Brian Cuban, Author
THE ADDICTED LAWYER
TALES OF THE BAR, BOOZE, BLOW, AND REDEMPTION
Pamela: My name is Pamela DeNeuve and welcome to Lawyer of the Week. I am so pleased and honored this week to have Brian Cuban. He is the youngest brother younger brother of the Dallas Mavericks owner and entrepreneur, Mark Cuban. He’s a Dallas based attorney. He’s an author and addiction recovery advocate. He is a graduate of Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
Brian has been in long-term recovery from alcohol, cocaine, and bulimia since April of 2007. His first book, Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder, chronicles his first-hand experience living with and recovering from 27 years of eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder. Brian’s most recent best-selling book, THE ADDICTED LAWYER: Tales of The Bar, Booze, Blow and Redemption, is an unflinching look back at how addiction and other mental health issues destroyed his career as a once successful lawyer and how he, and others in the profession, redefined their lives in recovery and found redemption.
Brian has spoken at law schools, colleges, University, conference, nonprofit and Bar Association events across the United States and in Canada. Brian has appeared on prestigious talk shows such as The Katie Couric Show, as well as numerous media outlets around the country. He also writes extensively on these subjects. His columns have appeared, and he has just been quoted on these topics, on cnn.com, Foxnews.com, The Huffington Post, Above the Law, The New York Times, and in online and print newspapers around the world. Welcome, Brian.
So Brian, I’d like to ask you our Lawyer of the Week questions. When and what made you decide to become a lawyer?
Brian: I never really wanted to be a lawyer. I was struggling with a lot of mental health issues in college at Penn State. I was already a quote/unquote alcoholic at that point, and I was really looking for ways to not have to go out in the real world and face my mental health issues. I owned my eating disorder, I owned my drinking problem, I had also become “exercise bulimic,” which is obsessive-compulsive exercise for the primary purpose of offsetting calories, so I was dealing with addiction an eating disorder, and clinical depression.
So, I was looking for ways where I could repeat cycles and not have to go out in the world. And I was sitting- I was a criminal justice major. I wanted to be a police officer… that would have worked out well, right? If I’m- cocaine addiction- I eventually became addicted to cocaine- I’d have been stealing the cocaine right out of the evidence room. But there were a couple of guys talking about going to law school, and all the bells started going off in my head- not that I wanted to be a lawyer- but that it was an opportunity to hide for three more years, where I could drink, run ten to twenty miles a day, binge and purge, and not have to answer to anyone, and isolate, which is what I had become accustomed to do. These destructive behaviors had become like breathing to me.
So I decided, “Okay, yes, I will apply to Pitt Law.” I did okay on the LSAT. I got into Pitt Law- I got in, and that’s why I went. I did not go to change the world, make a lot of money. I went to hide for three years and repeat the same cycles that I went through at Penn State in hiding my- in dealing with mental health issues. Now, I look back and obviously, I wasn’t a very good student, as you might imagine, but I got my law degree, and it has certainly benefited me along the way. I value it.
Pamela: Certainly. Um, when do you think that you- that your condition- was really out of control?
Brian: It’s progressive- addiction is progressive- so, you can look back at different moments. I don’t think there is any bright line for quote-unquote out of control, but there were certainly moments. I’ve been to a psychiatric facility twice, once after a near suicide attempt, three failed marriages- one more, I get a free set of steak knives, right? Three failed marriages, I’ve been to jail, so you can point to different moments where you can say it was quote-unquote out of control, but again, addiction’s progressive and it just gets worse worse and worse till you finally hit your quote/unquote rock-bottom, which is different for everyone and I don’t even like that term. I prefer recovery tipping point.
Pamela: What were some of the struggles that you had when you practiced law initially when you were in your addiction?
Brian: That’s a very good question, and it goes to what I call the myth of the high-functioning alcoholic or the high-functioning lawyer, who may be struggling with alcohol problems. And people in the firm or people in the courtroom, your colleagues, they say, “Okay, well he’s making his meetings, he’s attending a series, he just had a good result in the trial. Yes, we see he has these issues but he’s high-functioning, so we don’t have to say- so we’re not gonna say anything about that.” You tell yourself you’re high-functioning, right?
