Drug use in NZ’s legal profession

by Hannah Norton02 Sep 2015
Long hours and pressure cooker stress levels first translated into increased amounts of depression the legal sector.

Now, it appears to have extended to drug use.

Yesterday, in the Auckland District Court, a senior Auckland lawyer admitted to charges of possession of methamphetamine, the New Zealand Herald reported.

The man has been declined name suppression - a decision he appealed immediately, meaning he cannot be named until the matter has gone before the High Court.

It is understood he is in his 40s and works for an Auckland firm which has since stood him down, with no formal decision made around his return to work.

The case comes only weeks after prominent Wellington barrister Keith Jefferies pleaded guilty to two charges of possession of methamphetamine, possession of BK-MDMA, possession of utensils for methamphetamine use and possession of a psychoactive substance.

And the New Zealand branch of The Drug Detection Agency (TDDA) is noticing a huge increase in professional services firms – including law firms – seeking drug tests for their staff.

While New Zealand Law Society president Chris Moore was unable to comment on these specific cases in accordance with The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006, he made some general observations about drug use in the profession.

"Although the practise of law can be fulfilling, it is nonetheless stressful,” he told NZLawyer.

“As a profession, lawyers deal with the task of analysing and attempting to solve issues for the public.

“Among the plethora of factors, combine the sheer volume of work, the types of people who are attracted to the profession and the adversarial nature of the legal system - it's not surprising that lawyers have a high risk of suffering in either or both a professional or personal capacity.”

The Society takes the welfare of those within the profession seriously, he said.

“Through our Practising Well initiative, we strive to provide information, support and access to services to enhance the health and wellbeing of members of the legal community.”

The online resources include information about addiction, places to get help, personal stories, further reading, links to online self-tests and more.

“At first the initiative was aimed at raising awareness of a perceived high incidence of depression and stress in the legal profession,” Moore said.

“However, the initiative has evolved from its original focus to a broader awareness of factors such as the promotion of general physical health and wellbeing and access to professional support mechanisms.

"Practising Well aims to provide a starting point for any lawyer who is concerned about their own welfare or that of a colleague. The focus is on getting lawyers 'practising well'."

If you are concerned about your own or a colleague’s drinking or drug use habits, find out where to get help here.