Maintaining Our Strengths

Our next steps for a healthy profession

Maintaining Our Strengths

It has long been known that the legal profession attracts individuals who have high standards and expectations for themselves. We are smart, strong in character and want to fix problems and help others. These attributes enable us to withstand the challenges of the practice — one that is acknowledged to be one of the most demanding ways to earn a living and contribute to society.

But it is taking its toll. And we must take a hard look at what we need to do to create healthy lawyers and workplaces.

The National Study on the Wellness of Legal Professionals in Canada is the first Canadian study of its kind. Researchers sought to: gather evidence to determine if there is a problem and the scope of it; identify variations on the level of wellness across the country; explore the causes of poor mental health in the profession; and make recommendations to support wellness among lawyers.

Made possible through a partnership between the Canadian Bar Association, the Federation of Law Societies and law societies throughout the country, the Université de Sherbrooke research team was led by Dr. Nathalie Cadieux.

The Phase I report revealed high rates of stress, anxiety, burnout, and depression are experienced at particularly high rates throughout the profession. The symptoms of psychological stress include fatigue, irritability, concentration problems, anxiety, and insomnia. These factors affect how we provide services to our clients, and therefore must be a concern to the public, our regulators, the justice system, and ourselves.

The study highlighted that our work environment is a significant contributor to the state of wellness.  Emotional demands are high, particularly in areas such as family and criminal law. The hours worked, the overload of work, billable hour demands, and job insecurity about meeting expectations of clients and employers all impact our wellness.

In some ways, none of this is news. For decades, the Lawyers Assistance Program BC, CBABC and the CBA have provided and promoted services, programs, and supports for lawyers for this very reason. And it’s why the Law Society of BC has recently implemented regulatory changes to reduce barriers for lawyers experiencing mental health challenges.

But when the study tells us that 6/10 lawyers are experiencing psychological distress and 24% of us have experienced suicidal thoughts since the beginning of practising law, more of us need to stop and pay attention. Think about those statistics when you look at how many lawyers are in your workplace. Or the lawyers sitting in chambers. Or the lawyers at a conference. 60% are experiencing psychological stress such that it is affecting their work and their health.

We have to stop and take another look at how our profession, our workplaces, our legal and justice systems are structured.

Fortunately, the report offers a suite of recommendations to explore. Here are a few. Improving access to health and wellness support resources and breaking down barriers that limit our professional abilities. Promoting diversity in the profession supported by actual practices and policies to address discriminatory biases. Establishing work practices that include the right to disconnect from the 24/7 communication demands. Implementing actions to humanize the legal profession and deconstruct the myth of a lawyer as superhero. In law school and early practice, better prepare students and lawyers to manage their health in the context of the profession. 

Most importantly, the study recommends that we consider the health of professionals to be an integral part of legal practice and a functioning justice system.

CBABC is proud to support our members through professional development and community connections, including Pathways to Lawyer Wellbeing — Inclusive Environments Matter on April 5, and during Mental Health Awareness Week May 1-5. Let’s build on our strengths and together improve our health.