A successful legal career is often beset with a heavy workload, time pressure, significant client demands and regularly focusing on problem-solving. These seemingly unrelenting factors have contributed to Australian lawyers reporting significant mental health issues for many years.
Several years ago, feeling very burnt-out myself, I set out to try and understand how I could live a healthy and meaningful life and still have a fulfilling legal career, rather than forever calling upon dwindling reserves of adrenalin to get me through. This path led me to undertake a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology. This degree taught me the science underlying various interventions that could help me to improve my wellbeing and thrive. Importantly, however, I came to learn that it is also necessary for us to tackle the system in which we work. It is this system which often thwarts an individual’s capacity, despite their best efforts, to sustain their wellbeing and to be creative and productive. Clients, the courts, government, and employers of lawyers are all part of the system, which impacts the wellbeing of the legal profession. Building the capacity and willingness of these system leaders to sense, and respond to how the system impacts on our wellbeing and productive capacity, is critical if we are to navigate its complexity and enable sustainable improvements in our health.
As system leaders, we have the opportunity to learn how to look after ourselves and to role-model the importance of wellbeing to others – knowing that when we do this we give them permission and psychological safety to care for themselves. Now is the time to come together to change the dialogue with each other, and in our heads, that wellbeing is only something we do when we have time. When we can normalise wellbeing as essential for all, real positive change can occur. As we emerge from COVID-19 lock-down we have the opportunity to collaborate and reimagine how we can work and stay healthy in the long term.
Amanda Watt, Partner in Workplace Law practice and Board Member, MinterEllison