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National Wellness for Law Forum - Abstracts

Day 1 - Plenary Sessions

Professor Jon Crowe, Faculty of Law, Bond University

There is a burgeoning literature on wellness for law, including a number of recent books. It is becoming standard for Australian law schools to offer some kind of formal wellness program for students. A growing number of law firms now employ wellness specialists and offer wellness facilities for use by employees. This attention to wellness for law is undoubtedly warranted. There is, however, significant uncertainty about what exactly wellness means in this context. Academic discussions sometimes refer to the prevalence of markers of psychological distress in law students and legal practitioners, suggesting that wellness consists primarily in eliminating these symptoms. There has also been some discussion of the components of a positive understanding of wellness, mainly focusing on the psychological literature. However, there has so far been little attempt to construct an integrated and holistic account of wellness that places mental health alongside other fundamental aspects of human flourishing. 

The present paper seeks to contribute to this discussion by offering a positive account of what wellness means in the context of debates about legal education and practice. I argue that wellness can usefully be understood in this context as partaking in the various dimensions of human flourishing in a balanced and integrated way. I begin by explaining what I mean by human flourishing, focusing on the role of purposive human activity in enabling the creation of meaning. I then discuss the role of human values in this notion of flourishing. I offer an account of how human values structure purposive action and the pursuit of meaning. The paper concludes by discussing the importance of balance and integration in pursuing human values, focusing on the ways in which legal education and practice tend to impede these goals. I conclude that a holistic conception of wellness along the lines suggested in this paper poses a fundamental challenge to the dominant values and culture of both law schools and the legal profession.

Lloyd England, Lecturer and Co-Convenor of Legal Practice Programs, Monash University’s Faculty of Law

This paper explores tertiary legal education providers’ potential liability in the tort of negligence for causing students pure mental harm. Pure Mental Harm is harm not consequential of physical damage, does not incorporate distress or emotional upset, but rather harm needing to be diagnosed recognised psychiatric harm.

This paper analyses whether a tortious Duty of Care is owed to students by their tertiary legal educational provider not to cause them Pure Mental Harm. Common Law reasonable foreseeability will be explored, and Salient Features analysis handed down by the High Court in Sullivan v Moody will be applied to a hypothetical legal education provider in the state of Victoria. Statutory codification and recent limitations to the tort of Negligence through amendments to the Wrongs Act (Vic), mirrored in other State legislation with similar provisions, will be taken into account to provide a realistic risk analysis for Australian institutions.

This work hopes to provide significant motivation for legal education providers in Australia and internationally to finally commit serious resources and attention to the issue of law student mental ill-health and to change the face of legal education. Evidence exists that Law students do not thrive in current educational settings and significantly more needs to be done, both in the curriculum and co-curricular, to support students in tertiary legal education. This is not about a moral panic; this is about institutional responsibility to a legally imposed common law and statutory duty to take reasonable care of their students.

Day 1 - Concurrent Session 1 (Morning) - Perspectives from Practical Legal Education Stream

Dr Olivia Rundle, Wellbeing Coordinator, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania (presenting author)
Ms Naomi Bryant, Director, Centre for Legal Studies and Senior Lecturer, Clinical Legal Education, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania
Ms Fiona McCarthy, Work Health and Safety Advisor, Human Resources, University of Tasmania

This paper shares our experiences working as an inter-disciplinary team to develop and deliver a module on “Resilience and Wellbeing” to trainees at the Tasmanian Legal Practice Course (Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice). Our goal was to develop a programme that was engaging for trainees, provided practical tools that they could take into legal practice, and met the LACC Curriculum Standard “Resilience and Wellbeing”. We gathered feedback directly from trainees at the end of the day-long session to complement our own reflections upon the module.

The module was divided into four parts, each delivered by different presenters with appropriate and relevant expertise. All presenters were staff members of our University and together they offered perspectives from many non-law disciplines.

  1. Neurobiological effects of Stress (Junior Research Fellow, Office of School of Medicine)
  2. Mindfulness (Student Wellbeing Counselling)
  3. Lawyers & Health – Developing as a professional (WHS Advisor and Director, Centre for Legal Studies)
  4. Mental Health – signs, symptoms and resources (Student Wellbeing Counselling)

Our paper will share details of our goals, the ways we worked together as an inter-disciplinary team, and our reflections upon the success of the module and ways that we can improve future delivery.

