Law Society of Scotland launches new mental health action plan

On Wednesday the 3rd June, The Law Society of Scotland launched a three-year action plan that aims to tackle the stigma around mental health in the legal sector.

The plan follows the release of a survey in 2019 on the Scottish legal profession and individual views on mental health and the workplace. The full survey findings are broken down in the new report, The status of mental health stigma and discrimination in the Scottish legal profession

The survey was run in partnership with See Me, the Scotland-wide programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination.

The report, based on analysis of 1242 responses, found that 77% of respondents wanted to better understand mental health problems to be able to provide support. More than half of respondents also said that training for managers (62%) and staff (54%) would be beneficial to improve workplace culture.

The survey also explored if legal professionals felt they could discuss mental health issues at work. It found that:

  • 46% of respondents believed opportunities for staff to have open and honest conversations about mental health would create a more positive attitude
  • 39% of respondents felt the senior leaders in their organisation show their commitment to staff mental health
  • However: 24% thought supervisors/line managers knew how to support staff in relation to their mental health and wellbeing.
  • 24% had observed or were aware of stigmatising attitudes to mental health and 23% also said they had observed or were aware of discrimination within their own organisations.

In response to the survey findings, the Law Society has set out a seven-step framework for change. It includes working with leaders across the sector to create a more open culture, promoting mental health engagement and awareness campaigns and developing its existing Lawscot Wellbeing online portal as a one-stop-shop for all resources. The society has also committed to improving awareness of mental health issues within its own organisation and carrying out a follow-up review in 3 years time.

Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland 2020-21 and who is an accredited specialist in both Mental Health Law, and Incapacity and Mental Disability Law, said:

“I’m proud that we have been the first professional body in Scotland to have carried out a sector-wide survey of this kind, and to be publishing our new action plan for change today. However some of the report’s findings are not easy reading and it is clear that there is work to be done to change how we view mental health issues in the profession.

We understand the challenges. Working in law is demanding and can be pressurised at times, with substantial workloads and long hours involved in helping people resolve their legal issues, which can affect both our physical and mental health.

However, we are committed to tackling stigma and discrimination in the legal profession. We will engage with the profession and respond to feedback on how we work towards changing workplace culture by opening up conversations around mental health and, importantly, developing the right support mechanisms over the next three years.”

See the full article on the LawScot site.

Read the action plan (PDF), or see the full report. (PDF).

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The Bar of Ireland releases balance at the Bar survey

The Bar of Ireland has released a survey of 567 practitioners looking at workplace satisfaction and wellbeing in the Bar. The survey looks at various topics including anxiety and stress, mental and physical health, workplace happiness and workplace issues. The survey demonstrates some of the improved benefits to wellbeing in maintaining an open profession where juniors can seek help and advice from their seniors.

Brian O’Driscoll, Chief of Regulation said: “The Bar of Ireland is committed to raising awareness of the value of a positive working environment; to promoting discussion of physical and mental health; and encouraging members of the Law Library to seek help where necessary. In order to increase their understanding of the nature and prevalence of issues impacting on the psychological health and performance of barristers, the Council commissioned a survey entitled ‘Balance at the Bar’ to inquire into the general wellbeing of our members.”

The full report and findings are available here.

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Regulatory responses to COVID-19

We’ve put together the following list to examine different regulator responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have any questions or best practice for the rest of the ICLR community, please do get in touch, and we will be happy to include any of these in the next newsletter.

The Nederlandse Orde Van Advocaten has released a table of all responses to the pandemic that affect those working in the sector, including alternative methods for filing claims, and updates on court closures. Link available here.

The ABA has set up a task force to help Americans and those working in the profession cope with the repercussions of the pandemic, helping to identify areas of need and mobilise volunteer lawyers. Link available here.

The Bar Council of England and Wales has collated all advice on practice and legal aid into one guide, providing an overview of best practice response to the virus for practitioners.  Link available here.

The Victorian Legal Services  Board has published updated CPD guidelines to reflect the challenges presented in attending CPD sessions for lawyers under the current circumstances. Link available here.

The Canadian Bar Association has opened up pandemic planning resources to the profession, as well as releasing a podcast to help practitioners prepare. Link available here.

The SRA have now said that they will allow individual providers to decide how to carry out assessments for Qualifying Law Degrees and the Graduate Diploma in Law. With regards to the Legal Practice course, they have said that course providers may choose how to assess elective courses, and have relaxed the supervision rules for core subjects. Full statement available here.

The Bar Standards Board have decided to cancel upcoming April examinations, with students being asked to wait until the next examination session in August. They are undergoing discussion as to how this will affect pupillage requirements, as the later assessment date, and inability to complete Inns of Court sessions will leave many students unable to demonstrate the necessary requirements to begin a pupillage. Link to statement available here.

Pennsylvania State Governor Tom Wolf has mandated that all law firms and other legal services close their physical offices, in order to limit the spread of the virus. Link available here.

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Conduct Yourselves Accordingly: Amending Bar Character and Fitness Questions to Promote Lawyer Well-Being

Abstract

A number of states have modified the questions on the Character and Fitness portion of their application for bar admission addressing an applicant’s substance use and mental health disorders. While some have eliminated the questions altogether, others continue to pose questions which authors and ABA members David Jaffe and Janet Stearns argue are overly broad and unnecessarily invasive. This article has been published in Vol. 26, no. 2 of the Center for Professional Responsibility’s magazine, The Professional Lawyer. Read the Jaffe and Stearns article, Conduct Yourselves Accordingly: Amending Bar Character and Fitness Questions To Promote Lawyer Well-Being, available here.

