Home' HR Monthly : October 2017 Contents 46
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n recent years there has been a growing
conversation between the corporate and
community sectors regarding the prevalence
of mental health issues in the workplace. This is
particularly relevant for the legal profession, as
research from 2015 found that law yers working
in law firms have the lowest psychological and
psychosomatic health and wellbeing of
US psychologist and author Martin Seligman
identifies three key reasons why law is the
“un happiest” profession: pessimists do better at
law, many law yers work under high pressure on
monotonous work accompanied by low levels
of control, and the law is becoming increasingly
Seligman goes on to cite evidence which
shows that a high percentage of severely
depressed people have perfectionist personality
traits, including setting high expectations, being
goal directed and working very hard – qualities
that abound in successful lawyers.
Whether or not there is a direct link between
these traits and mental health concerns, there is
now a compelling case for law firms to address
the issue of mental wellbeing in a sustained way.
Despite increased industry-wide attention on
this subject, turning awareness into mainstream
action and giving it context continues to be
a challenge – particularly given some of the
structural and cultural barriers that can be
unique to law firms. In response to these
challenges, a number of the nation’s leading law
firms joined forces with the College of Law in
2011 to create the Resilience@Law initiative.
This collaboration set out to take a leadership
role in raising awareness and understanding of
the nature and impact of stress, depression and
anxiety across the legal profession. It is focused
on developing and implementing a learning
approach for people at each stage of their legal
careers, from graduate law yers to partners.
One of the first initiatives was to
produce a DVD on depression, which was
shown to law yers via the participating firms
and the College of Law. Nex t was the
rollout of targeted mental health first-
The College of Law also runs a workshop
entitled Wellbeing in Practice: The Resilient
Law yer, where law yers entering the profession
are brought together to consider the inherent
dangers of anx iety and depression. Upcoming
Resilience@Law projects include partnering
with the Black Dog Institute to develop a short
video clip specifically for the legal profession,
and a ‘shared induction’ initiative to bring
together new starters from the participating
firms in a ‘lunch and learn’ workshop on
wellbeing and resilience.
But what else can individual firms do to
address mental health and wellbeing?
• The most important first step is to start
the conversation. Create a community of
champions/activists, starting with leadership.
Identify individuals who are willing to share
their stories and strategies for managing
times of stress and their own self-care. This
community will be key to building and
maintaining momentum, in addition to
normalising mental health challenges in
• Invest in the right training to give your
wellbeing group the tools they need to offer
support. Their role will not be to diagnose or
counsel, but rather to ‘recognise, respond and
refer’. Promote your contacts so people know
who might be a go-to in the organisation.
• L everage off campaigns such as R U OK? day
and National Mental Health Month to further
connect people to the cause.
• Ensure you have a robust employee assistance
program in place which is confidential and
available to your whole workforce and their
immediate family members. •••
“A high percentage
MARTIN SELIGMAN PSYCHOLOGIST
The unhappy profession
Stress, boredom, lack of control – poor mental health is rife among lawyers.
What are law firms doing to counteract the problem?
BY KELLIE WADE KING & WOOD MALLESONS
22/9/17 12:41 pm
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