Our paper addresses the selection guidelines as follows:

  • We situate our curriculum design within existing literature and practice;
  • We informed ourselves about a range of ways that the resilience and wellbeing curriculum can be delivered, and adopted a creative approach;
  • Our interdisciplinary collaboration enabled us to use our strengths;
  • The module was delivered in mid-2017;
  • We will be using student feedback as some data that demonstrate the impact of our module;
  • Our module will be of interest to other PLT providers. It provides a cost effective and engaging option for embedding resilience and wellbeing into PLT programs;
  • The structure of the paper will include: history of resilience and wellbeing content in PLT programs; our goals; module design and delivery; feedback and critical reflections.

Claire Humble, Leo Cussen Centre for Law

Leo Cussen Centre for Law (“Leo’s”) wants its trainees to not only survive in the law but to thrive.  On that basis, from the very first welcome address, trainees in the Practical Legal Training course at Leo’s are encouraged to participate in the “Thriving in Your Career” program. 

This new program was developed in conjunction with Sophie Maxwell external consultant, and our Graduate Placement & Careers Advisor in a holistic, linked approach to raising awareness and assisting trainees in their transition to a legal career.  It focuses on teaching the trainees that their legal life and personal lives are interrelated and encourages them to think about moving into areas of the profession that best suit their skills, values and interests.  Emphasis was placed on developing healthy strategies now at the commencement of their careers, and not waiting for a crisis.

The program includes online activities supported by guest speakers, a panel discussion, access to resources, a stress management presentation, participation in R U OK day and Mental Health week and a review where the current trainee’s offer their advice to the next semester’s intake.

The online activities are designed as a simulation, where trainees imagine and then commence working in their ideal legal role.  It takes them through a process of reflecting on what is already in their existing resilience and wellbeing toolkit, as well as giving you some further strategies to ensure we raise awareness, test drive their skills and allow for reflection and their commitment to staying healthy moving forward into legal careers.  Although the program coordinator monitored uptake of the online activities, in was emphasised there was no grading or assessment in any way.

The program also seeks to address the LACC requirements under the Competency Standards for Entry Level Lawyers (Standards 4.5. 4.6 and 5.16) which requires Practical Legal Training providers to adapt their curriculum to raise awareness, provide access to resources and information to understand and develop resilience and strategies to manage mental health. 

Evaluation has shown a very encouraging uptake of the online program, anecdotal evidence showed a high degree of active engagement with the R U OK and mental health week events and significant insight about developing mental health and wellness strategies with the messages to the new intake of trainees.   

Michael Appleby, Lecturer, College of Law
Judy Bourke, Lecturer, College of Law

As legal educators we are training students for the profession and as we know for many other careers. Tertiary study is itself a very stressful experience and the research suggests that many tertiary students (including law students) suffer elevated levels of emotional distress. Likewise, research continues to show elevated distress levels amongst lawyers.

It is particularly notable that the research regarding new lawyers reveals elevated levels of anxiety and risk of substance misuse disorders.

Tertiary institutions have implemented many and various programs to address these issues.

As an example of one such initiative the College of Law introduced into the curriculum a mental health workshop, originally titled ‘Resilience and Wellbeing for Lawyers’. More than 20,000 students have now undertaking the workshop. Amongst its many aims the workshop seeks to better prepare students for practice.

The second iteration of the workshop titled ‘Wellbeing in Practice’ is now being rolled out and we are now considering how mental health promotion information and messages might be included throughout other parts of the PLT curriculum.

In this interactive session we will present some of our ideas and explore as a group how we might embed mental health promotion in the legal education curriculum.

Day 1 - Concurrent Session 2 (Morning) - Empirical Research Stream

Professor Natalie Skead, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Western Australia
Jerome Doraisamy, Adjunct Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Western Australia

Over the past fifteen years, the legal profession in Australia has made significant strides in addressing psychological distress, anxiety, depression and suicide ideation. And while there is still much work to be done to combat these issues, the profession is headed in the right direction.

But one branch of mental illness has been all but overlooked in Australian legal circles: the myriad eating disorders and avenues of disordered eating. 

