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New report offers way forward to improved wellbeing for lawyers, despite high levels of stress in the legal profession

In 2019 we interviewed people working across all parts of the legal profession to gain a deeper understanding of lawyers’ experiences of mental health and wellbeing over their careers.

These interviews with 37 current and former judges, community legal centre lawyers, law students, barristers, private practitioners and staff from educational bodies, were analysed and our latest report ‘VLSB+C report on legal professionalsreflections on wellbeing and suggestions for future reform’ is now available.

Our report found that interview participants:

  • described being acculturated early in their career into a professional culture that frequently made it very difficult for the average individual to achieve wellbeing
  • identified a range of cultural and institutional factors that made it hard to improve the wellbeing of legal professionals
  • were positive about the direction of change in recent years and most, though not all, respondents conveyed optimism about a changing conversation regarding the wellbeing of legal professionals
  • had many ideas and suggestions for changes that could improve wellbeing within the profession

Some of the suggestions for improving wellbeing included embracing more comprehensive assistance programs like those in place overseas, increased collaboration with researchers, the increased promotion of counselling and debriefing programs, reforms to court practices, improved management training and the incorporation of a focus on wellbeing into CPD requirements.

This project was launched in response to the growing chorus of voices (inside and outside the profession) drawing attention to high rates of psychological distress, burnout, anxiety, depression and secondary traumatic stress (STS)/vicarious trauma affecting the legal profession in Australia.

Overall, research has consistently found that rates of psychological distress are relatively high across the legal profession, with rates of depression appearing to be particularly high among law students, solicitors and barristers. Behind these figures is not only a story of often profound impacts on individuals and their families, but also one of significant financial costs for employers.

Ultimately, our aim is to work with the legal profession over the coming years 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.

We encourage you to read the report, which includes information about the key wellbeing issues faced by lawyers, along with suggestions for how wellbeing in the legal profession could be improved.

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 on our website.   

You can refer to our mental health policy for more information.

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