find the latest legal job
Corporate and Commercial Partner
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Adelaide CBD · Join a leading Adelaide commercial law firm
View details
Freelance Project Finance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Australia
· Vario are looking for freelance lawyers with experience in project finance ideally within the renewable energy sector
View details
Vario Freelance Lawyers
Category: Construction Law | Location: All Australia
· We are looking for lawyers who appreciate the endless possibilities that a freelance career can offer.
View details
Freelance Construction Lawyers
Category: Construction Law | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· We are looking for construction lawyers who appreciate the endless possibilities that a freelance career can offer.
View details
Banking Associate - 1-6PQE - Allen & Overy
Category: Banking and Finance Law | Location: United Kingdom
· Banking Associate - 1-6 PQE - Allen & Overy
View details
Mind over matter

Mind over matter

Richard Chambers

The nature of legal practice makes lawyers prone to negative bias – but mindfulness may help keep depression at bay, writes Dr Richard Chambers.

Lawyers suffer from depression 50 per cent more than any other profession, with one in five barristers and one in three solicitors affected by anxiety or depression at any given time. Depressed lawyers tend not to seek professional help, and tend to use alcohol and other drugs to cope.

In many ways, the pressures of legal work are just like any other busy profession, including:

• Long hours;

• The repetitive nature of work in many large firms;

• Difficulty generating billable work during quiet periods;

• Digital technology encouraging multitasking and impinging on downtime;

• An increasingly competitive job market.

However, there are certain unique attributes of lawyers that place them at increased risk of mental health problems. These include:

• Being highly analytical (useful when preparing for a case or reviewing a contract, but problematic when applied to oneself as judgement and self-criticism);

• A focus on potential problems (invaluable when applied as prudence and due diligence, but a risk factor for rumination and depression);

• An adversarial mindset (useful in court, less so at the dinner table).

These trends begin in law school. Research shows that:

• More than 40 per cent of Australian law students report mental health issues severe enough to warrant psychological intervention.

• Law students start their training with a similar incidence of depression as other students but this doubles by the end of first year, with around 15 per cent reported requiring professional support.

• Law students also experience elevated levels of obsessive-compulsiveness, interpersonal sensitivity, paranoid thinking, hostility, anxiety and loss of subjective well-being as the year progresses.

These issues tended to remain elevated long after graduation and into their careers. These factors result in increased stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and low contentment, impaired interpersonal relationships and reduced academic performance, even when compared to students in other high-pressure courses like medicine.

How mindfulness can help

Mindfulness is an effective, evidence-based way of managing these pressures. It involves training ourselves to be more aware and engaged in each moment. When our attention disengages from the task at hand (which researchers estimate happens around 50 per cent of the time), the brain’s inherent negatively bias means we get caught up in worry, rumination and self-criticism.

Of course, this is especially pronounced in people with legal training. The amygdala (the brain’s ‘fear centre’) becomes activated, leading to stress, anxiety and depression. This disengagement and distractedness is also associated with reduced work performance.

With mindfulness, we cultivate awareness of where the attention is from moment to moment. We remain more focused and engaged and notice more easily when we get distracted. Because of the neuroplastic nature of the brain, regular practise strengthens the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, two key learning areas. This creates lasting changes in the brain that improve focus and self-awareness throughout the day. Also, as we cease activating the amygdala, it naturally starts to weaken, leading to less stress reactivity.

As little as five to 10 minutes of meditation practise quickly produces noticeable improvements to focus self-awareness. Stress decreases as we spend less time caught up in worry and reactivity. The increased self-awareness also allows lawyers to direct their analytical, adversarial minds to where this quality is useful – i.e. preparing a contract or legal brief – rather than using it to find faults with themselves.

Practising uni-tasking and efficient attention switching, rather than trying to do multiple things simultaneously, also reduces stress and improves performance, and leads to greater job satisfaction.

Getting started with mindfulness

There are a number of ways to quickly and easily get started with mindfulness. The simplest is to download an app and start doing regular meditation practice. Starting small (e.g. five minutes a day) and then gradually increasing is the best strategy.

Making an effort to engage more fully with each moment is also highly beneficial. Taking the time to listen to what people are actually saying and focusing on one thing at a time rather than trying to multitask are also excellent ways of cultivating mindfulness – and tend improve relationships and work performance. Doing a course over a number of weeks is a good way to take it deeper.

Dr Richard Chambers is a clinical psychologist and mindfulness consultant


Like this story? Read more:

Book commemorates diamond milestone for WA law society

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

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

Mind over matter
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Jan 23 2018
Disrupting traditional archiving and storage methods
Promoted by Fileman TRENDS COME and go but technology and its disruption to the legal landscape h...
Scales of Justice
Jan 23 2018
WA to close ‘legal loophole’ on gender reassignment laws
Laws in Western Australia will soon change to permit married people to undergo gender reassignment s...
Lawyers take to Twitter to share career stories
Jan 22 2018
Lawyers take to Twitter to share career stories
The #mypathtolaw hashtag has been embraced by legal eagles to swap stories with the Twitter communit...
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'...
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...
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 & ...