This is surprising, in hindsight, given that, according to the Butterfly Foundation and National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders are the most fatal of mental illnesses in Australia, accounting for approximately 10 per cent.
Lawyers have higher rates of mental illness than most if not all other professions. Further, we display tendencies toward competitiveness and perfectionism, as well as tend to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. Given these criterion, it is not a stretch to hypothesise that lawyers would also succumb to disordered eating habits, which also impact overall levels of wellbeing.

We thus undertook research to discover if there was any truth to the hypothesis. A nationwide quantitative survey was completed by over 600 law students and legal professionals across the country, far exceeding our hopes and expectations for responses. This alone spoke volumes to us about the importance of this issue.

The research is soon to be published in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, but for now, it is fair to say that our research findings demonstrate the need for much greater consideration of this branch of mental illness in law.
Together with Dr Shane Rogers, a social researcher from Edith Cowan University, Natalie Skead and Jerome Doraisamy have compiled a first-ever examination of disordered eating rates among Australian law students and legal professionals, considering detrimental habits ranging from skipping a meal through to diagnosable disordered conditions. 
This research will, hopefully, kick-start a profession-wide conversation about this overlooked part of the mental health conversation in law, and help us ensure we can properly promote holism across the board, and not just in select areas of personal and professional wellbeing for law students and lawyers in Australia.

Associate Professor Adiva Sifris, Faculty of Law, Monash University
Associate Professor Becky Batagol, Faculty of Law, Monash University
Dr Ben Spivak, Research Fellow, Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Swinburne University of Technology and Research Assistant, Faculty of Law, Monash University
Professor Brett Williams, Head of Department, Department of Community Emergency Health and Paramedic Practice, Monash University 

It is recognised that a large proportion of law students and the legal profession suffer poor mental health. From 2014-2017 we conducted empirical research attempting to identify some of the reasons for the high levels of mental ill health among law students at Monash University. Our ultimate aim is to embed educational activities in the curriculum and at Monash Law so as to improve the mental health and resilience of our law students.

This session summarises our research projects examining mental health, empathy and wellbeing for Monash law students. We surveyed Monash law students in 2014, 2015 and 2017 measuring empathy (Empathy: Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy, adapted for Law students), mental health (DASS-21) and wellbeing (Basic Psychological Needs Scale, adapted for law students).

In this session we will explain our key findings on empathy, mental health and wellbeing and the connection between them. A unique aspect of this study is the data gathered over a four-year period. In this presentation we will explore the change in the law student cohort across time. We also present our proposals, to be trialled in 2018, to try and improve the mental health of our students.

Cane Mitchell, Academic Teaching Scholar, Victoria University 

Research has established that law students experience a disproportionately high level of psychological distress than other disciplines and the general public, in their first year of law school. There is, however, ongoing debate about why it occurs and how it can be reduced. Many academics believe that this phenomenon is a teaching and learning matter and that the implementation of good assessment and feedback practice is critical.

A foundation first year unit was introduced with these principles at Victoria University.  Victoria University also differs from most other law schools as it draws its students from lower SES and NESB backgrounds.   The aim of this study was to determine whether VU students experience similar high psychological distress in their first year of law school and a quantitative study of psychological distress across 3 different cohorts of VULS first year students in 2015, 2016 and 2017 was conducted.  A secondary aim was to determine whether the increase occurs in semester one, two or cumulates throughout the first year of law school.  Preliminary analysis confirms that our students experience a similar increase in psychological distress by the end of their first year of law school.  Further analysis of the data will clarify at what point in first year the increase in psychological distress occurs.

Further longitudinal study aims to help students understand their professional identity by linking core practical skills subjects with our clinical programs to offer hooks for students to grasp and connect their knowledge with the skills required in the profession to ascertain if this helps to reduce their psychological distress.

Rachael Field and Sally Kift, ‘Addressing the High Levels of Psychological Distress in Law Students Through Intentional Assessment and Feedback Design in the First Year Law Curriculum’ (2010) 1(1) International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education 65.

Day 1 - Concurrent Session 1 (Afternoon) - Legal Education and Clinical Legal Education Stream

Graeme Haas, Lecturer, College of Law

As educators, we are obliged to create an environment conducive to healthy and effective learning for our students. 

