On 12 May 2014, the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation (TJMF) launched guidelines to tackle the high rate of depression in the law. The guidelines recommend the adoption of workplace practices that aim to improve the psychological health and wellbeing of legal professionals.
A world first in the legal profession, the guidelines cover 13 psychosocial factors, with organisational culture topping the list.
Other psychosocial factors include: clear leadership and expectations, civility and respect, growth and development, and balance. Drawn from scientific research in Canada, the psychosocial factors were found to have a “powerful” impact on the health of individuals and an organisation’s financial bottom line by reducing absenteeism, staff attrition and workplace health & safety liability risks.
Under each psychosocial factor in the guidelines are suggested ‘implementation frameworks’. These range from ‘basic’ to ‘best practice’ to cater to all sections of the legal profession, including firms of varying sizes, the Bar and in-house teams.
Jeremy Hyman, Director of the Foundation and Guidelines Subcommittee Chairman, said signatories can “pick and choose” elements of the guidelines and implement changes at their own pace.
When asked whether a firm could realistically implement all of the guidelines, Hyman admitted: “I don’t think it’s a journey you ever get to the end of.”
“It’s a matter of constant improvement. You can always do something more, keep working harder at doing the best by your people and one another.”
A number of large law firms are among the 26 founding signatories of the guidelines, including Allens, Ashurst, Henry Davis York, Herbert Smith Freehills, K&L Gates, King & Wood Mallesons and Squire Sanders. Universities and corporations were also on the list.
TJMF Psychological Wellbeing: Best Practice Guidelines for the Legal Profession is based on the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC) recommended workplaces standard.
The TJMF Guidelines Subcommittee, consisting of representatives from law firms, in-house legal teams, government legal agencies, the medical profession, the Bar and law faculties, adapted the work of the MHCC to the Australian legal profession and, in 2013, conducted private and public consultation with the profession.
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