confidential, volunteer-driven organization which has been helping distressed and impaired lawyers and judges to regain their good health and professional competency since 1988. Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania is not affiliated with or controlled by the Supreme Court, the Disciplinary Board, the Judicial Conduct Board, the Board of Law Examiners, or the Pennsylvania Bar Association, and does not disclose information about lawyers it helps to those entities. Its confidential helpline, open 24 hours a day every day, may be reached at 888-999-1941.

The tragedy in this story is that Mr. Eshelman's career could have been saved years ago had someone at one of his prior law firms taken action. Law firm partners and managers - even in small firms - should be alert to unusual behaviors or unusual patterns in performance, such as missed deadlines and neglect of client affairs.

When you see this stuff going on, ask about it. It is better to confront the issue early and risk hurting someone's feelings than to hope that the problem will somehow solve itself. Doing nothing usually will only make things worse for the individual and for your law firm.

Click here to download an article by Lisa Walker Johnson and Robert Sharpe about mental health issues in law firms.

For more information on Walker Clark services in this area, please contact Lisa M. Walker Johnson by e-mail, or by telephone at +1.941.322.7077.  (The e-mail link will take you to a validation screen and then to your e-mail application.)

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