What we’re dealing with- these issues- it’s really what I call the Peter Pan Principle of Recovery. There is the level of high-functioning that we have if we’re in recovery and everything’s doing- going well, or somebody who doesn’t have a problem, but because addiction is progressive, whether it’s alcohol or drugs- that level we set for ourselves gets lower and lower and lower but we keep readjusting what’s normal for ourselves as lawyers, as we deal with these things, and we keep telling ourselves we are high-functioning.
And so, I went through that same thing- where at first, I had several very good years as a lawyer, well I was able to, you know, go to trial, I was able to go to the court, I was, you know, returning my calls, I was working cases, I was doing all these different things, even though I was also doing cocaine, drinking, even showing up to court rooms hungover, doing cocaine in the bathrooms of the court house, doing cocaine in the bathroom of the law firm, and doing all these things. But for a while, telling myself, “I’m doing okay,” even though other people may have noticed the decrease but they didn’t say anything to me, right? Because you’re afraid. “Is he really- is there something that’s really wrong? Should I say anything? Why embarrass him? What if I’m wrong?” Lawyers go through this all the time. And finally, high-functioning becomes “boom,” where it just drops off the cliff, and that’s different for everyone.
So, these things affected me to the point where eventually, it went “boom,” and I had no clients left, I was basically unable to maintain my law career, my law career collapsed, now your viewers are probably wondering if I’d been disbarred or suspended. The answer is no, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. So, I mean, it got to the point where you look back- when my brother bought the Dallas Mavericks in 2001, they went to the championship for the first time in 2006 playing the Miami Heat, we lost, and I was trading championship tickets to my cocaine dealer for cocaine, doing these things and this was my life.
This was the degradation of my life, the degradation of my career, and one of the biggest issues that I have dealing- talking to lawyers and trying to help lawyers come to this realization, is getting them to understand that if you’re not in recovery and dealing with these issues- and getting their colleagues to understand that, too – as they say, “We’re not gonna. He’s high-functioning.” Today’s as good as it’s ever gonna get. Addiction only gets worse, functioning only gets worse. Why wait for the consequences to catch up with the problem? And that is what lawyers tend to do, right? We wait for the consequences to catch up to the problem because we’re a profession of thinkers. We believe we can think our way out of it, and I was unable to think my way out of it, and most people cannot.
Pamela: Yeah, I was thinking about the report that came out this year with the National Task-force for Lawyer Well-Being. I was honored to be a peer reviewer on that
Brian: Wonderful report.
Pamela: Yes. So a lot of- so you know, it’s a huge problem that it’s killing them.
Brian: That’s right.
Pamela: What would you say to those lawyers?
Brian: Well, I’d say first, let’s put it in perspective for those who don’t believe it’s a problem in the profession or it’s not a big problem. The President of the United States just declared, you know, the opioid epidemic a national crisis, right? So, when we look at that and look at the statistics from the ABA Betty Ford- ABA Hazelden- or Betty Ford/Hazelden ABA Report that found 20 to 21% of all licensed attorneys are problem drinkers, over 33% of lawyers practicing under 10 years are problem drinkers, the national average is about one in seven- one in eight- and that’s also been declared a national crisis. If we’re lawyers under 10 years, over 1 in 3- what
is that? We are a profession in crisis. We are almost twice the rate. We are a profession in crisis, and we have to come to terms with that.
For lawyers- what I would tell lawyers who are struggling, is that you’re not alone, okay? One of the hardest things we do as a profession is allow ourselves to be
vulnerable. We compartmentalize these things. “I can deal with this. I’m earning. I have a family to support. I don’t want to lose my ticket- my license.” And we have
all these fears. These things, without help, this is stuff that may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, this is stuff that’s gonna happen, these are all consequences that are going to come regardless if you don’t get help today.
