Work-Life Balance

BigLaw partner managed to dial in to work conference call before his drug-related death

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An intellectual property partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati continued to obsess over his work even as drug addiction took over his life.

The partner’s ex-wife, Eilene Zimmerman, never suspected that her husband Peter’s odd behavior in the 18 months before his 2015 death was caused by drug use, she wrote in an article for the New York Times.

The partner, described only as “Peter” in in the article, was constantly stressed. He had worked more than 60 hours a week for more than 20 years. He obsessed about competition, compensation and clients.

Zimmerman kept in contact with her husband. She noticed in the months before his death that he was at times angry and threatening, then remorseful and generous. His voice messages and texts were “meandering soliloquies.”

When Zimmerman was unable to reach Peter for a couple days, she drove to his house. She found him lying dead on the floor. Nearby were half-filled syringes, crushed pills, a spoon and lighter, a bag of white powder and a tourniquet. Peter had died from a bacterial infection often found in intravenous drug users.

Even as he dealt with drug addiction, Peter continued to work. He kept notebooks with notes about client calls and meetings, filing deadlines and document preparation lists. The notebooks also kept track of his drug injection times and dosages.

His last cellphone call was for work. “Peter, vomiting, unable to sit up, slipping in and out of consciousness, had managed, somehow, to dial into a conference call,” Zimmerman writes.

Many of the lawyers who attended Peter’s memorial service “were bent over their phones, reading and tapping out emails,” Zimmerman wrote. “Their friend and colleague was dead, and yet they couldn’t stop working long enough to listen to what was being said about him.”

Zimmerman researched statistics on lawyer substance abuse as she sought to make sense of her husband’s death. She cites a report released in 2016 by the ABA and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation that found 20.6 percent of the lawyers and judges surveyed reported problematic alcohol use, 28 percent said they experienced depression, 19 percent experienced anxiety and 23 percent experienced stress.

About 75 percent of the lawyers who took the survey skipped over questions about drug use. Study lead author Patrick Krill told Zimmerman he believes so many lawyers skipped the question because they were afraid to answer.

Hat tip to Above the Law.

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