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Depression: The legal profession's 'gorilla in the closet'

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Mackenzie McCarty | 12 Mar 2014, 08:00 a.m. Agree 0
Lawyers have one of the highest depression and suicide rates out of any profession. We talk to a former law firm partner trained in psychiatry to find out what lawyers and their firms are getting wrong - and what can be done to prevent the condition taking hold
  • Graham | 12 Mar 2014, 10:37 a.m. Agree 0
    The point made regarding inertia and lethargy is well made and simple fatigue will do to. Further symptoms differ from person to person. However, in law one won't eradicate the active discrimination- to the right to work- that exists particularly in provincial centers where depression is treated akin to a serious disorder. Absent the stress leads to release from the malaise. Counselling is a throw away concept as a 'fix it'. Of greater efficacy is removing the stressors. The difficulty for recovering practitioners is financial stress and isolation and being treated as an object.
  • Cheryl Simes | 12 Mar 2014, 12:32 p.m. Agree 0
    Many years ago I was a member of the local Complaints Committee. We interviewed a practitioner who had been extraordinarily dilatory in a particular matter and who (significantly) still had not made any attempt to address the issues despite the complaint and despite being summonsed. It seemed obvious to me that the practitioner was probably experiencing undiagnosed and untreated depression or something similar. Towards the end of the interview I asked the practitioner about his mental health. The other members of the Committee mocked me afterwards and asked where on earth that came from and what did it have to do with the complaint. At the time I knew I knew more about depression than many other lawyers because I experienced it myself. The reaction of my 'colleagues' to that question was however quite enlightening.
  • Erin Gibson | 14 Mar 2014, 10:55 a.m. Agree 0
    Google " I had a black dog, his name was depression" An excellent animated video clip about depression.
  • David Roughan | 14 Mar 2014, 12:05 p.m. Agree 0
    Cheryl`s insight is an indicator why the Practising Well initiative will never be more than window dressing (because many lawyers administering the regulatory function now have no sympathy for any struggling colleague or that colleague`s difficulties) by an organisation putting more resources into its regulatory function than it is into its representative function.

    The Lawyers Complaints Service is pouring its resources into more than 1,000 complaints every year in which, at the end of the day &, after putting the lawyer through the hoops trying to find something to support the complaint, it decides that no further action is required.

    Any wonder that depression is a problem for NZ lawyers who now dread any mail from NZLS & complaints by non clients when the lawyer has discharged her/his obligations to the client
  • Graham | 26 Mar 2014, 11:22 a.m. Agree 0
    I concur with Mr Roughan's comments. Having been put through the regulatory mill by ignorance and gossip by a branch for having had depression in which I incurred significant financial losses, I am ultimately told "don't expect an apology."

    Then having complained through the NSC about the conduct of the practitioners concerned, effectively for an abandonment of legal norms, the NSC fails to come to grips with the facts and the law. The NSC considered that I had other civil remedies, (contempt of Court, breach of privacy and human rights) it therefore need not do anything. However, if there are other remedies do not these (ipso facto) then speak of breaches of standards?

    The NSC had no appetite for wellness issues or delving into the representative functions. the branch where I live has been conspicuous by its absence.

    Arguably representative and regulatory functions do not travel together which was a point made on a Linked forum. The wellness program is PR spin in cyber space.

    The Complaints process (and I now act for clients and lawyers involved in this) needs to move from lunch time committees. The LCRO and the NZL&CDT has developed case law which these committees are simply at times unaware of. One NSC committee holding that to have jurisdiction the complainant had to be the client of the lawyer complained of, which is not the case at all. No wonder the LCRO is overwhelmed with work.

    The hall mark of a matter going off the rails is a committee member taking personal affront. the process is robust and the committee must also be robust.

    Having dealt with a vexatious case against me and advised on others and commiserated with practitioners, Mr Roughan is right that no wonder lawyers get depressed. There seems to be something in our profession that people like to get on high horses and put the boot in. There is little support, collegiality and no lawyer care rules for clients to comply with!
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