Commission aims to prioritize mental wellbeing for the global legal community
The International Bar Association has announced the creation of the Professional Wellbeing Commission – a new, permanent body within the IBA dedicated to improving the wellbeing of lawyers and legal professionals around the world.
The new Commission has several key objectives, including:
- Promoting the importance of wellbeing as a core issue and priority for the global legal community;
- Identifying, coordinating, and organising various global stakeholders in changing or modifying the culture and mindset of the legal profession;
- Raising awareness of the challenges and stigma surrounding discussions of wellbeing, while keeping in mind the cultural differences needed when engaging with this issue;
- Highlighting the ways in which wellbeing issues, needs, and responses vary between different demographic groups;
- Promoting and sharing policies and working practices that help to promote positive and sustainable wellbeing within the legal profession; and
- Making recommendations to change or modify the practical and regulatory environment of the legal profession at all levels, where possible.
The Commission aims to achieve these objectives through a planned course of activity, particularly by bringing together representatives of organisations from different jurisdictions, sections of the IBA, and outside experts with an interest in advancing wellbeing in the global legal community.
The co-chairs of the new commission are Steven Richman and Deborah Enix-Ross, with tenures for two years. During this period, they will help coordinate the work of 15 commissioners, comprising an international team of IBA members and external experts, serving terms of between one and five years.
“The wellbeing challenges faced by the profession seem to be growing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the co-chairs in a joint statement. “It is vital that any response to this crisis is co-ordinated at a global level, and so we look forward to working with our commissioners, and dedicated IBA staff to make a difference to lawyers and other legal professionals, wherever they may be in the world.”
In 2019 the IBA conducting two global wellbeing surveys: one for individuals, the other for institutions. There were responses from 124 countries: more than 3,000 responses to the survey for individuals, and 180 institutional responses. Survey results showed that:
- The wellbeing challenges faced by lawyers are similar across jurisdictions.
- There is low awareness about wellbeing support and services that are available.
- In some jurisdictions there is no wellbeing support.
- Stigma is a major problem making it very difficult for practitioners and students to acknowledge they may have problems and seek help without worrying that it will damage their career or livelihoods.
- There is a general lack of knowledge in the legal community about good practice to tackle these issues, and what that looks like.
The results of the taskforce’s surveys were published in a 2021 IBA report, titled Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession: A Global Study. The report also contained a set of ten principles, as well as the recommendation to create a permanent body within the IBA to build on the principles: the IBA Professional Wellbeing Commission is the direct and tangible result of that commitment.
The IBA Wellbeing Principles are:
- Mental wellbeing matters.
- Mental wellbeing is not weakness.
- Raising awareness is fundamental.
- A commitment to change, and regular continuing assessment, is needed.
- Policies matter.
- Maintain an open dialogue and communication.
- Address systemic problems.
- Recognise intersectionalities.
- Share good practices.
- Learn from others.
The Commission’s resources will likely include research, tools and materials relating to legal education, including producing best international guidelines for legal education providers.