Speaking at last week’s Wellness for Law Forum in the Gold Coast, Professor James spoke of the impact of disruption in the legal profession on individual health and wellbeing, and why – despite a prevailing narrative – lawyers coming through the ranks should be encouraged by the evolving playing field.
A negative perception, or fear, of disruption has contributed to a sense of loss of personal autonomy, he said, which in turn contributes to the already-prominent rates of stress, anxiety and depression. But the advent of disruptive tech and services is an opportunity for lawyers to reinvent themselves, he
“Our state of mind is determined by our choices and, in particular, our choices about what we focus upon [and] what we pay attention to,” Professor James explained.
“If you think about digital disruption as a tidal wave of change crashing down, and you feel powerless, of course it won’t help your wellbeing.”
“But if you say it’s giving you the tools to reclaim your professional identity and learn new skills, you can control it and you’ll have subjective autonomy again,” he said.
It is especially important, he noted, for graduates and students to recognise the breadth of potential vocational options that will become available in the coming years.
“For every door that closes in the traditional career trajectory, a new one opens that we haven’t even considered yet,” he said.
“The actual demand for law grads isn’t going anywhere, and there are many more exciting, innovative and entrepreneurial opportunities available than ever before.”
And while some coverage of the challenges of disruption has merit, people should also focus on the benefits, as it will make the whole discussion seem less of a threat to wellbeing, according to Professor James.
“A more balanced, realistic understanding of the situation is much less psychologically damaging,” he said.
One particular challenge, both for law firms and individual professionals, is the connection between technological change and wellness.
While tech updates allow for 24/7 access and communication, it also has rendered it harder for workers to switch off and ensure physical and emotional separation between the personal and professional.
But there are ways, Professor James responded, of being thoughtful and careful about the integration of work and life.
“Tech does make it possible to access work away from the office, but you can also use those tools to even out your life and maintain a healthy balance, while ensuring the right proportion of your day is dedicated to work,” he noted.
“It’s up to us how we choose to use this.”
Ultimately, he said, the future of opportunity and process in the legal profession looks bright – and will be especially so for those who roll with disruption and adapt to suit new circumstances.
“We are powerless over our circumstances and the future,” Professor James concluded.
“But we are not powerless when it comes to who we are and what we do in this moment.”