Bar News - October 16, 2009
Book Review: Never Enough: One Lawyer’s True Story of How He Gambled His Career Away By Michael J. Burke, ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (ABA 2008)
By: A book review by Albert F. Shamash
If If one were to pick one’s poison or have a choice of evils . . . What addiction is likely to be more injurious and harder to overcome – alcohol? Or gambling?
For Michael Burke, a Michigan lawyer who lost his license and was imprisoned because of his gambling addiction, the answer is plain. Burke describes his "Descent," preceded by alcoholism, which he managed to "control" for a long time (at least in relative terms) – all while playing football and completing high school, college and law school and building a successful law practice in Howell, Michigan. After drinking became a problem, he completed an in-patient rehabilitation program for alcohol addiction. His recovery was followed by a compulsive gambling problem.
Although the treatment for alcoholism had positive
results and Burke quit drinking, he forgot the advice given in the rehab program about "trading one addiction for another." He wound up spending his 24th through 26th years of sobriety in Michigan’s Jackson Prison. Over several decades, he had become a compulsive gambler and was ultimately convicted of embezzlement (stealing from clients), resulting in three years of incarceration in the state penitentiary.
This book, written in a very prosaic style, could be a wake-up call for the problem gambler in the legal profession who may not even acknowledge he or she has a problem. It paints a sober and realistic picture of how difficult it is to overcome any addiction, but especially gambling.
Burke describes his first trip to Las Vegas as a "life-altering event," noting Michigan had very little in the way of legal gambling at the time he started down the road to his addiction. Burke had little interest in the state lottery, but every interest in other games of chance, such as black jack and slot machines at casinos.
Burke’s gambling debts ultimately rose to hundreds of thousands of dollars. At first, he would arrange loans from clients to finance his gambling, taking advantage of his "position as friend and counselor to obtain money with which to gamble." The problems soon got worse when he entered the phase of gambling addiction called "chasing," where a gambler keeps betting in a desperate attempt to win back the money he or she has already lost. Eventually, he started embezzling funds by taking funds from client trust accounts, deceiving himself into thinking he was accepting "gifts" from his clients.
Warning Signs for Attorneys
Do you think you might have a problem or an addiction? Answer these questions honestly.
1. Ever failed to show up for work or appear in court because you "just weren’t feeling well"?
2. Have you appeared in court not fully prepared?
3. Have you neglected to process mail promptly?
4. Have you borrowed misused or commingled clients’ trust funds?
5. Do you frequently blame your secretary for things that go wrong?
6. Are your relationships with family, friends, clients, and staff deteriorating?
7. Are you overworked and yet don’t refuse extra assignments?
8. Are you afraid to open the mail or answer the telephone?
A problem usually exists if you think you might have a problem. It’s a problem if it interferes with daily living.
NH Lawyers’ Assistance:
A Way Out
The NH Lawyers’ Assistance Program provides confidential, meaningful assistance to lawyers, judges, law students and their families in coping with alcoholism and other addictions, depression, and other professional and personal crises.
Call NHLAP at any time; your call will be personally answered or your message will be promptly returned. Call 1-877-224-6060 today.
Finally, mired in increasing debt and unable to cope (and after contemplating suicide), Burke found the courage to report himself to the state bar of Michigan and to the attorney general’s office, where he accepted the consequences of his crimes.
The book includes interesting chapters about how Burke was able to mend the broken fences with his family (wife of 40 years and two daughters). He also describes life in prison ("Prison Stories") and "Life After Prison."
Added to Burke’s frank and very personal memoir is a useful appendix explaining how to identify the compulsive gamblers among us and the best methods of treatment for this addiction. Burke is convinced that "Gambling is going to continue to grow at an explosive rate" as states seek lucrative revenue sources.
Another useful appendix lists lawyers assistance programs available to attorneys in all 50 states, including the New Hampshire Lawyer Assistance Program, which has a confidential helpline and a website for anyone having questions or seeking more information or assistance.
Never Enough is available through the ABA and is also on the bookshelf at the New Hampshire Bar Association.
Albert F. Shamash is the attorney member of the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals in Concord, New Hampshire. He is also a member of the Bar’s CLE Committee and the Bar Journal Editorial Advisory Board. While responsibility for the views expressed above are his alone, he would like to acknowledge receiving helpful comments from Cecie Hartigan at the New Hampshire Lawyers’ Assistance Program and his wife, Sonia Shamash, who is enrolled in the Addiction Counseling degree program at NH Technical Institute.