A new book that guides lawyers through the stressful demands of legal practice was launched this month by its co-authors from the ANU College of Law, NSW Law Society and NSW Young Lawyers.
Being Well in the Law (The Law Society of New South Wales, 2016) is a tiny book that punches well above its weight. Its small format belies the impact of the profound insights and wisdom inside its flimsy covers.
Primarily written and edited by Tony Foley, Vivien Holmes, Stephen Tang, Colin James and Margie Rowe, who are staff at ANU College of Law, the book is a collaboration between them and the NSW Law Society and NSW Young Lawyers.
Why is such a book needed? The dentistry profession is a famously stressful one, but the authors cite evidence that law students too, as well as solicitors and barristers, “exhibit higher levels of psychological distress and disproportionately higher experiences of depression than members of the general public” (p. 7). We learn that the lawyer of the future will require many of the following skills on top of their legal knowledge – they will need to be technologically savvy and creative, to have multidisciplinary knowledge and project management skills, as well as business skills, and to be nuanced communicators and more.
These demands place stress on lawyers. While there is good stress – and this book discusses both good and bad – detrimental stress must be dealt with before it causes serious illness and the book has practical advice on how to do this.
Wellbeing is often considered separately to the traits that make up a lawyer but the authors tell us that it should considered as an integral part of being one. Compartmentalising our lives into a professional section, a health section, an emotions section and so on puts us on the road to ill health in all these areas. We need to act with all areas of our lives in balance and this will lead to “an integrated experience of feeling happy and fulfilled at work, with the potential for change and growth” (p. 10).
Being Well in the Law has a chapter specifically for new lawyers on “starting right” but the rest of the book is useful for all lawyers, and for law students. It would prove useful for anyone, for dentists and the rest of us, in any workplace, since it has much useful information on mental health, insomnia, replacing bad habits with good, managing emails, coping with traumatised clients, turning work “off”, as well as such existential challenges as dealing with uncertainty and diminishing the gap between who one is and what one does.
The book combines positive psychology techniques with profound insights one would expect to see in a much longer book. The authors usefully point out: “Simply knowing about these approaches to living and working can improve your habits, help shape your attitudes and build a sense of hope for the future.” (p. 23)
In ANU College of Law Senior Lecturer Anthony Hopkins’ opinion, the authors “have created a wonderful publication for all involved in practice and teaching. I will certainly be bringing it to the attention of my students.” He congratulated the authors on their “efforts to open and deepen the conversation on mental health, wellbeing and legal practice. The lessons resonate well beyond that frame.”