For Women in Law By Women in Law

Reflections on the 2022 National Wellness Study

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This is our final post on the series reporting on the “The National Study on the Psychological Health Determinants of Legal Professionals in Canada” (the “Study”). The Study was published by the Université de Sherbrooke, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the Canadian Bar Association in December 2022.

The Study is the first of its kind in Canada. It delves into the intricacies of the Canadian legal profession and the factors that impact the psychological well-being of legal professionals. In our series we reported on several of the main causes of mental health issues and demographics mostly affected, such as minorities, ethnicized groups, women in law, balancing family life, combatting technostress, the effects of the billable hour model, and stigmas surrounding mental health.

We have come to recognize that mental health challenges are more widespread within the legal profession than is commonly acknowledged. Frequently concealed and overlooked, these issues are, in fact, commonplace experiences for many of us at various stages in our lives. Unfortunately, they often go unaddressed or undiscussed within the profession, primarily due to the persisting stigmas surrounding mental health. The profession’s high-pressure, stressful, and competitive environment stands out as a significant contributor to these stigmas.

Over the course of the year, we have addressed various topics which are found in the Study. Here is an overview of our reflections:

1. Technostress refers to the stress and pressure individuals feel from our increased use of technology. The Study found that mothers between the ages of 36 and 40 are more likely to experience technostress than their male counterparts.

2. The legal profession in Canada often fosters a culture of overwork, where long hours and high workload are seen as necessary for success. This culture can create a lack of support for work-life balance and puts pressure on lawyers to prioritize work over their personal and family lives. The demands and culture of the legal profession in Canada can create significant challenges for lawyers in starting and raising families.

3. Despite its effectiveness in measuring economic success, the billable-hour model poses significant risks and social consequences for the well-being of legal professionals. Billable hours only capture around 67.9% of the actual hours worked by legal professionals. Those with billable hour targets tend to put in an average of 54 hours per week, while their counterparts without such targets average around 47.1 to 48.4 hours per week.

4. The study found that ethnicized legal professionals had a higher proportion of moderate to severe depressive symptoms compared to non-ethnicized legal professionals. This indicates that minority lawyers may be more susceptible to experiencing feelings of depression, which can impact their overall well-being. Further, burnout is more prevalent among ethnicized legal professionals than non-ethnicized legal professionals.

5. The Study found that stigma prevents 40% of people with anxiety or depression from seeking medical help. Further, 43.3% of participating legal professionals with mental health issues said they feel alienated due to their mental health issues. The data revealed that of all participants, 34.6% felt that most people in the profession stigmatize people with mental health issues.

6. Women in the legal profession in Canada face unique challenges and psychological stressors. The study reveals that women in the legal profession are more affected by mental health concerns. Further, work overload increases depressive symptoms and burnout feelings in women, irrespective of their experience.

But there are some positive takeaways. We have come a long way in our knowledge and understanding of mental health issues in more recent years. The Study emphasizes that our mental health issues will greatly improve simply by improving individuals’ work-life balance, acknowledging the unique pressures faced by minorities, and reducing the pressure to meet billable targets.

There is expected to be a second part to the Study which we hope will be released in 2024. We will report on the second part of the Study as well as continue discussing similar topics throughout 2024 on Life in Law, so keep following for further updates.

 

About the Authors

Guest Blogger, Karina Alibhai

Karina Alibhai is an associate with Harper Grey LLP and works with their Commercial Litigation and Construction Groups. Karina joined Harper Grey as an articling student in 2020, completed her articles with the firm and was called to the BC bar in 2021. She received her bachelor’s degree, from McGill University in 2017, where she focused her studies on International Development. Karina attended law school at Thompson Rivers University and graduated in 2020.

 

Grace Smyth-Bolland is an associate with Harper Grey LLP and works with their Business Law Group. Grace joined Harper Grey as an articling student in 2021, completed her articles with the firm and was called to the BC bar in 2022. She completed her law and philosophy degrees at Adelaide University in 2015 and 2016 before immigrating to Canada from Australia in 2017.

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