The New Yorker has a fascinating piece, Brain Gain, by Margaret Talbot, that explores the various current and likely future uses of neuroenhancing drugs. Typically stimulants prescribed for such conditions as attention deficit disorder, prescription drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall, Provigil (modafinil), or piracetam are now commonly taken “off label” by people wishing to enhance their mental powers in some respect or other. It would seem that the principal effect of these drugs is an increase in the ability of the user to focus attention and to persist in a task that would otherwise be too tiresome to continue.
As I read the piece I wondered whether lawyers might not be drawn to these “enhancers.” After all diligence, perseverance, increased short-term memory, ability to work longer hours are all characteristics that might be thought to promote success in some lawyers sometimes. Talbot herself uses a lawyer’s situation as one small example of a benefit from an improvement in working memory: “Imagine a cross-examination, in which a lawyer has to keep track of the answers a witness has given, and formulate new questions based on them.” Even more disturbing to me, at least, is her speculation:
If we eventually decide that neuroenhancers work, and are basically safe, will we one day enforce their use? Lawmakers might compel certain workers—emergency-room doctors, air-traffic controllers—to take them. (Indeed, the Air Force already makes modafinil available to pilots embarking on long missions.)
The article even raises the “but they’ll do it in Singapore” bugbear to suggest that any resistance to widespread use in the U.S. might easily yield to offshore competition.
Far-fetched, of course, to suggest that it would be bad practice for a litigation lawyer not to take a neuroenhancer…right? But would it be — is it — bad practice for counsel to take one?
My own view is that the use of such “cosmetic neurology” is handy for pointing out those areas in our culture where social arrangements, and not brains, need serious rearranging. But our track record as a society shows that we’ve always taken the pill path, and so we almost certainly will again here, particularly under the urgings of Big Pharma. So have lawyers, firms, law societies started talking about these drugs? Should they?