President’s Report – October
Mental health and wellbeing
This month’s cover article, ‘Winning the mental game’, is authored by psychologists Daniella Luppino and Dimity Smith. Publication is timely, with 7 to 14 October being Mental Health Week in Western Australia. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Mental Health Week, and the overarching theme is ‘Connect with nature, community and self for mental wellbeing’.
As is now reasonably well-known lawyers remain prone, disproportionately among the professions, to experiencing psychological distress over the course of their careers. Indeed, and as noted in the article, research suggests that just over half of students, solicitors and barristers have experienced depression, with some 63% of solicitors having reported ‘moderate’ to ‘very high’ levels of psychological distress. The statistics are plainly alarming, though, perhaps, also unsurprising. Legal practitioners frequently operate within highly pressurised environments. The nature of our work inevitably involves us attempting to solve the problems of others. At the same time, we must both comply with rigorous professional standards and be on constant alert as to potential risks. And then there is the billable hour which, despite the valiant efforts of an increasing number of law firms, still governs the professional lives of many. Factors such as these combine with the personality types which the law often attracts, sometimes taking their toll on our health, wellbeing and inter-personal relationships. The cover article notes that it is incumbent on organisational leaders to be ‘champions’ of mental health and to ‘walk the talk’.
On Tuesday, 10 October, the Law Society will host a free seminar, ‘Mental health awareness’, to mark World Mental Health Day. The seminar will involve insights by clinical psychologist Dr Marny Lishman who will explore what we can do to look after our mental health, both at and away from work. The seminar is complimentary for members as part of the Society’s LawCare WA wellbeing and resilience programme. A light lunch will be provided. Please visit lawsocietywa.asn.au/event/mental-health-awareness to register.
Also included in this issue is the first of what will hopefully be a regular feature: a health and wellbeing case study focused on balancing work and personal life. This month’s insights are kindly provided by the Hon John McKechnie QC, Corruption and Crime Commissioner.
A reminder that LawCare WA is available to all members of the Society. Through LawCare WA, members have access to the Society’s member assistance programme; the employee relations advice line provided by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA; the Society’s Senior Advisors Panel for ethical advice; the WA Bar Association Referral Service, for assistance with complaints to the Legal Profession Complaints Committee; health and wellbeing events and member privileges; career advice; and mentoring.
Please visit lawsocietywa.asn.au/lawcare-wa to find out more, or call 1300 687 327 to speak with a counsellor or to make an appointment.
Practice Direction 10.3 – the appointment of Senior Counsel
Members will recall that in September 2014 Women Lawyers of Western Australia Inc. launched the 20th Anniversary Review of the 1994 Report of the Chief Justice’s Taskforce on Gender Bias.
One recommendation arising from the Review was for a submission be made by the Society and the WA Bar Association to the effect that a policy be adopted (similar to that of the NSW Bar) explicitly stating in the Senior Counsel Protocol that a flexible or part-time practice is not a barrier to being appointed Senior Counsel.
As noted in my electronic update to members last month, a joint submission was made to the Chief Justice of Western Australia to the above effect following a recent resolution by Council.
Soon after that submission was made, the Chief Justice advised that the judges of the Court had unanimously resolved to adopt the suggestion that the Practice Direction be amended accordingly.
In his response the Chief Justice, among other things, noted that both he and the Committee advising him in relation to appointments have consistently taken the view that applicants who have taken time out of their professional careers to discharge family responsibilities should not be disadvantaged as a consequence of doing so as compared to other practitioners whose careers have not been similarly interrupted.
The allocation of adequate resources to courts is fundamental to the proper functioning of the judiciary in any jurisdiction.
The Society was therefore pleased to note last month’s announcement by State Government that two additional judges would be appointed to the District Court to address both existing and anticipated workload issues.
News of the allocation of additional resources to one of our State’s busiest courts was announced in the context of proposed changes to, among other things, the current jurisdictional boundaries between the Supreme Court and the District Court in criminal matters.
The Society looks forward to welcoming the new judges in due course.
The planning jurisdiction
As will be noted from what appears on the facing page, the Society recently congratulated His Honour Judge David Parry on his re-appointment as a Deputy President of the State Administrative Tribunal.
His Honour’s re-appointment followed advocacy by the Society proposing statutory reform, among other things to recognise more clearly the specialist nature of the planning jurisdiction, and requesting the allocation of specialised further resources to the Tribunal.
The Society’s approach had, in turn, resulted from a request by its Town Planning and Environmental Committee whose contribution played a key part in the Society’s submission to State Government.
The outcome achieved is not only courtesy of the recognition by Government of the benefit to the Western Australian community of the important work performed by the Tribunal in the resolution of planning disputes, and of the specialist nature of that jurisdiction, but is also testament the vital role played by the Society’s specialist committees in informing our advocacy on behalf of the legal profession.
A pleasing consequence of His Honour’s re-appointment to the Tribunal was the appointment of senior criminal barrister (and former member of Council), Belinda Lonsdale, as a judge of the District Court to fill the resulting vacancy on the Court.
I look forward to welcoming Her Honour Judge Lonsdale, on behalf of the Society, on 9 October.
The Council of the Law Society sets the Society’s strategic direction, ensures good governance and, with the assistance of the Society’s committees, provides submissions to, and works with, government, the courts and other organisations.
It is of course essential that the Society remains representative, and continues to be able to draw upon the skills and knowledge, of a broad cross-section of the legal profession. Nominations for election to Council open on 3 October. Forms will be sent electronically to eligible members, with nominations closing on 19 October.
I encourage any member who is considering putting their name forward for Council to do so.
Once the nomination process is complete, voting will open in early November, with ballot papers transmitted to eligible members electronically by CorpVote.