Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession: A Global Study By The International Bar Association (IBA).

A report prepared by the IBA Presidential Task Force on mental wellbeing in the legal profession.
Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession: A Global Study
By The International Bar Association (IBA).
The International Bar Association (IBA)

About International Bar Association (IBA)

The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading international organisation of legal practitioners, bar associations, law societies, law firms and in-house legal teams. The IBA influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world. It has a membership of more than 80,000 lawyers, 190 bar associations and law societies and 200 group member law firms, spanning over 170 countries. The IBA is headquartered in London, with offices in São Paulo, Seoul, The Hague and Washington, DC.

The report, Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession: A Global Study, launched Tuesday 26 October 2021 as part of the IBA's Global Showcase week of virtual sessions. The report draws on data collected from almost 3,500 surveyed legal professionals and more than 180 legal organisations, including bar associations, law societies, in-house legal departments and law firms. The findings confirm that mental wellbeing of legal professionals is a cause for global concern; has a disproportionate impact on women, young people, those who identify as an ethnic minority, and those with disabilities; and that stigma is a major problem, with 41 per cent of respondents saying that they would not discuss issues with their employer for fear of damaging their career.

Former IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto, senior partner at Motta Fernandes Advogados, São Paulo, Brazil, who was responsible for establishing the mental wellbeing taskforce, commented: The conclusions and principles contained in this report represent an important step in addressing the global crisis in lawyer mental wellbeing. Being able to bring people together from across the world to share their experiences, knowledge and expertise has been crucial in amassing the data for this report. I am impressed by the cooperation of international colleagues to be frank in their responses so that our profession may face and remedy this crisis. I congratulate the Taskforce for its efforts and look forward to further IBA initiatives in geared towards improving the mental wellbeing of us all'.

The principles set out in the report to address the mental wellbeing crisis include:

Adopt a policy – Law firms should adopt a mental wellbeing policy and undertake regular assessment of their employees’ mental wellbeing. The policy must: be a collaborative effort involving colleagues from across the organisation, of differing levels of seniority; include detail of systems for mental health disclosures; state what staff should expect from the organisation regarding mental wellbeing; and have appropriate funding, monitoring and evaluation processes in place.

Address systemic problems – For mental wellbeing in the legal profession to improve, the underlying and fundamental causes must be addressed. The report identified a number of working practices that are problematic for mental health, including: poor or non-existent managerial training; bullying, harassment, sexism and racism; and a culture of unsustainable working hours and high billing targets, particularly for junior members of the profession.

Prioritise mental wellbeing – Legal organisations should acknowledge the impact poor mental health has on the profession, as lawyers who are struggling may not be able to serve clients to the best of their ability; and recognise that employers, regulators and professional bodies have a duty to protect and promote the health of their employees and members. Fostering a working culture where mental health is prioritised, and good practise is modelled by leadership, is a key part of this. In addition, any negative perceptions of mental health difficulties should be challenged to ensure that individuals feel able to have an open and honest dialogue, without fear of repercussions for their career.

Recognise intersectionalities – The difficulties experienced by specific groups, including younger, female, ethnic minority, and legal professionals with disabilities, must be better understood and acknowledged by the legal community. Law firms must make a sustained and meaningful effort to foster equality, diversity and inclusion within the workplace.

Noting the wider importance of the findings of the report, IBA President Sternford Moyo, commented:

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many to evaluate what is most important in life and how our careers contribute, or not, to our mental wellbeing and sense of purpose. This report could not be more timely or relevant. Raising awareness and open dialogue and communication are fundamental for change to occur. But this must not be where we stop. Regular assessments and well devised and implemented policies are key. In a developing and demanding global culture where the delineation between work and other areas of life is increasingly blurred, this report demonstrates that we can, with the right tools and emphasis recalibrate and find better balance. I commend this report and recommend it to anyone intent on being part of the solution to the mental wellbeing crisis in the legal profession’.

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