Current research indicates that approximately 1 percent of the population would be classified as having an autism spectrum disorder (“ASD”).  Up to 80 percent of those with ASD would meet the criteria of having an anxiety disorder and/or depression.

The characteristics of students with ASD are not unique, however the depth and pattern of those behaviours is of significance. 

Those behaviours may include difficulties:

  • socialising with other students, and taking part in group work
  • communicating
  • observing the social norms in a classroom setting
  • managing emotions; and
  • responding to changes in coursework or timetabling.

Regardless of whether a student has been diagnosed as having ASD, as educators we need strategies to be able to manage behaviour in students which may be perceived as “difficult.”

By developing an understanding of what causes particular behavioural issues in students with ASD, we will not only better accommodate those students that have been diagnosed, but those neuro-typical students that show the very same characteristics, albeit on a lesser scale.

This session will focus on characteristics that we may see in students that lead to behavioural issues. Critically, the presentation will also propose a number of steps that we can take to avoid and manage those behaviours.

Lloyd England, Lecturer - Practice & Co-Convenor - Legal Practice Programs, Faculty of Law, Monash University
Jackie Weinberg, Lecturer, PhD Candidate and Clinical Supervisor - Legal Practice Programs, Faculty of Law Monash University

Students, staff and management providing Clinical Legal Education opportunities and services are exposed to distressing content, including sexual violence, family violence, criminal conduct and emotional conflicts which may affect student and staff wellbeing.

As legal educators there is a moral duty to ‘first do not harm’. There is also a legal duty of a duty of care towards students and staff engaged in the delivery of such services. If we are exposing students and staff to distressing content, this creates a strong imperative to research and develop a best practice approach to legal clinical education management, supervision, debriefing and Vicarious Trauma risk reduction.

This paper highlights a critical need to develop and implement Vicarious Trauma Protocols to reduce the impact of vicarious trauma on students and staff during Clinical Legal education.

This paper recommends all clinical educational settings adopt Vicarious Trauma Protocols to enhance student wellbeing, reduce negative student experiences of vicarious trauma, assist clinical practitioners managing affected students, protect clinical practitioners and managers/professionals, thereby increasing student and staff satisfaction of the clinical Unit. Initial research suggests a further benefit is to the end-users of clinics; it seems a ‘trauma informed practice’ enhances outcomes for users of the service, as well as enhancing the quality of the Clinical Legal Education offered, making it safer for both staff and students whilst delivering a more effective service to the community.

Caroline Strevens, SFHEA Reader in Legal Education, Head of School, University of Portsmouth & Visiting Research Fellow, Faculty of Law, Bond University

This paper poses the theory that involvement in teaching students in live client clinics supports psychological wellbeing of teachers through increasing the intrinsic motivation to teach. 

The Law Works Law School Pro Bono and Clinic Report (Carney, Dignan et al 2014 ) indicates that about 20 of the 80 responding Law Schools offered clinical legal education in some form that was assessed. The form of assessment is not accurately reported but in many cases include a reflective essay.

This paper reports upon a project that describes and discusses the impact on Law Teachers of involvement in a live client clinic that requires students to undertake a reflection following the experience. We have interviewed clinic tutors at approximately 12 of these Law Schools where clinic is part of the curriculum. The data gathered is being analysed through the lens of self-determination theory and motivation using the work of Deci and Ryan (2000) in order to explore implications for law teacher wellbeing. Our tentative conclusions will be presented for discussion.

Day 1 - Concurrent Session 2 (Afternoon) - Values and Ethics Stream

Karina Murray, Senior Lecturer, Acting Academic Program Director & Discipline Leader, School of Law, University of Wollongong
Karina is presenting on behalf of Trish Mundy, John Littrich, Kate Tubridy, School of Law, University of Wollongong

In 2017, the School of Law at the University of Wollongong introduced a Law Student Pledge to the incoming first year student cohort. Introduced as part of Orientation week activities, the Pledge was designed as an important symbolic message to students that their career as a legal professional starts from the day they begin their law studies. It invited them to commit to core values, attitudes and practices that are seen as important to developing a positive legal professional identity and meeting the standards expected of them as future lawyers. These values included a commitment to the UOW Student Charter, the highest standard of academic integrity, and to generally pursuing their studies to the best of their ability. Students were invited to show their commitment by signing this Pledge in their first weeks of law school. Reinforcement of the pledge occurred in subsequent follow up with students across the year, with particular linkage made to the legal ethics and professional responsibility subject studied in second semester of first year.