Brian: And this is such an intellectually hard conversation to have with lawyers. It’s an intellectually hard conversation to have with anyone- not just lawyers- with anyone struggling, because who wants to face all the demons, all the pain, all the anguish that may go back to stuff that hasn’t been dealt with from childhood? The one thing that lawyers have such a hard time doing: allow yourself to be vulnerable, tell somebody, call your lawyers assistance program. They are confidential. And that’s another part of this stigma we have. Lawyers believe they are not confidential. Lawyers believe lawyers assistance programs- many, not all- but there is a systematic- a systemic belief- that I found at least, from an anecdotal basis- they believe it’s a form of the State Bar. If they tell- if they call the lawyer’s assistance program, the State Bar is gonna find out, they’re gonna tell the State Bar. No, there is not a state that it is not protected by statute- by rule. It’s a confidential communication.
I’ll tell you a funny story that illustrates this. Do we have time?
Pamela: Yeah, of course.
Brian: I’ll give you a funny little story. A while ago- maybe this is over a year ago now, I spoke to a Dallas Bar Association event, and I talked about the lawyers assistance program. One of the lawyers comes up to me after the event- a seasoned trial lawyer- he goes, “Brian, I know what you’re saying, I understand, but they’re not confidential. If I go to the lawyers assistance program, it’s going to get out to the State Bar, they’re gonna, you know, and then I’m in trouble. Then we’ll get in trouble. Well, how do you know they’re protected by statute? I get it, but it’ll get out. How do you know that?” Another lawyer told me, “Well, how does he know that?”
“I don’t know how he knows that.” “So, you’re a seasoned trial lawyer, and you’re coming to me with a guy told a guy who told a guy that it’s not confidential? Would you go with that in a courtroom?” Right? And he laughed about it. He said, “I know, but it’s not confidential.”
This is a problem we have, and this is one of the things I would like to see done differently from a lawyers assistance program website. And I’ve got some push-back from lawyers assistants program officials, and an employee saying, “Well, we can’t talk about the common issues because we get into practicing law. We get into this and that.” I’d like to see all lawyers assistance programs website have, in their frequently asked questions, say here are the common fears lawyers have and here’s the real answer.
Brian: But I’ve heard from several people, “Well, we could get into practicing law because we are not- or we are separate from the State Bar.” Well, let’s not talk about why we can’t. Let’s figure out ways that we can, right? That is part of changing the paradigm, changing the systemic stigma, figuring out ways that we can alieve these common fears.
Pamela: Absolutely. Can you talk a little bit about your book, The Addicted Lawyer? How did your struggles evolve into your writing your book?
Brian: Well, my struggles first evolved into writing a book about body image of my eating disorder recovery. Yes, I have an eating disorder- I dealt with bulimia for over two decades. Guys do get eating disorders, lawyers get eating disorders. Those are even more stigmatized in the legal profession than drug and alcohol use. It’s kind of funny- when we talk about it, it’s much more acceptable to talk about drugs and alcohol than having an eating disorder. I wrote an article about eating disorders in the legal profession not long ago, and I got a lot of emails from people struggling with eating disorders. Guys and- men and women. So, I wrote a book
about that- my struggle with bulimia. About 25% of all those with eating disorders are, in fact, male. You may not know that.
Pamela: I didn’t know that.
Brian: And so that- that started, sort of, my book writing and that was more of a labor of recovery for me- a cathartic experience, as many self-help memoirs are. And after that, I really started getting into addiction advocacy- the addiction awareness advocacy. I, you know, this was after I began recovery. I went into 12-step recovery, I got sober initially in 12-step, I’m also in therapy, I still see a psychiatrist, I’m still on anti-depressants. [inadubile] I do the full recovery package to the extent I can. And so, I started thinking about some of the issues I dealt with in the legal profession- and I really hadn’t seen too much about it, too much written- the last study before the Betty Ford Hazelden was in 1990. And I looked around. I’m like, “There’s really no one talking about this, except anonymously on bulletin boards and things like that.” So, I felt it was an area that needed people to speak up loudly, you know? I’ve never been one to be quiet. I’m very transparent about my struggles- about
what I went through.
