Lawyers’ Mental Health ‘a Life and Death Issue’

Victorian committee members with TJMF board members - Erandathie Jayakody, Max Paterson, Marie Jepson, Jacqui Pitt and Jeremy Hyman (Photo: Sagona Photography)

Victorian committee members with TJMF board members – Erandathie Jayakody, Max Paterson, Marie Jepson, Jacqui Pitt and Jeremy Hyman (Photo: Sagona Photography)

 

By Dean R P Edwards

The recently appointed Honourable Associate Justice Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou keynoted the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation’s annual lecture held at Monash Law Chambers last Tuesday, October 6, 2015.

TJMF co-founder Marie Jepson, Tristan’s mother, introduced her Honour to a packed room Tuesday night. Jepson also highlighted the Foundation’s mental health guidelines for the profession, saying the guidelines “provide a unique opportunity to leaders who want to leave a legacy and help to forge a new path”.

Her Honour spoke on the theme of “Inspiring Change: Creating a Positive Workplace”, drawing on her experience as a founding partner at law firm Justitia and, in particular, in encouraging lawyers to adopt an “ethics of care” in the workplace.

Her Honour said the legal profession had focused on individual resilience to date while “structural issues need addressing”.

“It’s not just about counselling and mentoring or mindfulness”, Ierodiaconou said. “Structural issues are not solely personal: they’re social”.

Ierodiaconou went on to talk about the benefits of collaborative approaches in the workplace, with lawyers sharing roles and assisting each other in relation to clients. Her Honour also said the collaborative approach helped law firms adopt flexibility in work arrangements for working parents (including expectant parents) and others looking for non-full-time work.

 

NLL editors Dean Edwards and Arna Delle-Vergini, Associate Justice Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou, Samantha Marks QC and Bernadette Healy (Photo: NLL)

 

In a personal moment, Ierodiaconou reflected on her teenage years, when she would work summers at her uncle’s busy suburban law practice. Her uncle died aged 43. “While workplace stress may have only been one factor”, her Honour said, “our topic tonight is a life and death issue”.

Her Honour also touched on the issue of workplace harassment, citing recent research that shows one out of four women lawyers face sexual harassment at work, with more than half of the cases involving more than one harasser.

Pleading Sanity, which advocates for lawyers’ wellbeing and cosponsored the lecture, spokesperson Erandathie Jayakody estimated 150 attended the evening, with many attendees being members of the profession, including Victorian Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, President of the Court of Appeal Justice Chris Maxwell and Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO.

Legal Services Commissioner Michael McGarvie and lawyer-run arts production company BottledSnail were co-sponsors of the lecture.

For more on the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation and information on lawyers’ wellbeing and mental health, head to http://www.tjmf.org.au.

New Lawyer Language contribtuors Bernadette Healy, Arna Delle-Vergini and Dean Edwards (Photo: Sagona Photography)

New Lawyer Language contribtuors Bernadette Healy, Arna Delle-Vergini and Dean Edwards (Photo: Sagona Photography)