This paper reports on the introduction and learnings gained through adopting the Law Student Pledge for newly commencing law students at UOW and considers the findings from a number of focus groups held with first year students. In particular, it reflects on the impact, benefits and challenges of adopting the Pledge and assesses the effects on shaping students’ attitudes and understanding of their developing professional identity as future “lawyers”. The paper will also provide an update on the plans for the Law Student Pledge in 2018.

Anneka Ferguson, Senior Lecturer, ANU School of Legal Practice

My previous research into the predictors of wellbeing in a GDLP has generated data that reinforces the importance to wellbeing of constructing a legal education environment that supports students to feel motivated and well by supporting Self Determination Factors and enabling students to make progress towards their values. Since then, anecdotal examinations of the reasons 1st year law students have come into law and their observed cynicism about the legal professions ability to provide this suggests that there is a profound deconstruction of student’s view of the potential for law to meet their values that occurs at a very early stage in their academic career and that this, if not managed appropriately, may account for some of the demotivation, lack of wellbeing and/or cynicism we observe in later stages of their academic career – possibly through a process of cognitive dissonance. This paper will provide an introductory exploration of this idea with a view to establishing discussion with the audience regarding whether this is an appropriate consideration in our attempts to improve the wellbeing of law students.

Associate Professor Vivien Holmes, College of Law, Australian National University

Both ancient philosophers and modern psychologists assure us that our happiness and our values are inextricably linked: true happiness comes ‘not from mere pursuit of pleasure, but from living in accordance with [values] that create a sense of meaning, connection and self. In this presentation, I take wellbeing to be a proxy for true happiness, and explore this ‘inextricable’ relationship between wellbeing, values, and ethics and the implications of this relationship for law students and lawyers, law schools and legal workplaces. Research shows that the more we enact, rather than just subscribe to, certain values, the greater will be our wellbeing. Further, the psychological factors that influence whether lawyers experience wellbeing also influence their ethical decision-making and level of professionalism. We know that Law school curricula affect student wellbeing, but Law Schools also play a critical role in supporting (or inhibiting) the development of professional values and in teaching skills to enable students to enact their values. After Law School, workplace culture can profoundly influence our wellbeing, while also influencing whether we are able to express/enact our professional values. Evidence suggests that effective regulation can encourage legal practices to improve their ethical cultures. I suggest that regulatory tools could be used more creatively and effectively to enhance ethicality and wellbeing.

Kathryn E Williams, Joseph Ciarrochi and Patrick CL Heaven, ‘Relationships between Valued Action and Wellbeing across the Transition from High School to Early Adulthood’ (2015) 10(2) The Journal of Positive Psychology 127, 127.

Lawrence S Krieger and Kennon M Sheldon, ‘What Makes Lawyers Happy? : A Data Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success’ (2014) 83 George Washington Law Review 554, 623; Lawrence S Krieger, ‘The Most Ethical of People, the Least Ethical of People: Proposing Self-Determination Theory to Measure Professional Character Formation’ (2011) 8(2) University of St Thomas Law Journal 168.

Townes Molly O’Brien, Stephen Tang and Kath Hall, ‘Changing Our Thinking: Empirical Research on Law Student Wellbeing, Thinking Styles and the Law Curriculum’ 2011(21) Legal Education Review 149.

William M Sullivan et al, Educating Lawyers. Preparation for the Practice of Law (Jossey-Bass, 2007); Vivien Holmes, ‘“Giving Voice to Values”:  Enhancing Students’ Capacity to Cope with Ethical Challenges in Legal Practice.’ Legal Ethics.

Susan Fortney, ‘The Role of Ethics Audits in Improving Ethical Conduct in Law Firms:  An Empirical Examination’ (2014) 4 St Mary’s Journal on Legal Malpractice & Ethics 112.

Day 2 - Plenary Sessions

Facilitator: Rolf Moses

Rolf Moses will join the Queensland Law Society as CEO from 12 March 2018. Rolf has worked for more than 20 years in the Queensland, national and global legal sector, most recently at Norton Rose Fulbright where he was the Director of People and Development based in Brisbane, operating primarily across Australia and Asia. Rolf was the founding Chair of the QLS Well-Being Working Group through which he has achieved a significant leadership contribution to the establishment of wellbeing initiatives for the legal profession. Rolf is also a faculty member of the QLS Practice Management Course.


