Lawyers hitting the bottle more than other professionals

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Private practice lawyers suffer the lowest levels of psychological and psychosomatic health and wellbeing when compared to other professionals, according to new research released by a doctorate student at the University of Queensland.

They also have the highest levels of alcohol and nicotine use and abuse.

The research confirms what has been anecdotal evidence for a long time: lawyers have stressful jobs.

But what may be surprising is that the research found that lawyers are more likely than other professionals to be exposed to poor interpersonal and psychosocial behaviour, such as: interpersonal deviance, verbal abuse, work obstruction, emotional neglect, bullying via destabilisation, overwork and isolation, even sexual harassment.

“This is not surprising given the numerous studies that indicate higher than average levels of mental health issues in the legal profession,” SA Law Society president David Caruso told Australasian Lawyer.

“The research indicates that several factors contribute to lawyers experiencing psychological issues, such as high workloads, a stressful work environment, demanding clients and having to regularly deal with grim subject matter.”
Caruso believes that lawyers at smaller firms are at greater risk.

“While larger firms have the resources to establish support programs, smaller firms sometimes do not have the same luxury and practitioners are more at risk of suffering in silence,” he said.

Caruso said that organisations such as the Law Society are integral in triggering systemic change.

“We have an established and hard-working Wellbeing and Resilience Committee which organises several programs designed to foster health and wellbeing.

“Any practitioners who are experiencing mental health issues and don’t know where to turn should contact their law society, or mental health organisations such as Beyond Blue or the Black Dog Institute.

“It is in the interest of every professional and every worker that their colleagues enjoy good health and support.”
Caruso believes a stigma still exists in the profession around mental health.

“Whilst attitudes towards mental health have changed significantly, a stigma still exists around depression and related illnesses.

“Some employees may feel disinclined to reach out because they are worried mental illness will be viewed as a sign of weakness.”

The report calls for a commitment from HR professionals by monitoring employee attitudes, wellbeing and all five job performance components including organisation citizenship behaviour, deviant behaviour, joining and staying with the organisation, and maintaining work attendance – rather than focussing on task performance. This, the report said, is likely to assist in identifying trends and changes that may indicate exposure to work-related psychosocial risks.
  • Chris Hamilton on 5/05/2016 3:27:35 PM

    I am sincerely very, very pleased for you Louise. Rightly or wrongly, not everyone is alcohol-free, and many lawyers are very moderate in this habit, and conduct very fine law practices. Usually excess drinking points to underlying troubles, and it has become self medication. I am not sure that I can agree that Law Societies can or should go very far down this very sensitive track. And it is not employees only who need assistance.

  • Louise Steer on 2/05/2016 7:39:51 PM

    I am not surprised. Employees and colleagues are expected to tolerate behaviour which is not acceptable in any other workplace. I now work in a firm which is alcohol and drug free for religious reasons and it is a pleasant, calm, delightful place to work. No bullying, no bitching, no harassment for the first time ever in a 35 year career. The Law Society of NSW should pay more attention to proper employee assistance programs that hire trained psychologists instead of the half baked ineffectual schemes they prefer.

  • Unsure on 2/05/2016 12:39:33 AM

    I'm not convinced Law Society's are willing to drive change and large firms may have some resources but have one goal...a bottom line.

  • Chris Hamilton on 30/03/2016 3:35:59 PM

    Forget Law Societies. they are great, but you can only save yourself. There is an interesting and thoughtful saying "only be a lawyer if you have to be" - i.e. if you are driven to do it. I did suggest to the LIV about 20 years ago that lawyers should drop the description "profession" for "trade". I still think that would help. If you are a professional person, the customers think they own you and you should be paid nothing. If you are a tradie, it is different. As to Owam Mwellie, give it a try for a few years and see how you get on with it.

  • Marcus McCarthy on 30/03/2016 11:20:37 AM

    It is the structure of traditional firms, with their high overheads and budgets that cause these problems. Sole practice is even worse and our regulators are asleep at the wheel. It's time lawyers in Australia helped themselves and engaged with a more common sense structure for the practice of modern law - the dispersed law firm or embedded contractor models that now exist here and that alleviate much of the problems faced. Lawyers need to help themselves but it is actually their own traditional mindset and risk aversion that prevents them from engaging with some of the more positive aspects of NewLaw. There is a great solution for rewarding and engaging practice in the market right now but very few lawyers are actually availing themselves of it. Lawyers need support and our law societies are never going to do it, so we need to do it for ourselves.

  • Aaron Eidelson on 28/03/2016 10:33:27 PM

    Small firm solicitors cop it from every direction ...the crazies want to get our of the psych ward.....and your family want to know why your home late.... and why do you need to take calls in the evening.....and your client begs you to save his drivers licence- he was only going an 80 zone...and then the commissioner rings because you charged too much....

  • MA on 26/03/2016 10:31:19 PM

    This is so true. As an attorney myself l would have expected law societies to prioritise wellness programmes funded by the subs we pay . The reality however is that they are for all intents and purposes disciplinarians ready to pursue this vigorously..a lot of lawyers are abused by clientd

  • Owam Mwellie on 25/03/2016 1:15:20 AM

    This is scary for me considering am a law student..

  • Chris Hamilton on 22/03/2016 1:34:14 PM

    I am not surprised at all. It is a trouble profession, in the main, and not particularly well rewarded for many. Coupled with self-imposed high standards for many, two weeks from bankruptcy if no income, technical difficulties of the law, and a great many clients who cannot and do not understand what the issues of their matter are, it can be a real trap - a sad cycle where depression affects competence and confidence and self medication abounds.

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