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Although working in law can be very rewarding, there is no doubt the profession can be challenging and stressful, and that lawyers’ personal wellbeing can be compromised.
We are concerned about the impacts of poor wellbeing and our work in this space consists of three streams. First, our overarching Lawyer Wellbeing Project which is focused on the wellbeing of the legal profession, second, a focus on our interactions with practitioners and consumers in the course of our regulatory work, and third, the wellbeing of our staff.
Lawyer Wellbeing Project
In 2019, we launched our Lawyer Wellbeing Project. The aim of the project is to shift the conversation about lawyer wellbeing away from an emphasis on personal resilience, to highlight the systemic drivers of poor wellbeing and identify what changes might be needed to improve wellbeing outcomes.
During the initial stages of the project, we met with people from across the legal profession in order to develop a deeper understanding of the issues affecting lawyer wellbeing. We wanted to draw from all parts of the sector, and our interviewees included current and former judges, community legal centre lawyers, law students, barristers, private practitioners and staff from educational bodies. Many of these people had a prior interest in, or experience with, wellbeing or mental health issues.
We subsequently engaged an academic to analyse the results of our interviews. A full report on the interview findings can be found here. As well as making clear some of the key issues faced by lawyers, the report also aims to provide a foundation for future work in this space by including suggestions for how wellbeing in the legal profession could be improved.
Operational Wellbeing Project
Since we began our Lawyer Wellbeing Project we have been reflecting on the part that we play in a system that perpetuates poor lawyer wellbeing.
While we do not shy away from the role we have to play as the regulator of the profession, we are committed to minimising the negative impacts we may have on practitioners and consumers in the course of our regulatory work. In turn, we are seeking a commitment from practitioners and consumers to engage with our staff in a constructive way.
In February 2020, we launched our Operational Wellbeing project. This project recognises that people using our services have diverse backgrounds and needs to which we need to be responsive. It also recognises they can sometimes be angry, frustrated or distressed and act in ways we find challenging. We are working on a consistent, best-practice approach to dealing with challenging interactions with lawyers and consumers when handling enquiries and complaints, and when undertaking investigations.
This project also helps us fulfil our responsibility to our frontline staff as we know the regulatory environment they work in can create many challenges. We expect our officers to treat people with courtesy and respect and expect this courtesy to be returned.
Mental Health Policy
We recognise that legal practice can place significant stresses and pressures on lawyers and that a significant number of lawyers will experience mental health issues at some point in their career.
Our policy is to encourage lawyers who are experiencing a mental health condition to voluntarily seek appropriate treatment. We only require lawyers to disclose mental health conditions to us if their condition will affect their ability to meet their legal practice obligations.
We will treat lawyers who disclose a mental health condition to us fairly and sensitively and we will treat disclosures made to us confidentially and perform our function without discrimination. If you are concerned about your own or a colleague’s wellbeing, please view the resources available to support you below. Please refer to our Mental Health Policy for more information.
Resources for lawyers
If you or someone you know need immediate mental health support, call Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14.
In an emergency, call 000.
There are a number of dedicated organisations and services where you can seek support for mental health issues:
- Your GP can provide you with a mental health care plan and refer you to a psychologist for subsidised treatment.
- The Victorian Bar independent counselling services for members and their families:
- Revision Group – (03) 9650 5540
- Converge International - 1300 687 327
- The Law Institute of Victoria member assistance program EAP service – 1300 687 327 provides confidential, 24 hour wellbeing services for LIV members.
- Beyond Blue provides information about depression, anxiety and related disorders - 1300 22 4636
- The Black Dog Institute – Information on depression and bipolar disorder. They also have a dedicated toolkit to help lawyers stay well.
- MensLine – 1300 78 99 78
- Suicide Call Back Service – 24/7 telephone and online counselling to people who are affected by suicide.
- Headspace – Mental health support for 12-25 year olds.