Jerome Doraisamy: is a consultant, author and lawyer from Sydney, NSW. He left legal practice after stints in commercial firms, academia and research, and a major federal government inquiry, to publish his first book, The Wellness Doctrines for Law Students and Young Lawyers, which peaked at #2 on iTunes. He currently works as an adjunct lecturer at UWA and contract consultant for law firms. His second book, The Wellness Doctrines for High School Students, is being published in May 2018. In his spare time, Jerome is an active blogger, reader and cake baker, and plays indoor soccer and mixed netball every week.

Georgia Edwards: Georgia completed her Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Commerce (Majoring in Accounting) and Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at Bond University. In December 2015, Georgia was admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland. She has practiced exclusively in family law since graduating. Georgia is a Committee Member of the Bond University Gold Coast Alumni and volunteers at the Robina Community Legal Centre. In her spare time Georgia likes to read, run, get out in nature (hiking, going to the beach, walking Burleigh Hill), and she likes going to restaurants. Georgia has a keen interest from an early career lawyer’s perspective on lawyer wellbeing.

The Honourable Associate Justice Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou: was appointed as an Associate Judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria in May 2015. Her Honour has been a regular attendee at Wellness for Law Forums over the years. Before her elevation to the bench her Honour practised as a solicitor in the areas of employment and discrimination law.  She was a volunteer for more than 10 years at Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre. She has been a strong advocate for diversity in the legal profession.

Ken Petty is the managing partner of Minter Ellison on the Gold Coast. In recent years, his work has focused on business aggregator clients and infrastructure investors. This work brings together Ken’s expertise across the law, project management and his experience in guiding organisations through periods of high growth and change. Ken also leads a pro bono program that advises charities and not-for-profit organisations on setup, tax structuring and governance issues. In his spare time Ken likes to go the beach, spend time with his wife and children, cycle, run and swim - in no particular order. Ken has a keen interest from a managing partner’s perspective on lawyer wellbeing.

Rachel Spearing is a Governing Bencher of the Inner Temple and the Co-Founder of the Wellbeing at the Bar initiative with the General Council of the Bar. She is a criminal and regulatory practitioner with her practice at the Bar spanning 16 years and including secondments with the Revenue and Customs Prosecution Office, and the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Rachel has also been a senior lecturer with the Portsmouth Law School at the University of Portsmouth and is a consultant with DNA Definitive. Rachel is committed to supporting the wellbeing of her colleagues at the UK Bar through practical and research strategies. In her spare-time she likes riding horses and sailing.

Belinda Winter is a partner in the workplace relations and safety team of Cooper Grace Ward lawyers, leading a team of seven and specialising in employment, industrial relations, discrimination and safety law. Belinda has a deep understanding of psychological wellbeing as an important workplace safety concern. She has been listed in Best Lawyers Australia for Labour and Employment every year since 2013.

Professor Tony Foley, Associate Professor Vivien Holmes & Dr Stephen Tang, College of Law, Australian National University

We present selected results from the Transition to Professional Practice Project (TPPP), in which we surveyed 336 Australian lawyers within their first twelve months of legal practice.  Of particular interest is how lawyers perceived the ethical climate of their workplace and how this influenced their psychological wellbeing, job and career satisfaction, and development of a professional identity.  We show that Arnaud’s (2010) Ethical Climate Index (ECI) is an effective measure of ethical climate, but with three revised dimensions: Power and Self Interest, Integrity and Responsibility, and Ethic of Care.  We find that different kinds of legal practices (eg in-house lawyers vs. lawyers in community legal practices) had different ethical climate patterns, but that the effect of these structural differences were overshadowed by dynamic organisational and interpersonal characteristics, such as an organisational learning culture.  We also present data showing that higher perceptions of a power-driven and self-interested workplace culture (which includes the willingness to break ethical rules) is associated with higher levels of psychological distress, lower levels of job satisfaction, and a greater endorsement of ethically risky notions of professionalism.  Conversely, we show that a workplace culture which promotes an ethic of care, and to a lesser extent an integrity/responsibility ethical culture, is associated with improved wellbeing, higher job satisfaction and a more relational conceptualisation of professionalism.  We conclude by discussing he implications for lawyers, employers and regulators, including the need to ensure that the workplace ethical climate is visible for new lawyers during this critical time of transition and development.