I always joke if my brother decides to run for president, no one’s gonna have anything on me because I’ve talked about everything. “Well, your brother- you know, your brother used cocaine.” Now, well- I wrote about that, right? And I wrote about that, too. So no one will ever have anything on me. I struggled through Pitt Law as an alcoholic not in recovery and as a bulimic, not in recovery and it was hard. And this was before lawyers assistance programs. This is before we had residents- you know, the residential treatment that we have today. In my day, when I was at Penn State and then at Pitt Law, you were either in 12-step, which NA is- people know Alcoholics Anonymous as the largest 12-step- you were either in 12-step, or you were in a hospital, or you weren’t in recovery, right? Or at least, you weren’t in assisted recovery. Many people are in recovery on their own, but you weren’t in assisted recovery, so it was a very different air, and I struggled. [inaudible]
To empower them to find recovery, if they are ready, at the earliest possible moment- not just in their career, but in their lives.
Pamela: Yes. How is it having your brother being all over the news and having the teams in Dallas and all that? How has that affected your struggles, do you think?
Brian: That’s a great question. I get asked that quite often and what I tell people is I had an alcohol problem, I had an eating disorder, and I had a drug problem long
before Mark became internationally famous, so they were not- that was not an issue in the genesis of these problems. The genesis of those issues go back to childhood- a lot of issues I dealt with in childhood- so that was an issue, but I was dealing with these issues when Mark became internationally famous. I had no
self-identity. I hated myself. Self-image was a big problem of mine. I hated when I looked in the mirror. I wanted some- I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be accepted. I was someone who was always struggling with love and acceptance and loving himself. I was someone who did not have a healthy self-image- self-identity- dating back to my teens.
And so, when Mark became internationally famous, all of a sudden people come up to me, put cocaine in my pocket, I got drugs for free, I could walk into nightclubs for free, all these things that came with what I call “name fame” that had nothing to do with me, right? They had everything to do with Mark. And I don’t blame Mark
for this. None of this is his fault. And so it became really logical in my mind, at that time, just to become Mark Cuban’s brother because I could get all these things- in it’s fake adulation and it’s fake acceptance, and it’s fake, you know- [inaudible] I could get all these things that I wanted so badly. And when you have this vacuum of love and acceptance in your body- it’s just a vacuum- when all of a sudden you get a taste of it, even if it’s fake, it is like “boom!” It becomes you. It swirls in there, and it just becomes you and you become that. That is how it affected me.
Pamela: Okay, well, I- we encourage peak performance, and you had- to be where you are now, to come through your struggles and to be where you are now- you are certainly a peak performer. So, what would you say to people who may be struggling and they feel like they have no hope?
Brian: I would say to them that there is hope, recovery is possible, but you have to want to take that first step. No one can make you do it. And the things that I have- if we’re going to talk about peak performance, I don’t think, you know- I don’t know what my peak is. I’m always trying to do the next right thing, be a better Brian. I’m always trying to raise my peak through therapy, through self-exploration, through- you know, continuing to go to a 12-step to the extent I do, and I’m always trying to raise that peak. And again- that we don’t know how high- you’ll never know how high that peak can be unless you find recovery, and with recovery anything is possible.
Pamela: Oh, I like that, I like that. I do believe that. I believe- I think that we can achieve or work towards our peak performance until they put dirt on our
Brian: That’s right. And working towards my peak performance isn’t just writing and speaking. It is self-exploration, it is healing Brian on a daily basis, and that’s not a bad thing. I think everyone should work on themselves. I talk to my inner child. You know, guys hate to hear that. I talk to that little Brian. I tell that little Brian he is loved. I have hard conversations with my psychiatrist. Now I have- I got, you know, now I’ve been now married for a year to the woman that stood by me through rock
bottom, as I repaired myself and healed myself. So, I never would have thought that. I never would have thought I could have had a long-term relationship. I never thought I would have a happy career and doing things that I’m passionate about- even though it’s not the same thing I did before, that’s okay.
