From the depths of addiction to helping lawyers overcome theirs, lawyer and author Brian Cuban has made his mark


In 2006, the Dallas Mavericks were in the NBA Finals. Team owner Mark Cuban gave his brother Brian two tickets to the opener to give to friends. But the younger brother had other plans: he traded them to his drug dealer for $ 1,000 worth of cocaine.

In seeking to profit from the ducats, selling them on eBay was not an option. “It would have been disrespectful to my brother,” he told me. “But trading them with my cocaine dealer was perfectly acceptable.” It is, he explains, “the way the mind works in addiction.”

This is something Brian Cuban knows well. He was an alcoholic while studying at Penn State University and Law School at the University of Pittsburgh. Subsequently, he moved to Dallas to practice law and did so for years as a coke addict.

“I used cocaine in the Dallas Federal Courthouse. I’m not saying this out of pride, ”says Cuban. “I say that as a matter of addiction. It is what it is.

He has long recovered from his addictions and has become a memoir author, lecturer on drug addiction, and now a first-time novelist. In an extensive phone interview, Cuban, 60, spoke about his journey to addiction and recovery and his soon to be published novel which tells the story of a lawyer with his own addiction issues who becomes fugitive after being charged with murder. .

Tell stories, offer hope

Although Cuban never lost his law degree or was sanctioned by a state bar, he no longer practices. Instead, he devoted himself to speaking to law firms and bar associations about drug addiction. He is quick to point out that he is not an expert. On the contrary, it offers courses through personal accounts. “I’m only an expert in my story,” says Cuban. “I have nothing to offer other than my experience, my strength and my hope. And that’s what I love to do.

He shared his story in The addicted lawyer, a 2017 dissertation, a compelling look at a life out of control and eventual recovery.

Cuban has been sober since April 8, 2007, after waking up from a two-day power outage due to alcohol and cocaine and realizing he was on the verge of losing love. of his father, his two brothers and his girlfriend (who is now his wife). Even the thought of killing himself two years earlier – when he was practicing shooting a gun into his mouth – hadn’t been enough to change his behavior.

His journey towards drug addiction began early. Cuban grew up in Pittsburgh. He was overweight, which led to him being bullied and shamed in middle and high school. This led to an overwhelming desire for acceptance and a very negative self-image. Depression, Cuban says, was “normal” long before drug and alcohol addiction. At 16, he was a “drink veteran”.

Cuban traveled to Penn State, where drinking alcohol became essential to his sense of trust in others. He also engaged in other unhealthy behaviors, such as eating and purging and becoming bulimic, compulsively exercising (running 10 to 20 miles a day) for the purpose of burning calories.

He remembers when the bells rang to go to law school. “It wasn’t the bells to be Clarence Darrow or to imitate Atticus Finch,” he says. “If I can get into law school, it’s three more years that I can adopt the behaviors that drove me to Penn State. In my mind, survival behaviors. The decision was “perfectly logical,” Cuban tells me.

Cuban had no desire to spend time with his classmates “and remember what I would never be: a real lawyer,” he says. “I was left alone and cured my own obsessions: exercising, drinking alcohol, and avoiding looking in the mirror.”

Thinking back to his mock 1L court argument, Cuban said his biggest concern was not discussing the finer points of the Fourth Amendment. It was “not close enough to [the judges] so they can smell the alcohol on my breath.

He graduated from Pitt Law School in 1986 and moved to Dallas, where his two brothers lived.

Practice law and use cocaine

A year after arriving in Dallas, Cuban had his first encounter with cocaine. He was in the downstairs bathroom of the city’s chic Crescent Court Hotel. “It was literally nothing that I had experienced before in my life,” he says. “That feeling of self-esteem and self-confidence. Suddenly Brian loved Brian for the first time. All the girls I was going to talk to upstairs now loved Brian.

At that moment, Cuban said, his anxieties seemed insignificant and the previously impossible was possible. “I was instantly hooked,” he says. “I immediately felt that I couldn’t survive if I didn’t try to maintain such a wonderful feeling.”