Tony Foley is a professor at the ANU College of Law.  He is a former practising lawyer and now teaches and researches the legal profession, criminal justice practice and the use of restorative justice.  Vivien Holmes is associate professor at the ANU College of Law.  She researches and teaches in the areas of legal ethics and the legal profession.  Stephen Tang is a lecturer at the ANU College of Law. He is a legal-psychological researcher who also works in mental health law and policy in the ACT Office of the Chief Psychiatrist.

Day 2 - Concurrent Session 1 - Vicarious Trauma Stream

Dr Colin James, Senior Lecturer, ANU College of Law and School of Legal Practice, The Australian National University

This paper examines the emergence of vicarious trauma and our reluctance to accept it as a known risk in legal practice. Lawyers who work especially in criminal law, family law, and personal injury areas are exposed to images and recordings of traumatic events, and may also work with survivors of trauma who are required to relate their experience in detail. Others, such as defence lawyers, work with clients who confess to violent crimes, and they may need to ‘put aside’ feelings of shock or revulsion in order to represent the perpetrator. While the medical professions and ‘first responders’ take care of members’ wellbeing by acknowledging risks of the vicarious trauma and providing support, an apparent stigma stops law firms, prosecuting authorities, and the legal professional associations especially in Australia from acknowledging the risk or to train and protect lawyers from the effects of vicarious trauma. Research on trauma and the condition of PTSD shows contending theories including many symptoms related to experiences from workplace bullying, to secondary trauma stress, to vicarious trauma. This paper summarises research on the history, likely causes, treatments for and best defence against vicarious trauma in legal practice.

Patricia Weir, Associate Professor Liz Jones & Dr Nicola Sheeran, School of Applied Psychology and Menzies Health Institute Queensland Griffith University

Australian lawyers and barristers’ mental health and wellbeing is a key focus for the profession now and into the future (Lelk, Luscombe, Medlow and Hickie, 2009). Research has shown that professionals working with traumatised clients may be impacted psychologically by their exposure. This study explores the psychological impact on lawyers working in government legal organisations dealing with traumatised clients and private practice lawyers and barristers in criminal and personal injury law. Thirty-six lawyers and barristers aged between 28 and 63 years were interviewed on their perspectives of their work life. The results indicate that in line with research on other professionals working with traumatised clients, legal practitioners are impacted psychologically by their exposure to these clients, both negatively and positively. The role of the organisational and professional context plays an important part in how legal practitioners perceived the impact and managed their work lives. The findings highlight the significance of the context in legal practitioner’s mental wellbeing when working with traumatic material in the legal environment. This has implications for how the legal profession manages the mental health and wellbeing of its members into the future.

Jackie Curran, Laughter Lawyers

Laughter as a form of guided exercise, combined with breathing and mindful techniques could be taught and practiced by lawyers, law students and legal staff, for improved performance, reduced stress and related illness, reduced depression and anxiety.

Workplace systems could be implemented in law firms and universities

6 science based reasons to laugh every day –

(Journal of Neuroscience 23 May 2017, 0688-16; DOI: )

  1. Studies show laughing releases endorphins, via opoid receptors in the brain bringing a feeling of well being, happiness, optimism and physical relaxation. These changes occur quickly and can be long lasting, helping counter depression and anxiety and bringing pain relief.
  2. Laughter triggers the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, the brain chemical targeted by anti depressant medication. Serotonin is needed by the brain and affects mood, social behaviour, appetite, digestion, sleep and memory.
  3. Laughter is contagious, via brain to brain transmission of endorphins and oxytocin. It promotes a sense of togetherness in groups, bringing harmony to relationships at work. It promotes communication.
  4. Studies show couples who laugh together have stronger more resilient relationships that are happier and last longer.
  5. Laughter protects your heart, having an anti inflammatory effect and protecting heart muscles and blood vessels from damage and cardiovascular disease, reducing the risk of heart attack.
  6. Laughter of different types fosters brain connections to different areas of the brain.

