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Wellness education vital to future of legal profession

Bond University is hosting a national forum on the importance of wellness for those studying and practicing law, following research showing symptoms of psychological distress in solicitors begins early in their studies and carries throughout their professional lives.

The 2018 National Wellness for Law Forum will be held on 15 and 16 February 2018 at the independent Gold Coast university, with national leaders from the legal profession examining and identifying ways in which law can be created, administered, practised and taught with an emphasis on resilience, support and wellbeing.

Bond University Professor of Law, Dr Rachael Field, said the main objective of the Forum was to encourage recognition of the importance of wellness in both law school and the profession - an issue Bond is tackling head-on as the home of The Wellness Network for Law.

“This is an ongoing and important concern, we really have to be making practical changes to support students and lawyers for the sustainability of the profession into the future,” she said.

Dr Field said research over the last decade had established that the high level of psychological distress of both law students and practicing solicitors required serious attention.

She said many students found the transition to law school difficult - and found themselves in a state of ‘liminality’, or disorientation.

“Getting across the threshold of the first year of law school is a super stressful time - a lot rides on it and students can feel immense pressure,” she said.

“Students are required to do more reading than they have ever done before, the workload is higher, and they are not only transitioning into tertiary education - they are specifically adjusting to law school, which brings its own challenges.

“Many find it difficult to go from being the brightest in their class, to one of many bright people sitting in the one room - and their confidence can take a hit.

“They are generally perfectionists, fiercely competitive and have incredibly high expectations of themselves. This makes them more at risk, as they are already the sort of people who may be vulnerable to taking a fall if things do not go to plan.”

Dr Field said, as a result, emphasising the importance of wellbeing and self-care was necessary from the time students entered law school.

She said Bond University had introduced a number of measures to address this, including being one of the first in Australia to tailor the first year of study specifically.

"We have intentionally designed our first year foundation curriculum to support students' transition to law school and their wellbeing," said Dr Field.

"Students need to be armed with the ability to care for their own mental health, with strategies like eating well, spending time with friends and finding a mentor they can seek advice from.

“But it should not be solely up to early career lawyers to recognise the importance of self-care - the profession needs a cultural change and leadership from managing partners, senior lawyers, counsel at the bar, judiciary and firms.

“The stigma surrounding mental health amongst the law profession needs to shift, and make way for conversation and practical strategies to help law students and practicing lawyers create a more balanced existence.

“The sustainability of our profession depends on it.”

For more information and to register, click here.

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