Burnout and Mental Health in the Legal Sector

R U OK? Day happens on the second Thursday of September every year and is a campaign that aims to ignite meaningful conversations about mental health. After this year’s R U OK? Day, some firms were approached regarding their opinions on the current state of mental health in the legal profession.

There is no doubt in the legal profession, many individuals may experience high levels of stress, burnout, and lack of purpose as a result of long working hours and the intensity of the demands of the job.  Hamilton Locke managing partner, Nick Humphrey, has commented that this can negatively impact mental health and well-being overall. Significantly, the Leading Mentally Healthy Workplaces Report 2023 has reported that burnout has become a significant problem affecting many Australian workers – 44% reported that burnout affects their performance at work.

The Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia has encouraged organisations and companies to begin creating and implementing safe environments that encourage an open dialogue and normalise discussions about mental health and to ensure that employee’s mental health is considered in business strategies.

Particularly in the legal profession, it has been noted that vicarious traumatic stress has increased, and family law firms have been encouraged to implement safety plans for the workplace for any staff that may be involved in family violence matters. It is a tough area of law where individuals are exposed to difficult conversations and circumstances through cases and ensuring that there is a plan for staff to seek help if needed is crucial. This is not only something that impacts staff, but it can also potentially impact a practitioners ability to work at the best of their ability. A Healthy Mind Clinical principal psychologist, Dr Adrian Allen, has commented that some factors that have the potential of increasing the risk of experiencing vicarious traumatic stress include an individuals own traumatic experiences, relating to a clients experience, and experiencing or being prone to anxiety and depression. The demands of the profession then intersect with these situations which can lead to lawyers and other legal staff vulnerable to developing vicarious traumatic stress.

To tackle these concerns, it is important to ensure that leaders are trained and coached to be attuned to the signs of burnout and to take steps to have conversation regarding mental health. Nick Humphrey has further commented that turning away from the culture of doing all-nighters, not getting any sleep and working all through the weekend is important to changing the impacts of the profession on mental health. He says: it is a marathon, not a sprint.

If you or someone you know wish to discuss this issue further, then please do not hesitate to contact us on 02 8999 9809.

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