Practicing Law & Wellness
The Law Society of Singapore’s Practice Well Initiatives for 2022
The recent announcement by the Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being during the Budget 2022 debates that it would be considering setting up a national mental well-being office in Singapore1https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/politics/budget-debate-mental-health-taskforce-will-consider-setting-up-permanent-agency-lists-four-focus-areas; https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/budget-announcements-on-mental-health-a-good-step-but-more-needs-to-be-done-advocates marked a significant shift in perceptions and views towards mental health and well-being. Placing mental health on the government’s policy agenda is a move that has been lauded by several mental health advocates as casting a spotlight on the realities of mental health problems that many Singaporeans are currently dealing, and also stands for a firm recognition that mental health issues are of a national concern.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought to the forefront the importance of prioritising one’s mental health and well-being. This global crisis exacerbated a number of personal and professional challenges that many people had already been experiencing, with a resultant increase in the number of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.2https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/imh-study-points-to-likely-increase-in-mental-health-issues-in-spore-amid-covid-19
Catalysing Positive Change in the Legal Profession
Well before the pandemic, mental health challenges had already been a cause for concern in the legal profession. Recognising this problem, a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being (Task Force) was set up in the United States. Its mandate? To look into stemming the alarmingly high rates of behavioural health problems amongst lawyers and law students nationwide.3A 2016 study conducted by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation found that between 21 to 36 percent of the nearly 13,000 legal practitioners surveyed qualified as problem drinkers. Approximately 28 percent, 19 percent, and 23 percent struggled with some level of depression, anxiety, and stress respectively. See P. R. Krill, R. Johnson, & L. Albert, The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys, 10 J. ADDICTION MED. 46 (2016).
The Task Force published its report, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being’ in August 2017,4NATIONAL TASK FORCE ON LAWYER WELL-BEING: Creating a Movement To Improve Well-Being in the Legal Profession. https://lawyerwellbeing.net/the-report/ complete with a set of comprehensive recommendations and proposed state action plans urging action across each stakeholder group in the legal system to better address well-being issues in the profession at large. It has been rather aptly referred to as ‘the report that launched a movement’.
Just three years later, in December 2020, the Institute for Well-Being in Law (IWIL) was formed to carry on the Task Force’s movement. As a registered non-profit charitable organisation, the IWIL sees its mission as advancing systemic change to holistically improve the well-being of all members of the legal profession through research, advocacy and education, as well as stakeholder partnerships across the profession.5https://lawyerwellbeing.net/
To date, close to 25 states have established state-level mental health and well-being task forces for their respective Bar associations, thus heeding the call set out in the Task Force’s report for the legal profession to i) provide structure and support; and ii) create fundamental shift in attitudes towards behavioural or mental health problems and encouraging those affected to seek timely treatment or support.6https://thebarexaminer.ncbex.org/article/summer-fall-2021/change-is-coming/
In 2021, the International Bar Association (IBA) published the findings of its first-ever global survey and study on mental wellbeing in the legal profession.7International Bar Association, ‘Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession: A Global Study’. https://www.ibanet.org/document?id=IBA-report-Mental-Wellbeing-in-the-Legal-Profession-A-Global-Study The findings in the IBA’s report all but confirmed those of the Task Force’s report back in 2017 – it also highlighted that mental wellbeing challenges were a cause for concern in the legal profession globally, with the report even referring to it as a “global crisis”. Clear calls to action were made for the profession to prioritise mental wellbeing and take steps to address systemic problems that were impeding progress or change from happening.
Carrying the Well-being Torch Forward
Closer to home, mental health issues have also been at the forefront for our legal profession especially in recent years. Many legal professionals have openly shared their own mental health struggles, urging their fellow members of the Bar to seek help and treatment and assuring them that experiencing such struggles or challenges are nothing to be ashamed of. At the start of this year, a slew of articles in the media on the attrition rates of junior lawyers also drew attention to high levels of stress and a burnout culture in the profession.8https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/young-lawyers-cite-long-hours-stress-for-quitting-amid-calls-for-more-support-from-legal-fraternity
In January 2022, The Law Society of Singapore launched its first-ever Practice Well Week. Drawing inspiration from the IWIL’s Well-Being in Law Week, first held in May 2021, Practice Well Week aimed to raise awareness about mental health and wellbeing in the legal profession in Singapore inspire action for members to become more proactive about their well-being.
