California Bar Journal
CBJ - November 2012 #02.
In national role, bar counsel seeks graceful way out for impaired attorneys
The California LawyerNovember 2012In national role, bar counsel seeks graceful way out for impaired attorneysBy Susan McRaeSpecial to the Bar JournalMurray B. Greenberg had one priority after becoming president of the National Organization of Bar Counsel (NOBC) in August: He set up a committee to help attorneys who are too old or ill to practice retire with dignity rather than face disbarment. Two months into the job, he's now making plans to form a second committee to look into situations where an attorney has noticeable problems, but intervene before misconduct charges are filed.
Greenberg, a senior trial counsel at the State Bar, has handled discipline cases for the past 24 years. He likens the second committee's responsibilities to helping a vision-impaired senior who wants to keep driving. The reason, he says, is they're going to hurt people if they continue driving.
"It's always a delicate situation," says the 60-year-old Greenberg, "because you don't necessarily want to say to someone, 'You're slipping.' It's like an intervention program, a close-knit support group of colleagues, friends or relatives who would come in and say, 'You need some help.' "
Greenberg said he sees the organization's two-pronged mission as protection and prevention. It safeguards the public while allowing a lawyer who's had an otherwise unblemished record to retire from the profession with dignity. This way, they avoid ending a career in disgrace because of minor misconduct caused by age-related disabilities.
The situation is important, he says, because the poor economy has prompted many older people to postpone retirement. Although many workers remain productive well into their 70s and 80s, some experience age-related problems, such as memory loss, as early as their late 40s and 50s. The average age of attorneys in California is 48, according to a State Bar survey completed last year. In 2007, the NOBC, together with the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, released results of a two-year study on problems of age-impaired lawyers. The groups came up with a list of recommendations to help attorneys transition into retirement when they could no longer function well in their jobs. But Greenberg, who...