Colorado Supreme Court

Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel

Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.

Yes, In Fact, You Are Your [Colleagues’] Keeper

Deputy Director, Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program


As lawyers, we have all experienced, observed, or dealt with impairment.  That’s not hyperbole, it is simply fact.  Maybe it was your own experience when life or the practice of law, or both became somehow overwhelming.  Or, if you haven’t experienced it personally, you have known/known of an attorney who has struggled or who “lost it.”  Maybe it’s a lost job, or suspension, or possibly disbarment.  Most tragically, in other instances, we hear that an attorney has experienced serious medical issues or died.  The circumstances vary widely, but frequently the underpinnings of the tragedy are an untreated addiction or another mental/behavioral health issue.

In such circumstances we who remain may be, and rightly so, confronted with an old question, “Am I my ‘brother’s or sister’s’ keeper?”  It’s a timeless question from antiquity with present day, real world implications in our society and particularly in our profession.  To what extent are we to be concerned for one another?  Do we have an obligation to “look out” for our colleagues? 

Often fellow lawyers, sometimes many, knew there was a problem.  Unfortunately, in the days and weeks that follow such a tragedy, the local bar and judiciary echo with a common refrain, “I, or everyone, knew ________ had a problem.”  Such statements may be factual, though not particularly helpful.  Other such comments, like “Nothing anyone could have done,” are based in dangerous misinformation.  In most cases, “somebody” could have done “something.”

The purpose of this article is to offer a response to those statements and questions.  In short, there are most certainly things that we can do; things that you can do to help possibly prevent the next tragedy. You can start by simply being a courteous professional in your daily life. Further, you can do your best to be cognizant of the countenance and conduct of your colleagues.  Are they showing up, “suited up,” and ready to proceed?  Or are they missing in action, unprepared, or unprofessional?  Has their behavior, their demeanor, or the caliber of their work changed?

If you have concerns, don’t sit back and hope it’s not another tragedy in the making.  Take action; investigate.  If your relationship with the attorney allows, ask directly.  If there is a problem, offer your support, and suggest they contact COLAP.  You can never know how much a genuine caring inquiry will mean to someone in serious need.  If you don’t know the attorney that well, ask someone you trust, who you know will treat your question confidentially if they are aware of any problem.  This is not about gossip; it’s about gathering important information, and possibly facilitating assistance for someone in need.  If, for whatever reason, these options aren’t possible, call our office at 303-986-3345.  All contact with COLAP is always held in strict confidence, unless you specifically authorize otherwise.

So yes, you are your colleague’s keeper.  You owe a duty to your fellows, to our profession, and to yourself to take action; to do your part to avert tragedy.  I close with the words of Sean, Will’s therapist in Good Will Hunting, played by Robin Williams, “Your move, Chief.”