I wish I knew that…. It’s not about you.

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

In the words of J.K Rowling, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default”. ‘Ex Post Facto: the Wisdom of Hindsight’ is a blog celebrating and reflecting upon the awkward moments and failures endured as a solicitor, particularly in the early years of practice. Every solicitor has their horror story – and live to tell the tale.

There’s always one: the client that sends you five emails in the middle of the night all marked with the red flag. The client that calls incessantly to see why you have not returned their call even though you have been out of the office. They don’t act on your advice even though they acknowledge it and at times appear grateful for it. They don’t provide documents to you, yet become exasperated when their matter is moving too slowly. These clients may be classified as ‘high needs’, which is a polite and vague term used to disguise a multitude of sins.

Economic theory has the concept of the ‘economic man’. The economic man assumes humans will consistently make rational economic decisions that maximise their self-interest at the lowest cost to the individual. At a basic level, it is assumed that the economic man will always make the right decision for himself.

If the economic man were your client, he would listen to and act upon your advice. He has paid good money for that advice, and would want to maximise the benefit of the service he has already paid for and protect his best interests. He wouldn’t be litigious: He wouldn’t spend ridiculous amounts of money to pursue an action based upon ‘the principle of the matter’, where the cost outweighs any benefit he may receive. He would be succinct. He wouldn’t send you five emails to ask one question when he knows he will be charged for the time spent reading these emails.

However the economic man is not real. Arguably, human behaviour is inherently irrational and our decision-making processes are influenced by bias, ideology and emotion. I wish I knew there was no perfect client. I wish I didn’t waste so much time stressing about the imperfect ones. However, I’ve learnt that you must take the client as you find them. The client may be relatively rational in their normal life, yet when dealing with the stress of a legal matter, their insecurities, stresses and exasperations are unleashed all at once. The client may have been struggling for a long time, and the gates can no longer hold these back. The lawyer is usually the first person standing to meet them at the gate when the flood hits. We are not always meeting them on equal terms. So when a client is disengaged, distraught, needy and abrupt, it is not necessarily out of frustration with you as their lawyer, but frustration with the process itself. It’s not all about you.

I Object!

By Georgia Briggs

Georgia is a recent graduate from the University of Canberra and at the age of 21 is at the stage of searching for that dream job to lead her from her double degree of Law and Events Management into being a ‘real adult’. Her column “I Object” is a monthly piece about the thoughts, processes, and sometimes (who are we kidding- pretty often) tedious hurdles that post law school life can be.


“I’ll never forget my first day of law school, I was actually an Arts student at the time, trying to make the grades to switch over, I already felt like everyone could see my disguise. They know, crap! (I totally made it through though, woo!)

It was like one of those horrible cliche movies of university, I sat down in the class (don’t worry, I wasn’t late because I left 30 minutes before necessary to ENSURE that didn’t happen) but as the lecturer began she said words to the effect of “I assume everyone has read the first 5 chapters of the book as required”.
Ummm… Sorry, What?!

*cue Elle Woods moment of “I wasn’t aware there was a reading assignment” *.

That’s what seems to be happening in the post law school daze I’m in, a lot of “Ummm… Sorry,What?!” moments.

I’m coming to realise that this is actually pretty normal, and me feeling like legal life decides to smack me over the head with failure every so often, just to keep me in check, is okay. While I can’t promise (and shall not, because I’m a lawyer so we don’t promise things) that I have some handy tips for you, or my short thought bubbles will assist you in getting that dream job that for some reason didn’t land on your lap the day of graduation (Sorry, What?!), I can aim to uplift some spirits while you read, hopefully rofl-ing (oh yes, you read correctly, rofl) and feeling better about it all, or at least I can occupy several minutes of your time each month that you’ll never get back. Enjoy!”

Law as a Healing Practice


By Joel Orenstein

Buddhist imagery refers to compassion as being like one wing of a bird. She needs the other wing of wisdom in order to fly.

When I first decided to study an undergraduate law degree, I had made a very conscious decision, at the age of 26, to use law to strive to work for the benefit of others. At that time I had been working in refugee advocacy, and was in the fortunate position to be able to dedicate my energies to the study of a discipline that could be of assistance, on a very practical level, to those most in need.