Citation
Jaffe, David and Stearns, Janet E., Conduct Yourselves Accordingly: Amending Bar Character and Fitness Questions to Promote Lawyer Well-Being (December 11, 2019).

Available from the SSRN site.

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Law Society of New South Wales launches free legal assistance to those impacted by bushfires

The Law Society of New South Wales, in partnership with Legal Aid NSW, community legal centres,  Justice Connect and the NSW Bar Association has launched the NSW Government’s Disaster Response Legal Service, which will provide free legal assistance to those affected by the tragic bushfires in NSW.

Richard Harvey, the President of the Law Society said: “In this time of great tragedy, we need to do all we can, as members of the NSW community and the legal profession, to assist those impacted by the bushfires who have lost so much.”

The Law Society’s statement also noted that many solicitors in the region may have been affected by the fires, and noted that the Law Society in partnership with Lawcover could assist in:

  • Trust accounting;
  • Professional support for loss of files; and
  • Professional support in costs, ethics and regulatory compliance for any affected legal practice, as well as any wellbeing issues that may arise.

The President’s full statement is available here. Full information about the response efforts is available here.

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ABA releases annual profile of the legal profession

The American Bar Association has published its annual profile of the legal profession in the US. The report uses the data gathered over the course of the year to analyse changes and developments in the profession across the country.

Subjects covered include women and minorities in the profession, legal technology, pro bono, pay, legal education, lawyer wellbeing and lawyer discipline.

The link to download the full report is available here.

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Colorado Lawyer Self-Assessment Program yields analytical insights

Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel started developing its lawyer self-assessment program more than two years ago, immediately after a seminal workshop on proactive, risk-based regulation at the 41st ABA National Conference of Professional Responsibility in May 2015. The new resource is a leading facet of a larger shift toward proactive management-based regulation, which aims to help lawyers practice ethically and soundly in the first place, rather than just reactively imposing discipline after lawyers make mistakes.

The new system provides the regulatory team with real time stats on lawyer engagement and self-assessed professional performance. It highlights the professional objectives scoring the highest and lowest across all respondents, providing the team with evidence to support further educational program development. The platform also has the ability to create customized lists of continuing legal education (CLE) resources based on each respondent’s own personal benchmarks and areas of need. These lists make yearly CLE planning fast and easy for lawyers, and keeps them focused on the most effective resources for their needs.

Jon White, staff attorney at the regulator, writes “The practice of law will always be challenging. The “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” approach of the proactive practice program seeks to reduce some of that stress. The self-assessments give lawyers the blueprint to build an ethical infrastructure. Lawyers, in turn, benefit from enhanced peace of mind. Clients benefit from exceptional service. It is a win-win for all.” The insights generated by the program’s data is informing the regulator where practitioners need more assistance, and where there may be weaker points in the sector as a whole. Staying ahead of this issues protects the public and strengthens the jurisdiction as a whole.

Read more about Colorado’s Lawyer Self-Assessment Program Here

 

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An Australian Study on Lawyer Vulnerability & Legal Misconduct

Vulnerability to Legal Misconduct: Qualitative Study of Regulatory Decisions Involving Problem Lawyers and Their Clients

An emerging body of scholarship discusses ‘vulnerability’ as an antecedent of legal misconduct. One conceptualization of vulnerability indicates that an individual has greater susceptibility to risk of harm, and safeguards may protect against that risk of harm. This empirical study adds to the normative research with a qualitative analysis of 72 lawyers with multiple complaints and at least one hearing, paid financial misconduct claim, or striking from the roll (“problem lawyers”) in Victoria, Australia, between 2005 and 2015 through 311 regulatory decisions. We found that problem lawyers were disproportionately likely to be male, over age 45, and work in a sole or small practice. A quarter of these lawyers suffered from health impairments and among the clients harmed, half had cognitive impairments, were older age, or non-native English speakers. These findings underscore the need to better understand vulnerabilities to promote lawyer well-being, protect exposed clients, and reduce lapses in professionalism.

Access Full Report Here

Authors: 

  • Tara Sklar, University of Arizona – James E. Rogers College of Law
  • Jennifer Schulz Moore, University of New South Wales (UNSW) – Faculty of Law
  • Yamna Taouk, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health
  • Marie M Bismark, University of Melbourne
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Australian Legal Profession and the #MeToo Movement

Following the spread of the #MeToo movement to every industry around the globe, the Australian legal profession is taking a particular strong stand. The country’s defamation laws are notoriously difficult to pursue and are poorly equipped to handle a digital landscape. Solicitors and commentators alike have been quick to comment that these defamation laws are failing women who want to come forward.

Young lawyers have also been quick to point out that sexual harassment is prevalent in their own profession. In 2013, the Law Council of Australia’s National Attrition and Re-Engagement Survey found almost one in four female lawyers experienced sexual harassment. It has been working with the International Bar Association on a global survey of the legal profession to uncover the extent of sexual harassment. “We take it very, very seriously indeed. We are by no means in no state of denial. We recognise that we have a problem and there are many of us determined to stamp it out,” said Morry Bailes, the president of the council.

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