Putting an end to mental health issues in law firms

By Naomi Neilson|15 July 2019

The legal profession is inundated with lawyers experiencing mental health issues and firms need to act on this, according to speakers at a recent Melbourne law event.

Hosted by Legally Yours, the Mental Health and Wellbeing in Law invited lawyers from across Victoria to listen to experts and learn techniques to overcome difficulties in the workplace, due mostly to the long hours and hard work expected of them.

Legally Yours CEO Karen Finch said that despite there being an increase in wellbeing and mental health programs in most law firms and associations, “a stigma still exists around openly discussing these issues amongst peers and supporters”.

“In my role as CEO, I have spoken to many lawyers who have shared their stories of feeling depressed, isolated, frustrated, ostracised and trapped in their role as lawyers,” the CEO said.

According to the Black Dog Institute, there is a high rate of suicide and suicidal ideation among lawyers and law students, with young lawyers being the most vulnerable.

More than 30 per cent of lawyers and 20 per cent of barristers suffer from a disability and distress due to mental health issues. Most have not sought professional help or confided in their workplace and will instead self-medicate with alcohol.

The event hosted a range of speakers to talk on this and who each touched on their own experience with mental health and wellbeing issues in the workplace. Attendees were also encouraged to tell their own stories and take away tips to improve themselves.

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“Each panel member shared their own personal — and at times raw — story of their journey in the legal industry, including myself who revealed my long-term hang-up of feeling like a ‘failed lawyer’ because I wasn’t able to stick within an environment that forced me to only see my value as six-minute billable units,” Ms Finch said.

Ms Finch added the overall feeling during the event was the traditional law firm model is damaging to lawyers, especially when celebrating a lawyer for working long hours.

“It isn’t for every lawyer and we need to offer greater choice in the ways lawyers can practice without them feeling like they have failed,” Ms Finch said.

She added that these mental health issues are not limited to just junior lawyers, and it often begins at the partner level.

“Often the bullying behaviour from the senior lawyers to the junior lawyers is a direct result of the senior lawyers suffering from their own mental health or wellbeing issues,” the CEO said.

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Putting an end to mental health issues in law firms
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