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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