Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten launches a new resilience training programme for lawyers

On the 30th of June 2021, the Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten (NOvA) opened registration for a new resilience training programme for lawyers.  The training is designed to give lawyers practical assistance to address threats encountered during the course of their daily practice. The NOvA developed the training in recognition of the fact that during the course of their professional practice, many lawyers encounter either verbal or physical aggression, threats and invasion of their private life. The training is designed to give lawyers the tools the protect their office and homes, as well as increase awareness of possible risks, and de-escalate situations.

The NOvA is offering 250 places for the free course, with classes starting in August of 2021. Participants will be given theoretical and practical training by both lawyers and securing experts, as well as the opportunity to discuss their own experiences. The emphasis of the course is on improving personal safety and dealing with risky situations through de-escalation of the situation.

Read more about the programme here. (In Dutch, but available via Google Translate)

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Canada launches national wellbeing study of legal professionals

A partnership of the different Canadian law societies, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, the Canadian Bar Association and the Université de Sherbrooke is coming together for a first-of-its-kind national study on the well-being of legal professionals.

The study is based on the fact that legal practitioners are amongst the grouping of professionals most at risk of experiencing mental wellness issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression. The partnership aims to better understand why this is, in order to better support legal professionals, providing them with the necessary resources to promote a healthy and sustainable legal practice.

A range of legal practitioners are being contacted in order to complete the study. For example, In Ontario, the following legal professionals are being asked to participate in an anonymous and confidential study questionnaire:

  • All lawyers and paralegals, including those who are presently unemployed, on leave and who have retired or stopped working in law in the past year;
  • Articling candidates who are working in any capacity, including private practice, public sector, university or college, etc.;
  • Experiential learning candidates who completed the Law Practice Program at Ryerson, the Programme de pratique du droit at the University of Ottawa or the Integrated Practice Curriculum program at Lakehead University in 2021.

Read more about the study here,  Or watch a video of lead researcher Dr. Nathalie Cadieux introducing the study here

 

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Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism: five ways to improve well-being in the legal profession

Stephanie Villinski, Deputy Director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, has released her take on improving lawyer well-being, based on ‘The Future Is Now: Legal Services conference’, which is the Commission on Professionalism’s annual future law event.

Ms. Villinski reflects on the fact that many of the changes that can have the greatest impact are in fact simple and easily implementable. With not all changes requiring a major change.

Her recommendations include:

  • Improving practitioner awareness around legal assistance programmes
  • creating clear KPIs and success measure
  • creating cultural shifts, and
  • encouraging professionals to lead by example

Read more about the conclusions and the conference here. 

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Stress, drink, leave: An examination of gender-specific risk factors for mental health problems and attrition among licensed attorneys

Abstract

Rates of mental illness and heavy alcohol use are exceedingly high in the legal profession, while attrition among women has also been a longstanding problem. Work overcommitment, work-family conflict, permissiveness toward alcohol in the workplace, and the likelihood of promotion are all implicated but have yet to be systematically investigated. Data were collected from 2,863 lawyers randomly sampled from the California Lawyers Association and D.C. Bar to address this knowledge gap. Findings indicated that the prevalence and severity of depression, anxiety, stress, and risky/hazardous drinking were significantly higher among women. Further, one-quarter of all women contemplated leaving the profession due to mental health concerns, compared to 17% of men. Logistic models were conducted to identify workplace factors predictive of stress, risky drinking, and contemplating leaving the profession. Overcommitment and permissiveness toward alcohol at work were associated with the highest likelihood of stress and risky drinking (relative to all other predictors) for both men and women. However, women and men differed with respect to predictors of leaving the profession due to stress or mental health. For women, work-family conflict was associated with the highest likelihood of leaving, while overcommitment was the number one predictor of leaving for men. Mental health and gender disparities are significant problems in the legal profession, clearly requiring considerable and sustained attention.

Anker J, Krill PR (2021) Stress, drink, leave: An examination of gender-specific risk factors for mental health problems and attrition among licensed attorneys. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0250563.

Available on PLOS ONE. 

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Wellness and Law: Reforming Legal Education to Support Student Wellness

Abstract

No one goes to law school with the expectation that their mental health and overall well-being will be significantly compromised during those three years. But, for a substantial number of law students, it is. It does not have to be this way.

This is not a typical law review article. It cannot afford to be. Most law students begin law school as reasonably happy and well-adjusted people. We must ask, what is it about law school that contributes to the disproportionate decline in student wellness? The answer to that question is complex because many of the very factors that make good lawyers also contribute to their mental health challenges.

This paper contains a blueprint, borne out of experience, of how to reimagine legal education with a focus on wellness. This goes beyond a general call to action, but rather presents concrete actions that faculty, law administrators, and students themselves can take to effectively manage the stresses inherent in law school and the legal profession. These changes will be long-term and will profoundly impact the well-being of not only legal practitioners, but the very practice of law itself. There will be resistance, but making this transition is crucial. We know that when law students first enter law school their psychological profile is similar to that of the general public, but their depression rates increase drastically across three years of legal education. Lawyers have the dubious distinction of being the most frequently depressed professionals in the U.S., and the legal profession ranks among the highest in incidence of suicide by occupation.

Two recent and major events have exacerbated this already dire landscape of wellness dysfunction: COVID-19 and widespread protests associated with the quest for racial justice. For students who managed their addiction recovery or mental health challenges in part by having the structure and accountability of a classroom setting and nearby counseling services, social distancing threatens those means of coping. Then the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others ignited a wave protests that likely caused some law students to experience race-based and other types of trauma. The absence of a culture of wellness in law schools may lead law students to endure these added traumas in silence.

