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05/12/14

World’s First Guidelines to Reduce Mental Depression at Law Firms



The Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation has published the world's first well-structured and clear guidelines to reduce mental depression of staff and attorneys at law firms. Though, the guidelines are aimed at lawyers in Australia, they have the same significance and value for law firms in the U.S. considering the law firms who participated in the endeavor, and the agency that published the guidelines.

The agency that published the guidelines is the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, which is an independent nonprofit organization founded with the object of decreasing work related psychological ill-health in the legal community and to promote workplace psychological health and safety.

In justifying the need of following such guidelines, the report cites from published research and comments, "It is recognized that all legal workplaces are stressful and it has been shown that legal professionals are disproportionately at risk of suffering from psychological distress and illness."

Keith Mason, the Chairperson of TJMF observes in the report that in the case of Australia, "more than one in four barristers, one in three solicitors and almost half of all law students are at high risk of suffering a diagnosable mental illness. The good news is that we now recognize this. The not so good news is that many are uncertain about what they can do to help."

The TJMF Guidelines identified 13 psychosocial factors that have the highest priority in relation to mental depression at law firms. These include: Organizational culture, Psychological and social support, Clear leadership and expectations, Civility and respect, Psychological competencies and requirements, Growth and development, Recognition and reward, Good involvement and influence by staff, Workload management, Employee engagement, Work-life balance, Psychological protection, and Protection of physical safety.

To begin with, large law firms that have joined as signatories to the guidelines and have promised to follow them include firms like K&L Gates, King & Wood Mallesons , Squire Sanders, Allens, Herbert Smith Freehills, Ashurst and Henry Davis York .

This is not new information, of course, because the legal profession here at U.S. and different bars have always been worried about the disproportionately high substance abuse present among certain sectors of the legal community, though clear guidelines backed by psychological research on how to tackle the root cause in law firms have been wanting.

TJMF's new guideline to tackle mental depression at law firms fills that gap quite nicely and provides a base for law firms in the US to build upon. The PDF of the report can be found here.

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