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Big law unites against depression

Big law unites against depression

The managing partners from Australia's largest law firms last night unveiled a collaborative strategy to tackle depression in the legal profession. Presenting their initiative at the Tristan…

The managing partners from Australia's largest law firms last night unveiled a collaborative strategy to tackle depression in the legal profession.

Presenting their initiative at the Tristan Jepson Memorial Lecture at Freehills, representatives from Clayton Utz, Allens, Mallesons, Blake Dawson and Freehills revealed they have been in "frank" and "honest" collaborative discussions on the issue of depression in law, and have openly shared their own firm strategies for managing stress, anxiety and depression.

Freehills managing partner Peter Butler announced the collaboration, and admitted that the initiative was long overdue. "Is it just the case that it's an idea whose time has come? It deserves to be," he said.

Butler said the collaboration involved three central themes: The first was to share the programs that each believe are already working in their individual firms. The second involved an agreement to conduct a survey of young lawyers on what they believe their employers can do to help - and sharing that information, while the third theme involved developing initiatives for early intervention of mental illness, as well as the dissemination of information and ideas for programs on stress, anxiety and depression.

He said there were no secrets in sharing this information, and that the fierce competition that is usually shared between these firms was forgotten in a bid to offer real solutions to the issue of depression in the law. "We didn't care. We were going to openly share what we were doing in this space to make it better," he said.

Butler also stated that the collaboration would be an industry wide initiative and that all firms and all facets of the legal profession are invited to participate.

The initiative received a warm reception from the 200-strong crowd gathered as part of the annual Tristan Jepson Memorial lecture, as well as from the parents of Tristan Jepson - a law student who took his own life five years ago.

Following Butler's presentation managing partners from each of the large law firms offered a snapshot of initiatives they believe are already working in their firms - including attempts to remove budgets for lawyers at Clayton Utz, intensive leadership programs at Blake Dawson and encouraging staff to take additional annual leave at Mallesons.

Allens managing partner Michael Rose said the legal profession needs to take a "communal perspective" on the issue and understand that a lawyer's career should be celebrated within the context of the larger profession. "Satisfaction, purpose and meaning are great defences of these issues we're facing," Rose said.

Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland praised the initiative, but called for more to be done - stating that the personal income insurance industry may also come to the fore with a role to play in tackling mental illness in the profession. "Depression is one of the main reasons that barristers and legal professionals make claims through their income protection insurance," he said.

"This suggests there may be a role for the insurance industry to play in the early intervention of depression - particularly if the current approach means that legal professionals are choosing not to disclose mental health histories to their insurers or are taking steps to keep their illness secret."

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