As other movements have found national and global recognition recently, it is time for a wellness crusade in legal education. Just as movements have galvanized the public to demand action on issues of racial injustice, gender equality, and climate change, so the legal profession must take steps to comprehensively address the wellness crisis spanning the lecture halls to practice. Just as America must be willing to undergo an honest reckoning and radical reforms in order to evolve into a more just and equitable society, law schools and the legal profession must undergo foundational changes in order to graduate healthy and whole students. The reforms outlined in this article not only reimagine the law school experience for thousands of law students, but they would, over time, lead to a qualitative change in the delivery of legal services themselves. The legal profession, indeed our lives, literally depend on it.

Jackson, Janet Thompson, Wellness and Law: Reforming Legal Education to Support Student Wellness (February 15, 2021). Howard Law Journal, Vol. 65, No. 1, 2021,

Available at SSRN

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Bar Standards Board of England and Wales Releases Report on Bullying and Harrasment

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has released a new report commissioned from YouGov, looking at bullying and harassment within the profession. The qualitative study, was commissioned as part of the regulator’s ongoing programme to address the root causes of bullying, discrimination and harassment at the Bar. The report involved 35 telephone interviews with 30 barristers, and five non-barristers, who had directly experienced or observed discrimination and harassment (including workplace bullying) at the Bar.

Key findings from the report suggest that:

  • Participants described a range of experiences, varying from unfair treatment based on protected characteristics, sexual harassment, long term bullying, unreasonable work demands and unfair work allocation. Low to medium level incidents were the most common, especially for those who are from more than one underrepresented group such as Black and female, or Asian and LGBT.
  • The Bar has a unique structure – most barristers are self-employed and reliant on clerks for their caseload, often with little formal management or HR structure uniting the two. Some participants felt this lack of formal management structure allowed harassment and discrimination to ”slip through the net.”
  • Despite an increased focus on equality and diversity at the Bar, most barristers interviewed had not formally reported their experiences. The key reasons were fear of a negative impact on their reputation and, therefore, their earning potential and career progression.
  • The lack of clear, anonymous and supportive formal and informal pathways to reporting incidents was seen as a barrier to addressing bullying, discrimination and harassment. Clearer and more accessible guidance about bullying, discrimination and harassment, its impacts, and when to report it, is needed.
  • The report concludes that for anti-harassment policies and procedures to be effective, there needs to be a shift in culture at the Bar to encourage openness and to discourage inappropriate behaviour, with a role for the BSB, the Bar Council and other stakeholders in driving change and offering support.

Speaking about the research, BSB Head of Equality and Access to Justice, Amit Popat said:

“We are committed to working alongside the profession and other stakeholders to root out bullying, discrimination and harassment at the Bar in all their forms. This targeted study amongst those who have directly experienced or observed bullying, discrimination and harassment at the Bar adds a very useful perspective to our understanding of how and why this behaviour is still occurring. It is plain from the study that there are significant cultural factors, including power imbalances, which inhibit the reporting of bullying and harassment. The Bar Standards Board will therefore be convening a roundtable with key stakeholders in the near future to discuss how, within the framework of chambers, supportive arrangements can be established which enable incidences of bullying and harassment to be reported and properly addressed. This must be a high priority for the profession.”

Read the BSB’s statement here, or view the full report here (PDF).

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NSW law society to provide solicitors with session with psychologist

The Law Society of New South Wales (NSW) has launched its new Solicitor Outreach Service (SOS) as part of its ongoing efforts to support the mental health and wellbeing of the state’s lawyers. Solicitors in the state will be provided with 3 sessions a year, with a qualified psychologist free of charge, and will also be provided with a 365 day a year psychological support hotline.

President of the Law Society of NSW, Richard Harvey, said the launch of the new SOS comes at a time when many in the legal profession are dealing with the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding: “As we well know, the legal profession is far from immune from having its own susceptibility to mental health distress. It’s possible that some members of the legal profession will be at heightened risk due to the unpredictability about the scale, duration and impact of COVID-19, along with other factors such as the challenges of working remotely, lack of regular exercise and restricted social engagement… While many large law firms and organisations provide support through their Employee Assistance Programs, there are solicitors in smaller practices, especially in regional areas, who don’t have access to this support. The Law Society is committed to providing best practice and relevant mental health and support services to all NSW solicitors.”

Read the society’s statement on the new services.

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IBA launches project on lawyer mental wellbeing

The International Bar Association (IBA) has launched a global project aimed at addressing the mental wellbeing of legal professionals, particularly in light of the tensions raised by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The first phase of the project is made up of two global surveys – one for individual lawyers, the other for law firms and other legal institutions, including bar associations, law societies and in-house legal departments. Available in both English and Spanish, the surveys are anonymous and take approximately ten minutes to complete.

The data gathered from the completed surveys will provide insight into:

  • the pressing mental health concerns of legal professionals;
  • the support they can expect to receive from their workplaces;
  • how the wellbeing of lawyers and other stakeholders in the legal profession are affected by their work and working environments;
  • identifying problems that each might have faced in getting the help they needed; and
  • what law firms, bars and law societies should be doing to support those in distress.

IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto has said: “The devastating effects of depression, stress, addiction and other such attacks on our mental health may have preceded the current crisis, but there is no question that COVID-19 has exacerbated their impact. Yet, just as the pandemic has posed challenges for our profession and ways of life, and in the process refocused our attention to this critical issue, so it also presents opportunities for us to change for the better in the future.’ He added: ‘These studies will provide us with a vital global snapshot of our profession. I sincerely hope that they will lead not only to the sharing of best practice guides, but also to starting conversations in those parts of the world where mental wellbeing is not spoken about so openly, and lawyers perhaps find themselves suffering in silence.”

See the IBA’s press release on the survey, complete the individual lawyer’s survey or complete the institutional survey.

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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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