find the latest legal job
Corporate Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Highly-respected, innovative and entrepreneurial Not-for-Profit · Competency based Board
View details
Chief Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Dynamic, high growth organisation · ASX listed market leader
View details
In-house Projects Lawyer | Renewables / Solar | 2-5 Years PQE
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: All Australia
· Help design the future · NASDAQ Listed
View details
Property lawyer - Melbourne
Category: Property Law | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Impressive client list, national firm · Well-led and high-performing team
View details
Senior family lawyer - Melbourne
Category: Family Law | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Outstanding national firm · High-calibre family law team
View details
Link wellbeing to the hip pocket

Link wellbeing to the hip pocket

A managing partner who is an outspoken critic of large law firm culture has said that staff wellbeing must be built into partner remuneration systems.

John Poulsen (pictured), the managing partner of Squire Sanders in Australia, spoke with Lawyers Weekly in the wake of the release of depression guidelines by the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation.

He said firms should assess partners against organisational values, such as supporting employee wellbeing and encouraging a fulfilling personal life.

“That way you make sure [values] are not just something that sits on the wall, they are something people live by,” he added.

Last year Poulsen spoke to Lawyers Weekly about his personal battle with depression and how it had informed his management philosophy, first as the head of Minter Ellison in Perth between 2007 to 2011 and then as the managing partner of Squires in Australia.

Among the factors determining partner remuneration at Squires is whether individuals comply with firm values, which is assessed by a 360-degree feedback process.

Poulsen admitted that it might be an unpopular move, having himself faced resistance from Minters partners when he first introduced such changes. However, he said it was effective.

In 2007, half of Minters’ partners in Perth complied with firm values. By 2011, when he and 13 other partners from Minters defected to Squires to start the global firm’s Australian offering, all of the partners complied.

Taking this approach to partner pay sends a message to the rest of the firm that the psychological wellbeing of lawyers is important, said Poulsen.

“What we’ve been trying to do is ... create an organisation where you look after your people, and a big part of that is looking after their mental wellbeing and health.”

He added that there were commercial benefits for firms promoting positive mental health: “If you have happy motivated people, you have happy motivated clients and everything looks after itself.”

The TJMF guidelines cover 13 psychosocial factors, with organisational culture topping the list. Under each factor are suggested ‘implementation frameworks’. These range from ‘basic’ to ‘best practice’ to cater to all sections of the legal profession, including firms of varying sizes, the Bar and in-house teams.

Poulsen revealed that he had assessed Squires against the guidelines and found that the firm was either at a ‘standard’ or ‘advanced’ level. He said he would strive to move into the ‘best practice’ category, adding that the TJMF guidelines “mean a lot to me”.

“It’s something I’m really passionate about ... having suffered from [depression and anxiety] myself.”

Poulsen spoke passionately on the subject when speaking to Lawyers Weekly in July 2013.

He said at the time that the partner remuneration systems at many large firms in Australia tolerate bullying and reward selfish behaviour.

“As a managing partner, you should run a firm where a collegiate and collaborative culture is rewarded and selfish, silo-type behaviour, which is all about ‘how much can I bill and look good?’, is not."

Firm commitment

Harman.jpgbeyondblue CEO Georgie Harman told Lawyers Weekly that while the TJMF guidelines are “a positive step forward for the legal profession”, the degree of firm commitment to the guidelines would determine their effectiveness.

“To enact real change there must be widespread take-up across the profession,” she said.

A 2007 survey commissioned by beyondblue and Beaton Consulting found that lawyers were at the highest risk of developing depression. Held again in 2010, the same survey found attitudes had improved and stigma was reduced, but little else had changed.

Prolonged or excessive job stress is still a risk factor for mental health problems, said Harman.

“Employees who are particularly at risk of job stress in the workplace are those who experience working conditions such as work overload or pressure ... bullying and poor communication,” she added.

Harman also pointed to research that suggests the nature of legal work, which is adversarial and conflict-driven, together with attributes shared by lawyers, including perfectionism and pessimism, place lawyers at higher risk of depression.

Other risk factors are the expectation of long working hours, a competitive working culture and a lack of work-life balance.

While Harman commended the TJMF on the guidelines, she maintained that they should remain voluntary.

“Forcing businesses to take on guidelines they’re not committed to can lead to poor outcomes,” she said.

“Business leaders need to understand that good workplace mental health is a business imperative and that it costs their businesses dearly in terms of dollars as well as their staff’s mental health if they don’t address it.”

Poulsen agreed, commenting that Squires’ engagement levels had improved and staff turnover had declined since the firm began focusing on mental health issues.

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Link wellbeing to the hip pocket
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Warning
Aug 23 2017
NT Law Society sounds alarm on mandatory sentencing
The Law Society Northern Territory has issued a warning over mandatory sentencing, saying it hasn’...
Unite
Aug 22 2017
Professionals unite in support of marriage equality
The presidents of representative bodies for solicitors, barristers and doctors in NSW have come toge...
Aug 21 2017
Is your firm on the right track for gig economy gains?
Promoted by Crowd & Co. The way we do business, where we work, how we engage with workers, ev...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...