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Introduction

As part of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation’s commitment to support psychologically healthy workplaces in the legal profession, we are pleased to introduce the TJMF Psychological Wellbeing: Best Practice Guidelines for the Legal Profession, intended for use by all within the Australian legal profession, including students, sole practitioners, barristers, in-house legal counsel, practitioners within law firms of all sizes, and the judiciary.

The purpose of the Guidelines is to provide a resource for those within the Australian legal profession by using evidence-based approaches to promoting a psychologically healthy workplace. The Guidelines are intended to support lawyers, law firms and others working within the profession to raise awareness of mental health issues, and to understand the initiatives and methods of management that assist in the creation and maintenance of psychologically healthy and supportive workplaces.

The Guidelines have been developed through the work of a Sub-Committee of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, representing a broad range of people within the profession. They build on a range of international and national activities, including the work of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), under the auspices of the Canadian Standards Association and the Bureau de Normalisation du Québec (BNQ), and, in Australia, the Mental Health Alliance.

The Guidelines also recognise the value of providing specific guidance tailored to the particular workplace issues that arise in the legal profession and aim to provide that guidance in a way which reflects the varied nature of the profession, particularly in terms of size and resources. 


Why?

It is recognised 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.1

Workplace factors have been proven to contribute to this risk,2 causing harm to people’s health and adverse impacts on the organisations that employ them (including absenteeism, ”presenteeism”, staff attrition, and WHS liability risks).

The aim

The Guidelines promote psychologically healthy legal workplaces. The aim of the Guidelines is to assist legal organisations to create workplaces that fulfil each of the Psychosocial Factors, identified by extensive research as critical to psychological health:

Psychosocial Factor

A work environment characterised by:

Organisational culture trust, honesty and fairness
Psychological and social support support for employees’ psychological and mental health concerns
Clear leadership and expectations employees that know what they need to do and how their work contributes
Civility and respect employees are respectful and considerate of each other
Psychological competencies and requirements a good fit of interpersonal and emotional competencies and roles
Growth and development encouragement and support of interpersonal, emotional and job skills
Recognition and reward acknowledgement and appreciation in a fair and timely manner
Good involvement and influence by staff employees that are included in discussions about their work and how important decisions are made
Workload management responsibilities that can be accomplished successfully within the time available
Engagement employees that feel connected to their work and are motivated
Balance recognition of the need for balance between work, family and personal life
Psychological protection appropriate action is taken to protect employees’ psychological safety
Protection of physical safety appropriate action is taken to protect the physical safety of employees

How?

The Guidelines are a voluntary framework for legal organisations to utilise.

Signatories are encouraged to implement the Guidelines at their own pace and in their own way; implementation of the Guidelines can be tailored to each individual legal workplace.  The Guidelines framework is based on a spectrum of self-motivated improvement.3

The Guidelines framework encourages ongoing improvement within the profession. In time, the Guidelines will assist cultural change and change of attitude; changes in the way we think, speak and act in addressing psychological health and safety.

In turn, the structure, policies and processes of legal organisations will change to match that new attitude and culture. By becoming signatories to the Guidelines, legal organisations are demonstrating that they are leaders in the profession and they are committing to putting psychological safety at the heart of their organisational culture and at the forefront of their minds.

Sign

The Guidelines are for every legal organisation. Organisations can become signatories at www.tjmf.org.au.

TJMF Psychological Wellbeing: Best Practice Guidelines for the Legal Profession

References

1.  Kelk, NJ, Luscombe, GM, Medlow, S, Hickie, IB (2009) Courting the blues: Attitudes towards depression in Australian law students and lawyers, BMRI Monograph 2009-1, Sydney: Brain & Mind Research Institute.

2. Shain, M., Arnold, I. & GermAnn, K. (2012) The Road to Psychological Safety: Legal, Scientific, and Social Foundations for a Canadian national Standard on Psychological Safety in the Workplace. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 32 (2) 142-162, SAGE Publications.

3.  See the TJMF Guidelines FAQs for more information.