After finishing my studies, whilst I saw others go down the traditional pathway in the law to the big firms, I never had any interest in such work. Instead I actively sort work in “poverty law” – entering the Community Legal Centre world by undertaking my articles year at Fitzroy legal Service before moving across to Victorian Aboriginal Legal Services and working in indigenous advocacy.

This was a time in my life defined by a very clear delineation in my mind between those worthy of fighting for, and the dominant power structures that needed fighting against. This dichotomy between good and evil was at the forefront of my world, and was also the backdrop of my values-based approach to lawyering that in some ways has stayed with me throughout.

During this time I sort to define myself by the type of work I did and the clients I worked for. I called myself an “activist lawyer” to distinguish myself from the self-serving and money-motivated lawyers that dominated popular culture. I identified myself with my peers working in the community sector and Legal Aid – underpaid, overworked, but righteous and proud, working for good.

You would think that working with the motivation to be of benefit to others would sustain a healthy and long career in the law. Unfortunately in my experience this is not the case, as I have witnessed many of my colleagues who have either dropped out, are miserable in their work or live with a high degree of conflict or dysfunction.

Why is it that so many of us, motivated to assist others, as not travelling so well? I know from my own case I nearly did not make it. Although perhaps outwardly my actions could have seemed compassionate and caring to others, inwardly I was terribly conflicted by righteous indignation, anger, burnout and an inflated sense of self. I would invest so much of myself in positive outcomes for clients and would suffer terribly with each tragedy or injustice that presented before me. The suffering seemed so cruel and unjustified, caused by fear and greed. I became angry with the world and those who did not share my view of it, and despairing of my inability to change it.

A decade on, and although I continue working for the same client groups dealing with much the same issues, coming up against the same power structures, somehow I have come to find peace in myself and in my work. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly have my off days, but generally I am able to find equanimity and joy in what I do. And I seem to be doing good work.

So what has changed? Over the years, with a developing wisdom, I have changed emphasis in the way that I work. Now I practice law consciously in a therapeutic way. Although I still have a certain legal outcome that I am working towards, there is an awareness of focus on the moment-to-moment process of working with clients and others within the judicial system. This involves an emphasis on mindful communication and presence, and at the same time recognising and acknowledging my own suffering and reactivity as they arise.

The result for me has been that I now work with greater balance. My prejudices have softened, relationships improved and I have much greater understanding of a positive way to facilitate change. I do not avoid conflict, and am much better able to judge when to stand strong or when to be conciliatory. Emotional awareness means that I recognise when I am heightened, angry, anxious or upset, and my emotional state does not have the same heaviness to direct my experience.

Generally therapeutic jurisprudence has looked at changing legal systems to facilitate therapeutic outcomes, as opposed to the looking at the way to work as a therapeutic lawyer within the system. My experience, however, has been that unless legal practitioners practice consciously in a therapeutic way, the prospect of therapeutic outcomes is greatly lessened.

Practicing law with motivation to work for others and instigate change without wisdom is like trying to fly with one wing. We must develop and practice insight and wisdom in the way we work, as otherwise we are bound to crash and burn.

This is moment to moment, and with practice, inevitably impacts in a positive way not only the outcomes of legal problems, but is also the source of great healing, both for others and oneself.

What Kind of Professional Do You Want to Be?

Professional Meditating

by Bernadette Healy

Being a professional new to their career – exciting and nerve-wracking!

Congratulations on being a practitioner in your new career (or if you are a law student on getting as far as you have to date!).   You have probably been so busy getting to this point that you may not have given thought to the question: how do I want to be in this career? 

That is, what kind of lawyer do you want to be, not just in terms of executing your professional obligations as a lawyer but what sort of professional do you want to be?

It may be helpful to think of your new career as a marathon you are about to start rather than a sprint.  For some of you sprinting will be a particular strength and this is definitely the kind of skill required for some of your work.

However treating this career in general as a sprint or a series of sprints may inadvertently lead you to experience burnout.

Although it is common, particularly when a new professional, to view your new career in terms of discrete projects, from a long-term well-being perspective, it will help to keep stepping back and asking yourself about how you are going in terms of an ongoing professional journey.