A dedicated social media and email marketing campaign was rolled out from 17 January to 21 January highlighting five pillars of mindfulness and well-being – with a different wellness pillar featured for each day of the week along with a short explanation of that pillar.
|Emotional Wellness||Value your emotions and learn how to develop an ability to identify and manage emotions for health to achieve your goal. Seek help for mental health when needed.|
|Social Wellness||Build meaningful and positive connections, cultivate a sense of belonging, and create a reliable support network. Explore how you can contribute to your community.|
|Intellectual Wellness||Develop personal satisfaction, continuous learning and growth in your professional and personal lives. Engage in creative or intellectually challenging activities that foster your ongoing development.|
|Occupational Wellness||Cultivate personal satisfaction, growth and enrichment in your work, and discover how to align your personal values with your profession.|
|Physical Wellness||Keep a healthy lifestyle through regular physical activity, good diet and nutrition, enough sleep and rest for recovery. Be sure to seek help for physical health when needed.|
Members were encouraged to participate by either watching a video, listening to a podcast, reading an article, or doing an activity centred on the wellness pillar for that day. At the end of the week, it was hoped that members would come away with a better understanding of the five pillars and take away practical tips and insights which they could apply to their professional and personal lives, thus enabling them to “Practice Well”.
“Practice Well” – An Ongoing Journey
Coming up this year, the Law Society of Singapore’s Continuing Professional Development department will be rolling out a suite of programmes in partnership with organisations like Promises Healthcare and College of Law focusing on various aspects of well-being. The topics have been specially curated and developed to meet the unique needs and concerns facing legal professionals, and are aligned to address the various aspects of the five wellness pillars.
Here is a sneak preview of just some of the programmes that we have in store for our members:
Well-being Training Series for Lawyers with Promises Healthcare
For All Members
Kicking off the series are three programmes which focus on enhancing participants’ understanding on what well-being entails. These include a programme which aims to foster a deeper understanding of the interconnections between mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, followed by importance of developing greater self-awareness to identify and manage potential risks to one’s wellbeing to be able to lead and perform with confidence.
Most legal professionals are no strangers to stress and burnout that can overwhelm their professional and even personal lives. Our next programme in collaboration with Promises Healthcare, happening in July, will provide a hands-on opportunity for members to practice self-regulation and management. This is an especially timely programme in an era of where hybrid and remote working has become the norm, and the boundaries between one’s work and home lives have been all but blurred. Importantly, participants will learn how to identify signs of stress and burnout and take the steps to effectively and proactively manage their health and well-being.
For Junior and Middle Category Practitioners
Navigating workplace dynamics and potential conflicts can often be a stressful experience, especially for younger professionals. For younger members of the Bar, two upcoming programmes happening in August and September 2022 will focus on creating better working relationships and managing team dynamics would be of interest. These programmes will help participants better manage different dynamics across their firms or organisations to create a more effective and cohesive work culture. Participants will also learn how to identify different conflict and communication styles to foster a more collaborative culture in their respective teams and organisations.
For Middle and Senior Category Practitioners
More senior members as well as those who are working towards the Partner track or who hold management responsibilities in their firms can also look forward to a programme on leadership development, scheduled to take place in October 2022. This programme aims to equip participants with the tools and frameworks to better understand motivators for performance, and how individuals and teams can be motivated to perform better. In this regard, effective leadership has been highlighted as having a positive impact on organisational members’ well-being by creating a psychologically healthy work culture, encouraging better management of mental health matters in the workplace, and providing support for workplace well-being programs. Participants will be encouraged to take back their learnings and insights to their own teams and firms.
Well-being and Resilience with The College of Law
The CPD department has also partnered with The College of Law Australia to offer an online course on wellbeing and resilience for legal professionals.
This text-based interactive course has been developed and prepared by a trained psychotherapist and executive coach with extensive experience in the legal profession. It will offer practical steps and tools for course participants to improve their resilience skills and be their best selves at work and in their daily lives.
The online course will be complemented by a live webinar that will take place in July 2022, offering course participants and members alike the opportunity to ask questions and dive deeper into strategies for building resilience, managing stress, and maintaining wellbeing.
Stay tuned for our upcoming CPD publicity with more details on these programmes and courses, which will be released in the coming weeks.
Support is Just a Call Away
Finally, do remember that you should always seek help or support to manage your health and well-being.
The Members’ Assistance & Care Helpline (MACH) is an exclusive Law Society member benefit that provides confidential and personal support and assistance for members facing personal or professional issues. Members can call the hotline at 6530 0213 between 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday, and will be referred to the appropriate welfare scheme for assistance depending on their needs and concerns. For more information, please visit https://www.lawsociety.org.sg/the-law-society/support-schemes/members-assistance-care-helpline-mach/.
For more details on our upcoming CPD Practice Well programmes, please visit https://www.lawsociety.org.sg/cpd/law-society-events/. A curated list of resources and articles on wellbeing can also be accessed on the CPD Practice Well portal at this link: https://www.lawsociety.org.sg/practice-well/. Do keep a look out for additional resources which will be uploaded onto the Practice Well portal in the coming weeks to support your well-being.
Continuing Professional Development Department
The Law Society of Singapore