Recommendations made following Canadian study into well-being of the legal profession

The original report showed the Canadian legal profession had significantly high levels of psychological distress and depressive thoughts. These came from a number of different causes, including violence and incivility in the workplace as well as organisational risk factors such as emotional demands of the job, lack of resources, job insecurity, compassion fatigue and workload.

The research team from Universite de Sherbrooke’s Business School has released its recommendations to improve the mental health of the legal profession. The advice is a 10 point list:

  • Preparing future professionals to support them in dealing with psychological health issues, including promoting healthier lifestyles.
  • Improving supports and guidance available at the entry to the profession, including by removing billable hour targets for professionals in their first two years of practice.
  • Improving continuing professional development (CPD) that involves incorporating psychological health as a core skill for law practice and more structured mentoring programs with themes related to wellness in law.
  • Evaluating the implementation of alternative work organization models that limit the impact of specific risk factors on health. According to the report, it will be “critical to assess the use of alternative business models,” and “if billable hour targets are maintained, the billable hour system has to be reviewed.”
  • Taking actions aimed at destigmatizing mental health issues in the legal profession, including awareness campaigns and designing policies aligned with best practices for a gradual return to work for those coming back from prolonged health-related leave. Requiring candidates for admission to law societies to disclose mental health issues should also be reviewed, the report states.
  • Improving access to health and wellness support resources and breaking down barriers that limit access to these resources targeting a range of resources addressing everything from violence and incivility to vicarious trauma and addiction issues. Increased funding for assistance programs is also recommended.
  • Promoting diversity in the profession and revising practices, policies and procedures that may include or create discriminatory biases. Law societies and the Canadian Bar Association should select ambassadors who represent the socio-demographic diversity in law practice to drive change in the profession. It is also recommended that legal workplaces implement diversity management policies, proactive inclusiveness practices, and inclusive parental leave policies. Legal workplaces should also establish “zero-tolerance” policies on violence and incivility.
  • Emphasizing the health of legal professionals as integral to legal practice and the justice system through awareness campaigns and training, including for judges.
  • Implementing ongoing measurement of health and wellness among legal professionals by collecting data, including from those who leave the profession.
  • Fostering a better work-life balance in the legal profession, including pursuing policies that support the right to disconnect and render teleworking arrangements more flexible.

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