While long hours and six-day weeks might be considered part of life for many lawyers, a national forum hosted by the ANU Legal Workshop and the Wellness Network for Law will reinforce the importance of wellbeing for those working in the legal profession and the need for integrated, systemic reforms and strategies, rather than Band-Aid solutions.
Bringing together over 100 academics, lawyers, regulators, students and health professionals, the National Wellness for Law Forum will explore the issues affecting the mental health and wellbeing in law students and legal professionals, and consider how they might be addressed.
Forum convenor, Stephen Tang – who is both a registered psychologist and a lecturer with ANU Legal Workshop – said the event was a critical part of recognising the high level of psychological distress that often faced law students and those working in the profession and the efforts being made by law schools, the legal academy and the wider legal sector to respond.
“For many years, the stress and pressures faced by lawyers – and those studying to become lawyers – have been brushed aside as just being part of the job or degree.
“Through the Forum, we want to expand the conversation about wellness in law, and demonstrate the progress made to address and prevent psychological distress, and promote psychological wellbeing among people studying and working in the sector.”
“Wellbeing is not just a personal issue, but one deeply connected to the way we learn, teach and practice law.
“If we want lawyers who are committed and passionate advocates for justice, we cannot overlook the destructive aspects of legal education and practice. We cannot expect lawyers to respond effectively to the distress and difficulties of others if they themselves are not well.”
Among the keynote speakers at the Forum include Justice Shane Marshall of the Federal Court of Australia, who has openly discussed his own personal experience of depression in an effort to encourage the profession – and those studying to become lawyers – to seek help if they found themselves suffering mental health problems.
In addition to the reducing stigma about seeking help in a sector often known for its toughness and competitiveness, Mr Tang said the Forum was an encouraging sign of a maturing, evolving community of research and practice.
“In only a relatively short period, we’ve seen the importance of mental health and wellbeing become a headline issue in Australia.
“It’s especially pleasing to see this focus being extended to law and the legal sector, and the work being done to progress wellbeing with different populations, including students, lawyers, legal academics and the judiciary,” said Mr Tang.
The Wellness for Law Forum takes place at the Australian National University on Thursday 5 and Friday 6 February 2015.