That doesn’t mean every lawyer will do that. I know many lawyers who have gone through these struggles, they had their license suspended, they’ve gone back, and they’ve made it. They have survived, and they are prospering as lawyers. I also know lawyers who, because they did things that have consequences while in the depths of addiction- I mean there are- that does happen- they can no longer practice law. They have also redefined their lives, and they are doing wonderfully.
Pamela: We touched on this a little earlier but I think it’s- we can’t talk about this enough because, obviously, there are a lot of people out there who are struggling, who are in addiction, or alcoholism, or drugs- they are trying to hold on- and you said that people are afraid and this is true- they’re afraid to come forth and go to get help- what are some alternatives, if they are so paranoid about going to the help that’s available within the legal profession?
Brian: There are many alternatives. Or if you’re not into the 12-step thing, there’s Smart Recovery, of which is more cognitive behavioral-based- it is not based on the 12 steps. There is, if you’re Christian, there- if you like the more Christian focus, there is Celebrate Recovery. There are- you don’t have to go through- I think lawyers assistance programs are a wonderful thing. Florida Lawyers Assistance Program is absolutely incredible, setting the way. TLAP- Texas Lawyers Assistance Program- is incredible and there are many incredible lawyers assistance programs who want to help you, but if you’re afraid of that, you don’t need them to do these things. You don’t need them to go into therapy. You don’t need them to take first steps into any kind of recovery like that. You can do these things on your own. There are many alternatives. There are online- that I’ve had lawyers email me and I’ve given them online groups- you know- rooms, bulletin boards, like In the Rooms, if you’re familiar with In the Rooms. It is one of the largest support- online recovery communities- in the world, where they have non12-step, 12-step, and there’s a lot of support in there. There are all kind- there is all kinds of peer supports that you don’t have to go through the legal assistance program for.
Pamela: That’s great, that’s great. Yeah, I’ve had that with some of my clients, and they’ve gone online.
Brian: Yeah, I’ve had that, too. I’ve had lawyers who just refused. I’ll put it out there that it’s confidential, but some lawyers are just- they’re not gonna do it, so but-
you still- if you don’t- there’s always a reason not to recover, right? Fine. You don’t want to do that, here it is. Here’s the path. Here’s this path, here’s that path. You have to choose. All I do is lay out alternatives. You have to choose- and you have to start walking forward- and it’s scary, I know, but it’s worth it.
Pamela: Yes. Brian, what legacy would you like to leave?
Brian: As many people in long-term recovery as I can.
Pamela: That’s- that’s wonderful. So, the last question I always ask my Lawyers of the Week- and that is, name one thing that you do to manage your stress levels.
Brian: I take long showers- where I do a lot of meditation, talking to myself, thinking- I spin- exercise in moderation- I spin, which is indoor biking- exercise, my wife and I do things. So, it’s not a one thing. I have different things. And I just- I’ve become very comfortable. I play with my cats. I have two cats. I’m not a person who has to be out there in the social scene. I do a lot of things that are just me, my wife- showers, you know, mindfulness in the shower. I’m not a meditation person, but I do just a lot of thinking. I had a hip replacement, so I don’t run like I used to, but now and then I’ll do fast walks, where I just clear my head. So, there are many
different things. There are many different paths.
Pamela: Great. So, we’re gonna leave your links at the bottom, but just for any organization that may want to have you come speak at their group, what is the best way to contact
Brian: You can go to my website, where the upcoming events are, you can see every event that I have booked. You can email me through that or just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will connect you with the people who book those things for me.
Pamela: Okay, that’s great. Thank you so much, Brian, for being our Lawyer of the Week.
Brian: Thanks for having me. It was an honor to come on.
Speaking Inquires should be directed to Paul Kreiter of APB Speakers.