5 Questions with Brian Cuban on Battling Addiction in the Legal Profession

Topics: American Bar Association, Client Relations, Government, Justice Ecosystem: Workflow, Law Firms, Law Schools, Leadership, Q&A Interviews, Talent Development

There’s a dirty little secret in the legal profession, and it often starts on the first day of law school. Alcohol is everywhere — at bar association events, conferences, celebrations, birthdays or just a dinner. But it often doesn’t end there. It can move quickly to addiction to other drugs sought initially to relieve some of the pressures of a high-stress job.

Like doctors, lawyers can lose their licenses and ruin their careers if they become addicts. That fact alone can keep people from seeking help. (Lawyers have a higher addiction rate than doctors according to the ABA Hazleton study.)

Brian Cuban‘s new book, “The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of The Bar, Booze, Blow, and Redemption” pulls away the curtains and tells his dramatic story of being a drug- and alcohol-addicted attorney. (And yes, he’s the brother of Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks; an entrepreneur; and a regular investor on the TV show Shark Tank.)

In July, Brian Cuban was a guest on the Law Technology Now podcast on the Legal Talk Network, and the conversation was compelling. He candidly discusses how he became a cocaine addict, how he acknowledged and overcame the shame and guilt and finally got help. He graciously agreed to answer five questions for the Legal Executive Institute’s Justice Ecosystem.

5 Questions with Brian Cuban

  1. You have your ticket but you don’t practice law. Why did you decide to stop practicing?

Brian Cuban: I finally came to terms with the reality that I went to law school for all the wrong reasons — and despite some success, never felt like I belonged in the profession. My primary reason for going to law school was that I could hide from the real world for three more years and not have to deal with my mental health issues: alcoholism and both traditional and exercise bulimia.

Brian Cuban

I did not have the self-awareness to understand these issues then, but I inherently knew that I was “different” in a shameful way. I was in a day-to-day grind of simply getting through each day and felt I could continue that in law school. The need to maintain that present reality was exponentially more powerful than any vision of my future.

  1. Your brother, Mark Cuban, has been a strong supporter of your book (and of course, you). Was it difficult to take his help? Did your relationship change during the process?

Brian Cuban: It was very difficult to accept his help at first, not because of who he was, but because I was in denial of my addiction and other mental health issues. I was in a very fortunate position to have family who cared, and also a brother who was financially able to put me in a position to recover without regards to cost.

However, I didn’t want his help. I vividly remember standing in the lobby of a Dallas psychiatric facility in July 2005, where Mark and my younger brother had taken me when I had become suicidal. They came into my home, and I had a weapon on my nightstand that I intended to use on myself. There was cocaine, black market Xanax and booze everywhere.

They were making calls to residential treatment facilities from the lobby of the facility without regards to insurance coverage, but I refused to go. My only thought was that I wanted them to take me home and leave me alone. They were trying to save my life and all I could think about was that they were interfering in my life.

We have always been close, so I don’t think the relationship changed. Our father was the middle of three boys, like I am, and he always stressed the bond of family and brothers. This was that bond in action. I feel very lucky to have this bond with my brothers — many families dealing with addiction don’t have that support structure.

  1. What do law students need to know about addiction and how the legal profession doesn’t seem to address it?

Brian Cuban: Without recovery, addicted law students are probably going to become addicted lawyers. Law students who cope with stress by drinking or self-medicating are very likely to deal with it the same way in a legal profession. There are very few touchpoints to create the self-awareness needed to seek help without it being eventually forced on the person.

The legal profession is slowly changing in how it addresses addiction, and it’s incumbent on the young lawyer entering the profession to understand his or her own vulnerabilities, triggers and ways of dealing with stress — and put techniques in place to deal with them.

As hard as this may be, it may include not putting yourself in a position that may not be best for your mental health. This is with regards to the type of job you accept or the type of law you practice.

It’s better to walk out the door of the law school armed with these truths, than have them forced upon you by the state bar or by losing your job. The consequences of addiction finally catch up with the disease itself.

That includes choosing law school. We often overlook that a law student brings the emotional or mental baggage of their life when they arrive at 1L. It is very unlikely it will be dealt with during the demands and stress of school, until it is noticed by someone else or a negative event occurs. I tell law students the same thing I tell lawyers who come to me with substance use issues: “Today is as good as it’s ever going to get without taking some step towards recovery.” Any step.

Don’t wait for consequences. Talk to your dean or assistant dean of students. See if there is a student recovery group on your campus. They are not prevalent in law schools but often times the larger university has one. If the law school is a stand-alone, many lawyers’ assistance programs could also help.

  1. What surprised you over your journey? 

Brian Cuban: By far, the biggest surprise and disappointment over the course of my journey has been how many people — lawyers included — who think addiction is a choice and a moral failing.

Was the first time I used cocaine in the bathroom of a hotel in Dallas in 2005 a “choice”? Of course, it was. However, I did not choose the psychological and then biological process of addiction that took hold after that. I did not do that first line of blow wanting to lose my career, go to jail, have three failed marriages and come close to taking my own life thinking, “Hey, that will be great!”

5. Where do you want to be in 2025?

Brian Cuban: I hope that at 64 years old, regardless of any other things I may do, I am still on a long-term recovery path and helping others who may be struggling. There are few things more gratifying in my life than helping others to find a path to recovery.