This means regularly setting aside time to yourself, relaxing and reflecting – asking yourself questions about how you are compared with how you want to be. This will help to avoid your putting too much emphasis on any one outcome – a protective practice in terms of stress and helpful if you tend towards frequent feelings of anxiety and / or tending towards being overly responsible.

Anxiety and responsibility are two of the most common issues that young lawyers face as they are finding their way in their new profession.

Anxiety is a non-specific kind of feeling which is associated with symptoms such as excessive worrying, negative thoughts often including concerns about failure and approval of others and feelings of agitation.

Troubling feelings related to responsibility generally oscillate between taking on too much responsibility and taking on too little with associated feelings of shame and self-criticism

Are these feelings relevant to you or perhaps to a colleague?

It may be a little challenging to be asked to reflect on your feelings when you are most likely highly rational people about to begin your career within a profession where rationality is so greatly prized.  However, feelings are a great source of information – about how we are going relative to our deeply held sense of ourselves – ignore them at your own peril down the track!

You need to be careful not to prematurely judge your own performance as a lawyer (in worse case, deciding to leave when the issue is just the natural one of being new to a professional role).

Perhaps for a very small number it may not turn out to be your career – if so remember that it is not possible to find that out without putting yourself in a position to try; hopefully if this turns out to be the case, you can avoid self-recrimination and any urge to inaccurately conclude that you are a failure when actually you have merely done a necessary bit of career self-correction.

Judging everything in terms of achievement, winning and needing to avoid making mistakes is very common within the legal profession.  The use of judgement and judging while a necessary skill can also be very limiting if it means you are not as engaged in your life as you could be due to a fear of failure.  That is, people who focus only on success tend to avoid putting themselves in the position of being a beginner.  This leads to their ending up with a much reduced repertoire of skills and abilities and experiences than those who are less concerned with trying out something for fear of looking like an idiot or not getting it right the first time.  Ongoing self-criticism and judgement is predictive of both stress and even, poor performance, particularly in terms of a rigidity in problem-solving.

 Staying true to yourself

Try and keep a gentle and warm interest in yourself and who you are; your values and priorities and feelings and how to remain true to that while in your professional role.

Put some rituals in place to ensure that you make a point of separating out work from non-work, for example:

  • Listing questions arising from current work day and leaving them at work ready to be re-visited at the beginning of the next work day.
  • Cycling home.
  • Getting off the tram or train one stop early and walking.
  • Sitting in a park for 5 mins before going home.
  • Doing a 3 min breathing practice on the train home.
  • Asking your partner and family to leave you alone for the first 10-15 mins after you get home.

Do some regular self-reflection.  You could start with the identification of your personal triggers – this could be people, situations or events which cause you to react in a manner which is out of proportion with the situation.

For example you may find yourself being very annoyed with the approach of a colleague and find yourself ruminating on them, their approach, your reaction, the situations you have shared etc.  What may actually be happening is that your colleague has triggered a potential threat to a core belief such as that you must be liked and approved of; that you must be in control; or that you must be included.  If you are not aware of these potential triggers, you are likely to automatically and unthinkingly respond to the situation in an inappropriate and reactionary manner and to attribute to the other that which is really to do with you.

Learning to identify and control personal triggers is vital to ensuring that you know where you and your ‘stuff’ ends and that of others around you begins.  It doesn’t change the situations you face but it will give you a sense of security that you will be ok.

Self-reflective practice can guard against the kind of existential desert that is commonly experienced  by those who have been so busy doing, fixing, controlling and generally just getting on with things that they have omitted to build in regular time for being, reflecting and asking themselves some non-task-focused questions.

Focusing in on your inner life can help to modify the down side of your skill set.  That is, just as it is necessary to know your strengths and build on them and maximize their use, it is also necessary to understand the likely down sides of these strengths.  E.g. the strong individualistic drive and focus that can motivate someone to become a skilled practitioner may also be associated with low tolerance for others’ weaknesses and perhaps even make them a poor team player.  A person with great organizational ability and project management ability may also be associated with an inability to see the role of lateral thinking in problem-solving or perhaps even a reluctance to give time to the use of non-standard problem-solving methods.

