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Breaking into law with resilience

Summer clerks in Sydney have started their legal careers with some real-talk about how to monitor and manage mental health with the stresses of work.

user iconMelissa Coade 06 February 2017 Corporate Counsel
Breaking into law with resilience
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Eight of the nation’s legal powerhouses have hosted a joint event to break in their new summer clerks in Sydney, with a focus on mental health. More than 300 clerks had the opportunity to put anonymous questions to a panel comprising psychologists and lawyers of various levels of seniority. How to negotiate a successful career in law as well as prioritise the demands of mental wellbeing was the focus of the day.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, King & Wood Mallesons' national diversity manager Kellie Wade described the event as a platform to share “life-in-law hacks”.

“Different things work for different people, but we really just tried to talk about some of the life hacks you can employ. We focused on resilience and imparting some skills and strategies that people can integrate into their routine,” Ms Wade said.


One of the key themes of the event addressed setting personal boundaries in the workplace, which Ms Wade admitted can be difficult to enforce as a junior in a firm.

“I think there is a general acknowledgement that it’s easier said than done- to implement those boundaries when you are just starting out in your career,” she said.

Every workshop attendee also received a copy of a pocketbook, which was recently developed by the Law Society of NSW.

Ms Wade said the compendium of evidence-based positive psychology techniques and insights is a useful, easy read.

“We’re finding more resources are out there to put in front of people. For example, late last year there was a guide released called ‘Being well in the law’ – that is a really easy digestable resource,” Ms Wade said.

The breakfast, hosted at the Art Gallery of NSW, is the first Resillience@Law event to be held this year. Keynote speakers included psychologist Rachel Clements and law clerk John Cantor, who spoke about the mental adversity of intrepid travel in Alaska.  

Resilience@Law is an inter-firm initiative between Allens Linklaters, Ashurst, Clayton Utz, Herbert Smith Freehills, King & Wood Mallesons, Henry Davis York, MinterEllison and Norton Rose Fulbright.

Ms Wade explained that the program has helped steer the conversation about mental health in the profession as an ongoing and live business priority.

As a topic that has firmly cemented itself as an issue cutting across all levels of law, discussions about mental health between top partners and brand new clerks can help to propagate a culture of openness and honesty, she said.

“The responsibility of each firm is to actually raise the dialogue so that people know, even at a very micro level, in your team, week on week when you meet, that you feel like you have got permission to talk about things happening in your life,” Ms Wade said.

“I think that there is a really deep responsibility the firms recognise to lead and actually open the conversation up,” she said.

KWM will play host to the first 2017 Resilience@Law meeting, which takes place quarterly, this week. Sitting on the Resilience@Law committee are senior partners from the member firms, as well as staff members from within the firms’ various business and development teams. In addition to the joint program of events and strategies implemented by the eight member firms internally, the College of Law has partnered with the group and built a mental health component for its PLT program.

“About 20,000 PLT studetns have gone through the College of Law module since it started nationally, entering law with this really important information. That revised module will be called ‘The resilient lawyer’, recognising that mental health is important at all stages of your career,” Ms Wade said.

The Resilience@Law group also intends to map out a focus for the coming year with the perspective of a lawyer’s whole career in mind, she said. 

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