Humour  and laughter makes us more likeable and trustworthy, fosters creativity, defuses stressful situations, facilitates communication, and can boost a company’s bottom line. Studies prove that a sense of humour is essential for business success. McClelland Centre for Research and Innovation found that executives considered to be “outstanding” use humour more than twice as often as those considered to be just “average”, and a Hodge Cronin and Associates survey of more than 730 CEOs found that 98% of them would rather hire someone with a good sense of humour than someone equally talented but with a more serious demeanour.

Helping legal professionals diminish job-related stress and improve work-life balance may be an employer's most effective retention strategy, a new survey indicates.

Day 2 - Concurrent Session 2 - International Perspectives Stream

Robyn Bradey, Mental Health Accredited Social Worker and Consultant 

This Presentation describes programs currently running in 4 countries to promote wellbeing and resilience in a variety of legal settings. It discusses incentives for participation from lawyers and their employers and support systems that are being put in place to ensure ongoing relevance and growth of such programs. It looks at the so called “soft skills” lawyers need to know to be effective, as well as tackling issues like suicide levels in the profession, vicarious trauma and bullying. The paper describes a clinical style peer supervision model, in house clinicians and mentoring models. It contains suggestions for future development in both legal education and lawyer work place practice. The appropriate use of clinicians to assist the profession will also be discussed and exploiting multimedia possibilities for education. It is hoped discussion will follow.

Elizabeth Kelley, Criminal Defense Attorney

In 2017, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, a coalition of stakeholders including the American Bar Association, released a 73-page report titled The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change. This presentation will review the state of lawyer wellbeing in the United States, including high rates of depression, suicide, and substance abuse disorders.  It will discuss some of the challenges confronting members of the legal profession such as law school debt, a declining traditional legal job market, and career satisfaction. Finally, the presentation will review the report’s recommendations which fall into five major themes:

  1. Identifying stakeholders and the role each can play in reducing the level of toxicity in the profession
  2. Eliminating the stigma associated with help-seeking behaviours
  3. Emphasizing the fact that well being is a indispensable part of a lawyer’s duty of competence
  4. Educating lawyers, judges, and law students on lawyer wellbeing issues, and
  5. Taking small, incremental steps to change how law is practiced and how lawyers are regulated to instil greater wellbeing in the profession.      

Florence Thum, College of Law

In a fast-paced always-on environment, it is easy for us to operate in the shallows. This has implications to our sense of self and identity, on our interpersonal relationships and to our professional lives.

Curiosity comes from the Latin root word “cura” meaning “to care for, to cure”. When we are curious about something or someone, it really means to care about them and to seek a cure or a solution. How apt then that curiosity, which Melanie Klein (renowned Austrian psychoanalyst) called “the epistemophilic instinct”, is indeed a basic human drive and an indicium for wellbeing.

The paper speaks to this child-like quality of curiosity, how it can serve our wellbeing and ultimately our personal and professional lives; and ways we can return to being curious.

Day 2 - Concurrent Session 3 - Family Law Stream

Emma Cook, Family Court of Australia

Relationship breakdown has various legal and psychological implications. Family lawyers, as key actors within the family law system, play a fundamental role in influencing their clients’ legal outcomes and mental wellbeing. This presentation will argue that the success of various initiatives to improve the mental wellbeing of individuals has been impeded by the family law system’s failure to capitalise on the role of lawyers and its narrow conceptualisation of mental health. In response, this presentation will build upon the growing body of academic literature that explores therapeutic jurisprudence, mental health and the role of family lawyers and define mental wellbeing as a positive concept. It will suggest practical and achievable ways in which family lawyers can be better trained to deal with the distressing nature of proceedings. Specifically, the presentation will critically analyse the Integrated Client Service Delivery Program, a staff-training program conducted during 2006-08 at the Family Law Courts, and consider its applicability for family lawyers. It will do this by challenging the program’s assumptions about mental health and suggesting ways in which it can be adapted for practitioners. The presentation will demonstrate how this amended training program, in conjunction with other initiatives, may help maximise the family law system’s therapeutic potential and minimise its negative consequences for clients. There is a clear need for the family law system to improve wellness in the legal profession and the integration and incorporation of therapeutic jurisprudence and preventative law principals and techniques into family lawyers’ daily practice can help achieve this.