So think about the kind of professional you want to be, make a bit of effort to allow yourself space for your own feelings and ideas to bubble up, watch out for your personal triggers and the other side of your strengths and most importantly, do all this with a sense of fun, curiosity and kindness.



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”. Continue reading

To Die Laughing

by Arna Delle-Vergini

laugh cry

We have all done this. At some time or other, all of us have committed this error of judgement. And so, whilst I write of this one anecdote, I am reminded that I could choose many more, and, worse, could even have chosen some of my own from my early career. I write about this example only because it is the most recent. This could have happened at any time and to any one of us.

I was at court a few months ago when I overheard two lawyers in conversation. They were sharing examples of recent and dreadful cases that they had been working on. One lawyer would share a case and that would be followed by an exclamation from the other lawyer, something along the lines of “that’s nothing!” – and then that lawyer would share an even more impressively depressing case. I like to call this game: “That’s Nothing…!”.

On the face of it, this is a game that could be seen as just a competitive game between lawyers. But it has some sinister overtones, as you shall soon see. It is a game which, when played to its end, gets more and more disturbing; prompting each lawyer to search for the most extreme example they can recall. On this occasion, I kept silent until the last player dealt her finest hand – describing how the father in a recent case had beaten his child so badly that the boy had almost passed out. As is often the case in this game, the anecdote was then followed with peels of laughter from both lawyers.

I was having one of those days where I like to share some of my thoughts. I said: “you know there is nothing actually funny about that anecdote”. Firstly, I was annoyed that this game was being played out in my hearing. Secondly, there really was nothing funny about the anecdote and I was irritated by their laughter. Mostly it was the latter: they were laughing about a man who had beaten a child and I was in the mood to be quite cross about it.

To their credit, the lawyers did not get defensive. In fact, one of them tried to placate me: “no, no, no….”, she said, “you don’t understand. If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry!”.

I understand. Oh, I understand completely!

At that point I was called in to court so I never did get a chance to continue pontificating. But had I had the chance, I would have liked to at least say this:

I know that it’s hard. I know that you care a lot. You wouldn’t be here if didn’t care about people;  if you didn’t believe in what you were doing. And I know that, at first, it seems like the smartest thing in the world to avoid the tears that ought to come with each fresh story you hear. What better way to do this than to bury them with mirth and laughter? Mostly likely, you make this choice unthinkingly. It’s reactive. Just something you do because to feel hurt, defeated and dejected by the work that you do seems too much to bear.

And yet, I have two words for you: Temporary. Measure. As Hagga from Thurber’sThirteen clocks’ once wisely put it: “…there’s a thing that you must know, concerning the jewels of laughter. They always turn again to tears a fortnight after.”

Meaning – in this context…laughing at the tragic is a quick fix. And it is a time limited quick fix. It’s not sustainable. Because eventually, what happens is that you start to calcify within. Eventually, it’s almost impossible to feel horror at the stories you hear anymore. Eventually even the laughter disappears and there’s just a grey space where the colourful brushstrokes of your life used to be. In short, you wither and die on the inside.

Call me crazy but it seems far too great a price for any lawyer to have to pay. So what can be done about it? We can’t all drag ourselves about the court in tears.

It goes without saying, tears are neither an appropriate nor proportionate response for a lawyer in the face of almost all cases. It would take a very rare, particularly heart-wrenching case to bring most lawyers to tears and, even then, they are most likely to drink that particular cup of sorrow at home and alone.

But neither is laughter an appropriate response. The trick is to respond with emotional intelligence. The appropriate response to our clients and to the legal cases that we play a small part in is not sadness and it’s not mirth. The appropriate response has to be – give the matter the dignity it deserves. Treat it with respect.

Our entire court system is designed to engender a sense of gravitas in the people who operate within it. Whether this be lawyers, clerks, accused people, applicants, respondents, prosecutors, witnesses, jurors, magistrates, judges etc and so forth. Respect is what is asked from us as practitioners. Respect for the stories we handle. Respect for the people we touch and who touch us. Respect for the system that is set up – sometimes ineptly, but with good intentions – to handle these stories and to reach some kind of resolution/outcome/closure. Respect for each other. Respect for the process we engage in on a daily basis for the good of others because that is what we do as lawyers: that is our job.

