Support for Lawyers

Lawyers Are Superheroes: They Are Vulnerable Too


Lawyers are portrayed as superheroes in the culture of the legal profession. Lawyers uphold justice. They fight to win. They are stoic and strong. They are ultimate problem solvers. They command authority.

It would seem lawyers are shiny, gold plated, invulnerable beings.

If you’ve watched any Marvel movies, you’ll know that Iron Man is no more, Captain America was a traitor and Dr Strange caused universal annihilation. So, superheroes are sometimes vulnerable; they make mistakes; they lose; they can’t always save the world.

And shocking as it may be…so too are lawyers!

The recent research suggests that many in the legal profession do not want to fully acknowledge their vulnerability as there are high rates of psychological distress in the legal profession world-wide.

The International Bar Association’s (IBA) 2021 report on lawyers’ mental health and wellbeing shows that approximately half of lawyers globally received low scores on a measure of mental wellbeing. These scores indicate that it was advisable for nearly half the legal professionals surveyed to be screened for depression. The report also showed that lawyers from common law jurisdictions appeared to have poorer mental health.

This is echoed by research on the Australian and Canadian legal professions. In 2019, the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner report, in their summary of the Australian profession’s mental health, highlighted that possibly one in two lawyers experience depression. The study of Victorian legal professionals indicated that there was still substantial distress in the profession through experiences such as vicarious trauma, bullying, harassment, and overwork.

These findings are consistent with those of the 2022 national Canadian study on health and wellness of legal professionals. This report demonstrates that nearly 60% of Canadian legal professionals’ experience psychological distress, with the majority experiencing moderate to very high distress. It highlighted those lawyers (as a sub-group of legal professionals) had one of the highest proportions of suicidal idealization, such that nearly a quarter of all Canadian lawyers have thought about taking their own lives.

Further, a substantial number of the legal professionals in Canada (55.9%) are burned out, over a quarter experience depressive symptoms and over one third experience anxiety symptoms.

The findings from these reports paint a picture of a distressed profession on a global scale. It is a picture of vulnerability, struggle, and challenge.

The IBA Mental Wellbeing Principle 1 (p 13) highlights a “global crisis in lawyer mental wellbeing” requires collaborative action and a change in culture.

It is time for the legal profession to embrace discomfort and evolve – just as superheroes do during and after their trials and tribulations. It is time for the profession to draw on their formidable problem-solving superpowers to implement impactful action.

One way the legal profession can take meaningful action is to fully acknowledge the extent of the problem and own that it is relevant to each and every legal professional in every context where legal professionals work and live.

This acknowledgement can be made more real through openness to discuss wellbeing safely and non-judgmentally across the profession and within legal workplaces. Thus, lawyer wellbeing needs to be on the agenda of every conference, forum, gathering, committee meeting, staff meeting and in CPD.

Open, respectful, and non-judgmental discussion will incrementally normalise safe conversations about mental health and wellbeing in the long term. The safety of these conversations is critical to push through the barriers that currently undermine legal professionals’ wellbeing.

Let us know…Is there openness about mental health and wellbeing at your firm or organisation? What’s your approach?

Or is there some awareness about the “wellbeing problem” but helpful action is wanting? What action would help?

Again, we emphasise that open dialogue about mental health and wellbeing needs to always be done safely and without judgment.

Support for lawyers understands legal professionals. Our professionals can assist you or your legal organisation with practical approaches to open up dialogue and normalise mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

At Support for Lawyers, we believe that when whole firms or organisations engage with us wellbeing is embraced as part of normal workplace culture and business as usual. This is responsible business practice and is protective of everyone.

Talk to us about how our preventative approach to enhance wellbeing can support you, your staff, and your legal organisation.

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