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A ruined life gets back on track

Two years ago, Millbrae attorney Jeff Greenwald didn’t even know his license to practice law was suspended. Cases had slipped out of his control, he was evicted from his office and he “felt like a freight train heading into a wall.” He managed to kick his methamphetamine and marijuana addiction cold turkey and find a non-legal job, but when a State Bar prosecutor told him he faced disbarment, he took her up on an offer to check out the bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP).

Jeff Greenwald

Greenwald, now 52, said he knew he was in trouble, but tried to hide from his problems and “was like an ostrich with my head in the sand.” He also knew he was in no shape to be practicing law.

He started attending weekly LAP meetings, where it became apparent, he said, that “I was depressed and isolated and I needed a lot of help.”

Greenwald underwent four months of outpatient rehab, and because he had severe money problems, he was eligible for financial assistance from LAP.

He also was accepted into the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP), and completed requirements that he attend ethics school, take the MPRE and repay about $2,000 to clients.

Although he was suspended for misconduct that stemmed from abandoning clients, he got his license back last January as he demonstrated progress. He hopes eventually to do pro bono work for an eviction clinic.

Greenwald says his recovery was aimed not so much at being able to practice law again as it was to rebuild his life.

“When you put all the pieces back together,” he said, “you can build something better than you had when you fell apart.”

Greenwald also said he was afraid of the State Bar and what it could do to him, and it was the last place he would have turned for help. To his surprise, its assistance programs changed his life.

“I would not have expected the State Bar to be the knight in shining armor for me, but it was.”

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