I have a reputation for trying to keep things simple and, perhaps, this is another example of my desire for simplicity in a complex world but I do recommend you try it: next time you find yourself quick-fixing, replace giddy, dizzy mirth with complete presence and gravity and you will come out of it – perhaps not unscathed – but certainly a lot more grounded.

Competency and enjoyment – both necessary ingredients for job satisfaction

by Bernadette Healy

competent and happy

Are you happily engaged in your work and feeling competent? Do you feel like this for a good proportion of the time? If you find yourself struggling to recall the last time you had a week when you mostly felt like that, it may be time for a re-think about your role or even your job! (The exception to this is of course where you are new to the role / job – in such cases it is perfectly natural to feel quite incompetent most of the time!)

Are the areas that you dislike related to a short-term project? Is completion of the disliked tasks clearly related to a specific and highly sought personal goal? If either of these 2 situations apply to you, you are probably able to tolerate the mis-match, but it is preferable in terms of job satisfaction and stress management, that such a situation is only for a defined period of time and accompanied by regular tracking with regard to your stress levels and your goals.

In order to feel a reasonable amount of job satisfaction we need to spend a large proportion of our time at work engaged in tasks that we both enjoy and in which we feel competent. Think about your skills. Are most of them able to be used in your current role? If not, are you happy for that to be the case? Do you have non-work outlets for use of these currently under-utilized skills? If not, can you create an opportunity to do so? There is an in-built stress management component to a life characterized by the ready expression of most of a persons’ attributes, interest areas and competencies. Of course this can occur primarily in a work domain or primarily within one’s personal life, but the risk of experiencing significant stress in either one of these domains is reduced where there is a sense of satisfaction from expression of our personality via our interests and competencies across both the work and personal domains.

How would you rate your level of competence in your work-based skills? How would you rate your level of enjoyment utilizing these skills at work?

Medium to high competency plus medium to high enjoyment of exercising those competencies is the best fit in terms of job satisfaction. Spending most of your time at work in this zone is optimum.

Medium to high competency combined with low levels of enjoyment may be ok for a while or for short, time-bound bursts but when sustained over long periods of time will tend to lead to burnout.

High competence and low enjoyment may also suggest the need for a shift in focus within a current role or
even that it is time for a different role or job.

High competence and low enjoyment may also be due to other factors such as a significant stressor in one’s personal life. In any case if you are very good at what you are doing but have lost enthusiasm and enjoyment doing it, you probably need to spend some time considering possible causes to this situation. And it is worth remembering that just because you are good at something doesn’t mean that you must continue to apply that skill. It may be that you developed a reputation for being good at something, received attention when doing it, and then came to be known as the one who was good at …. but actually, deep down, it may no longer (or ever!) be of interest to you.

Medium to high levels of enjoyment combined with low to medium competence levels suggest the need for further training and development.

It is extremely stressful to be working in a role while feeling that you have insufficient competency but if you are in the first few years of your working life, (or at the beginning of a career change), a reality check is needed to ensure that you do not mis-label yourself or worse, make a decision prematurely based on this feeling of incompetence before you have had a reasonable period of time to learn and develop. Find yourself someone – who you trust –who is at least 3 to 5 years ahead of you in terms of work experience and ask them about their experience of the feeling of competency at the beginning of the job and over the first 12 to 18 months and beyond.

If you are working in a role in which you continue to have low competency combined with low enjoyment, you are quite possibly in the wrong role – and perhaps even the wrong job. You need to think carefully and make a plan about how you are going to get yourself out of what is likely to be a toxic and stress-inducing situation.

A little musing on relationships

by Bernadette Healy


Learn to be open and honest with each other

In order for relationships to improve, dialogue and change has to be possible – some people are capable of this and others are not.

It is necessary to engage regularly in an open and truthful conversation with each other about the important and personal issues that underlie relationships, particularly values, needs and priorities. This means specifically asking each other:

  • What really matters to you?
  • Are there any hurts being carried from old wounds in the relationship?
  • What are your needs in our relationship?

Think about what patterns you have formed.

