The head of people and development at a top-tier law firm believes timesheets and the culture within private practice can’t be blamed for the high rates of depression among lawyers.
Katy McDonald (pictured), the national director of people and development at Minter Ellison, spoke to Lawyers Weekly ahead of Mental Health Week, which will be held from 7 October to 13 October.
McDonald is an advocate for reducing the stigma associated with depression by encouraging people to speak about it.
However, she believes it is too simplistic to point the finger at timesheets and the long hours lawyers work as an explanation for why the legal profession has inordinately high rates of depression.
“Lawyers are not the only profession that records their time: accountants, engineers and a lot of other people record their time,” she said, adding that “there is a danger about getting too excited about timesheets”.
“I don’t think there is any particular magic in the time-costing or the culture in large commercial law firms.”
McDonald is speaking at the Healthy Mind, healthy Bottom Line lunch in Sydney on Thursday 11 October, which is organised by Chartered Secretaries Australia (CSA). Other speakers at the lunch include Professor Alan Fels, the chair of the National Mental Health Commission, and Therese Fitzpatrick, a workplace and workforce program leader at beyondblue.
“I will be talking about the importance of this subject to this firm and the legal profession and legal industry,” said McDonald. “The focus of the policy at Minters is that we really try and educate and raise awareness about depression.
“We provide lots of learning opportunities to equip our people with resilience skills and prevention strategies.” In 2010, Minters launched the ‘Resilient ME program’ after consulting with the former Victoria premier and beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett.
On the evening of 11 October, the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation Annual Lecture will be held in Sydney at the Law Courts Building at the Federal Court of Australia.
The panel at the lecture will include John Colvin, the former head of Blake Dawson, and Matthew Stutsel, a former partner at Freehills and now the national head of taxation at KPMG.
Stutsel has previously spoken about his struggles with depression.
According to research from the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation in 2009, 31 per cent of solicitors surveyed reported having either high or very high levels of psychological distress.