Stigma still hinders lawyer wellbeing, IBA reveals

The organisation’s study confirms that lawyers’ wellbeing levels are below the international average

Stigma still hinders lawyer wellbeing, IBA reveals

Stigma remains a factor that hinders lawyers from talking about wellbeing issues, a survey conducted by the International Bar Association (IBA) has revealed.

Through the international survey, which had over 3,000 lawyers and more than 180 organisations as respondents, the organisation sought to conduct a global evaluation into wellbeing in the legal industry. According to initial findings, 41% of respondents expressed being unable to discuss wellbeing with their employers out of concern that such discussions would be damaging to their careers.

The survey results also showed that lawyers’ wellbeing levels do not hit the international average “in every regional forum” as per the World Health Organisation’s WHO-5 indexing method. The IBA said that this confirmed wellbeing as “a cause for global concern” for lawyers.

“When I became president of the IBA in 2019, I made addressing mental wellbeing within the legal profession one of my main priorities. I had become increasingly concerned with all too frequent reports of substance abuse, severe depression and suicide within the profession,” said Horacio Bernardes Neto, former IBA president. “Little did I, or any of us, know of the events that were to come.”

Neto, who launched a wellbeing taskforce during his term as president, pointed out that issues like depression, stress and addiction, which were already plaguing the legal profession prior to COVID-19, were exacerbated by the pandemic.

Despite initiatives like the taskforce, the IBA’s survey revealed that members of the profession were not highly aware of the wellbeing support and services available locally and globally; 22% of survey respondents said that wellbeing help, guidance and support initiatives had not been implemented in their jurisdiction. According to 23% of respondents, employers need to provide additional resources for professional support and direct intervention.

A total of 28% of respondents also called for their workplaces to bolster awareness of wellbeing issues. In particular, young lawyers aged 25-35 (75% of respondents in this demographic) believed that their employers needed to do more to prioritise wellbeing in the workplace.

“Wellbeing issues have a disproportionate impact on the young, women, those who identify as an ethnic minority and those with disabilities, with those groups reporting wellbeing index scores consistently below the global average for other respondents,” the IBA said.

The survey results also highlighted a significant disconnect between organisations claiming to have wellbeing initiatives in place (73%) and the extent to which wellbeing training was provided to managerial employees (16%).

The IBA’s study spanned the period of July 2020-December 2020. The organisation took a bifurcated approach to the study by developing a survey for individual lawyers and another for legal institutions like law firms, in-house legal departments, bar associations and law societies. The IBA said that the surveys were “the first of their kind undertaken at an international level with a specific focus on the legal profession.”

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