As a lawyer in Dallas, Cuban briefly worked as a claims adjuster for insurance companies and worked for the city as a right of way agent, securing easements for drainage projects. He also performed the plaintiff’s bodily injury work. He knew chiropractors from his days as a claims adjuster, and they let him sit in their waiting rooms, engagement letters in hand, and register clients.

How do you practice law while using cocaine? “Not very well,” Cuban replies without needing time to think.

“It was not uncommon for me to make coke lines throughout the day to counter sleep deprivation and hangovers,” he says. “Many in the profession can argue that this is a form of theft from customers when they pay for competent performance and receive less. I am okay.

“Did I know it was wrong?” Yes. Did I know I could be arrested? Yes. Did I know I could lose my license? Yes. Of course I did; I suffered from a substance use disorder, I did not suffer from a stupid disorder.

From recovering drug addict to novelist

At the beginning of December, Cuban’s novel will be released. The ambulance hunter is the story of Jason Feldman, a personal injury lawyer and part-time drug dealer charged with the murder of a high school classmate who disappeared 30 years earlier. Feldman becomes a fugitive in search of a childhood friend who can clear his name.

“I’m a storyteller,” says Cuban. “So it’s a natural progression to tell a story… that contains elements of who I am as a person. “

The genesis of the book is a recurring dream in which Cuban is a young boy throwing bodies into a fire and watching them burn. “All of a sudden I’m an adult,” Cuban says of the nocturnal image, “I’m worried if these bodies will be discovered and I wonder why I haven’t been arrested yet.

“The protagonist has elements of Brian in him,” says Cuban. “He’s an ethically composed lawyer – or one who walks the line – of personal injury.” He has substance abuse and alcohol problems.

The older brother of the new novlist praises the title. “The book is amazing,” Mark Cuban tells me via email. “I’m so proud of Brian,” adds the well-known entrepreneur. “He worked hard for everything he achieved. And now he’s set a new goal to become a fiction writer and crushed it again.

Lawyers still in trouble

Cuban knows that addiction is not uncommon in the profession. A study published in 2016 and funded by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs found that 20.6% of the nearly 13,000 lawyers surveyed had a score corresponding to problematic alcohol use. .

More recently, a 2021 survey of nearly 3,000 members of the California Lawyers Association and the DC Bar found that about 30% of them tested positive for dangerous high-risk drinking. [The study authors acknowledged that, while efforts were made to account for an impact of the pandemic, its effect could not be ruled out.]

Cuban tells me that lawyers he speaks with and works with who fight drug addiction indicate that the pandemic has had a “huge impact, especially among solo practitioners and small firms.” They are the most isolated.

He points out various reasons why many lawyers do not seek help. Law is a “profession of thinkers,” he says. “Lawyers tend to believe that they can find a way out of a problem.”

He also attributes their reluctance to stigma. Lawyers view vulnerability as a “weakness,” Cuban says. “But vulnerability is one of the main pillars of recovery – the ability to walk in a safe space and just express your shame and pain.”

Some lawyers are also concerned that seeking help with an addiction could lead to character and fitness issues in their state bars. “So why even risk it?” Is becoming the dominant thought, says Cuban. “Better kick the box on the road. “

As I finished our interview, Cuban asked me if he could add one thing. The ex-addict has advice for those whose struggles he knows: “Let go of that wall of shame, in a safe place, for just a millisecond and move on,” he says, “maybe the path to a life so fulfilling that you never imagined. “

See also: “COVID-19 Didn’t Stop This Lawyer From Advocating For Well-Being And Recovery” “Striving for Perfection: Brian Cuban on Lawyers and Body Image (podcast)”

Randy Maniloff

Randy Maniloff is a lawyer with White and Williams in Philadelphia and an assistant professor at Temple University Beasley School of Law. He runs the site.

This column reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the ABA Journal or the American Bar Association.


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