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Litigation risk as lawyers battle depression, sue firms

Litigation risk as lawyers battle depression, sue firms

FIRMS face the risk of litigation and negligence action as the economic climate sees an increasing number of lawyers with high anxiety and depression, a workplace general counsel has warned.

FIRMS face the risk of litigation and negligence action as the economic climate sees an increasing number of lawyers with high anxiety and depression, a workplace general counsel has warned. 

Harmers Workplace Lawyers general counsel and team leader, Greg Robertson, has cautioned that the gloomy economy has created an upsurge in the number of depressed legal professionals. 

"I have acted for lawyers where I think WorkCover would have been interested. You get people suffering from depression whose firms are pushing them to do more and more. Allowing them to continue, knowing they’re suffering from depression, but telling them to take the lunch and entertain the client but come back late at night to get the work done," said Robertson. 

Employers now face the prospect of increased cases claiming psychological damage and mental illness such as depression, which can turn into legal challenges, said the workplace relations expert. 

"We are seeing a significant increase in mental illness cases amongst employees in many other sectors as the economic situation deteriorates and redundancies and rumours of redundancies take hold," he said. 

"I think WorkCover will eventually say that’s an unsafe practice and will test the boundaries of the occupational health and safety legislation breaches. I have known lawyer clients who have been in discussion with WorkCover to take that sort of action. WorkCover will eventually find a suitable case. So there is a risk," said Robertson. 

Law firms are particularly at risk because lawyers are more susceptible to depression and because they "know their way around litigation", he said. "I think it’s only a matter of time before we see something like that."

"It’s well recognised that the legal profession is one of those areas where depression is pretty rife. I think this partly stems form long hours and partly from the type of people that lawyers tend to be," said Robertson.

As we hear of some firms putting off staff we will see a general increase in anxiety, which is a trigger for depression, said Mr Robertson. And the reverse is true when it comes to lawyers in areas like insolvency, whose work is increasing. 

"Without the additional resources to support it, those long hours and lifestyle issues that come with that, you see a tendency for increased stress, and therefore an increase of depression in the profession.

"We are an employment firm, we obviously see a lot of people losing their jobs, including some lawyers. They are obviously very stressed and some are clearly depressed. Whether that’s a result of the economic circumstances or whether it’s just their work is difficult to tell," said Robertson. 

The Harmers general counsel said law firms should watch out for what is happening to their employees, particularly with regards to long hours, worsened thanks to the economy. "It’s not different to anywhere else but lawyers ought to know better," he said.  

A WorkCover spokesperson told The New Lawyer that while specific data has not yet been collected on the number of compensation claims since the credit crunch, it recommends employers manage those stress risks if they are present and take steps to address those. She said that there is a lag in collecting data, with workplace injuries often taking up to 12 months to lodge.




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Litigation risk as lawyers battle depression, sue firms
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