Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

The role firm leaders play in addressing employees’ mental health

In the post-pandemic market, there remains an urgent need for firm leaders to address mental health issues in better, more creative ways, a recent panel event discussed.

user iconJess Feyder 03 March 2023 Big Law
expand image

In a Law Society of NSW discussion panel, president Cassandra Banks hosted Greg de Moore, psychiatrist and director of clinical services at Westmead; Renee Mill, clinical psychologist of 40 years; and Brett Feltham, senior consultant, employee relations and safety, at King & Wood Mallesons.

Shame can be a factor inhibiting many from seeking help, and firms and leaders hold a responsibility for creating a culture of openness and acceptance about mental health issues so that people are comfortable seeking considerations from workplaces when their mental health is suffering, the panellists maintained.

“Some truly have great fear of coming to see mental health professionals — many face shame,” explained Mr de Moore. 


Mr de Moore discussed an experience he had of seeing a barrister for severe depression, who came to him reluctantly.

I’ll never forget it — he walked into my office, and as we started to speak, he said his greatest fear was that one of his colleagues would find out he was seeing me.

“He said he would do anything to make sure that no one he knew professionally became aware he was seeking this assistance,” explained Mr de Moore. 

“That story encapsulates that issue of shame that a lot of people face, which manifests differently for older and younger professionals.”

“There is a kind of fault line between, let’s say, people under 45 and those over, in their degree of openness to conversations and questions around mental health,” he illuminated. 

“There’s no doubt that younger lawyers will talk far more about it.”

One important way leaders in firms can combat the culture of shame around mental health is by revealing their own stories. It can offer a connection if it is done in a genuine way, Mr de Moore explained. 

There is power in leaders talking about their professional trajectory, where there have been difficulties, where they’ve struggled — it humanises the process, he said. 

Mr Feltham agreed: “It’s valuable — seeing people in your organisation share stories, strategies, and talk about their journey. 

“Transparency is a powerful thing.”

In terms of the effectiveness of the strategy, Mr Feltham noted: “In my experience, that has sometimes been where [the openness] stopped, and that’s where there can be a disconnect.”

Ms Mill built on the discussion further, noting that for lawyers in all ranks of the organisation, discussing feelings is a powerful way to bridge experiences and enhance connectedness. 

“If I talk about being nervous before giving a presentation, everyone knows what that feeling is — you can identify with feeling even if the circumstance is different,” she explained. 

“If you can authentically share a feeling, it doesn’t matter where you are on the ladder; it has the chance to resonate — ‘I know what that feels like’.”

After the panel discussion, Lawyers Weekly spoke with Ms Banks about why firms should be prioritising the mental wellbeing of their employees and how they can help. 

Ms Banks gave some practical advice for how leaders can address the issue: “It’s about communication.

“It’s about the appropriate questions, appropriate location for talking about personal matters, and the right person to ask.”

“It needs to be a regular conversation,” she illuminated. “If mental health is talked about every day, not necessarily in a negative way, but positive mental health, too, is talked about all the time, it becomes normal and part of everyday life. 

“That’s how you build it into your firm to make people feel confident they can speak to their manager about how they’re feeling, and hopefully address what’s worrying them.”

“Making employees feel comfortable to share will ultimately build better, stronger and more efficient teams,” she explained. 

Throughout the panel discussion, high workloads, burnout, anxiety and stress were all noted as factors burdening lawyers. Ms Banks touched on how firms can address this. 

Individual workplaces play a role in taking responsibility for employees and their long-term wellbeing, she explained; it’s up to employers to prioritise this. 

Workplaces need to really consider the impact of poor mental health, stress and burnout on employees, as well as on the entire business operation profit, Ms Banks told Lawyers Weekly. 

“If you have healthy, happy staff, you’re most likely going to have better figures,” she said, “workplace culture becomes better, and people become more productive”.