Talk about the patterns. Consider how your family of origin may be shaping the way that you are relating to your partner and share this with each other.  For example, if you grew up not feeling heard or understood, you will likely doubt that a different kind of communication is possible and may be unable to trust that you can be open without being hurt or attacked. If you haven’t processed this early experience sufficiently, you may find that you are attracted to someone who leaves you feeling similarly.

Where the primary need is not about the relationship, the possibility of change is unlikely

Where one person is primarily committed to satisfying a need that is external to the relationship to the extent that they are routinely unavailable to participate and contribute in a fully present way with their partner, any meaningful shift in the relationship dynamic is impossible.

Be on the lookout for trends in you and your partner leading parallel existences.

If you are feeling left out of the household, ask what decisions are being made and what you have missed.

Where partners are uninterested in what really matters to one another

Another scenario is that the partner of someone who is passionately interested in their professional domain is unwilling to make themselves available to show interest in this aspect of their partner’s life – perhaps due to unexpressed resentment about the consequences of this passion on them and the relationship.  This needs to be talked about before the resentment builds otherwise one partner is likely to feel lonely as their passion is not understood and the other perhaps self-righteous – a risk-filled combination.

All relationships need to move past romantic beginnings

Consider where your relationship is in terms of development. For example it is very common for one or other partner to continue to expect the excitement and passion of the early stages of a romantic relationship to extend indefinitely. Many relationships suffer serious fault lines around the failure to move beyond the romantic beginning. Practice talking openly about sexual needs and wants including waning interest, disparity in sexual appetite and contextualize the discussion within the frame of the relationship as a whole, rather than separating out sexual needs as if they are a separate item.

Make some time to meet with your partner to open up a new conversation.  

Establish some ground rules and etiquette for example:

  • timing of the conversation,
  • action if interruption occurs,
  • taking turns,
  • not raising voice,
  • resisting urge to use blaming language such as accusatory statements or summations or caustic beginnings[1]

Caustic beginnings are fights between partners which leave no room for collaboration or constructive problem solving.  Use of opening phrases with you always… and you’re such an … or opening questions such as: what is up with you? or what is it with you? – are not about trying to resolve issues but more likely to incite reaction and to inflict hurt.

Rather than the voicing of a complaint or resolution of a problem, such beginnings quickly lead to escalation and to meanness and character assassination.

If you are on the receipt of caustic comments the following framework can help get the conversation back to a more constructive place:

When you said x, I felt y and what I would prefer is a and the benefits would be b.

That is, when you said … just then (for example, you always…), I felt…(for example disappointed, angry, hurt…) and what I would prefer is … (for example, for you to speak about a specific situation and to tell me what the problem was as you saw it, how you felt and what behaviour you would prefer from me in future) and the benefit would be (for example, that I don’t shut down or become defensive or bite back or leave etc and then we will be more likely to engage in a conversation).

If you find yourselves stuck in an exchange of ‘you don’t understand what I mean’, try taking it in turns to make statements to each other followed by a series of clarifying questions from the partner until they receive three ‘yesses’ in a row[2] to signify that your statement was understood exactly as you intended.  Make sure you both have a turn.

Talk about the responsibility of nurturing the relationship.  Are you able to stand back and consider the relationship as something separate from each of you, as an entity deserving of respect and one for which you are both responsible?  Is the relationship an equal priority for both of you?

Remind each other of what drew you to each other.  Remember together the loving beginnings.  Talk about what mattered then and continue the discussion to the present situation.

[1] Reivich, K. & Dr A. Shatte (2002). The resilience factor: 7 keys to finding your inner strength and overcoming life’s hurdles. New York: 3 Rivers Press.
[2] Adapted from Satir, V., J. Stachowiak & H.A. Taschman (1994). Helping families to change. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Pub. Inc.

I broke up with someone in January.

LoL 3

I broke up with someone in January. He was going to propose but I found out he was cheating. I lost my home, he even sold my puppy when I was not at home. I lost everything. He was financially supporting me at the time. I thought I would have to quit my degree and go back to working full-time. Then I thought, I want to keep this for myself. All the blood sweat and tears, I can’t throw it away. It reinforced the idea that I have to be financially independent. I never want to be in that position. I want to have my career.

Legends of Law School is a monthly column by Claudia McGarva

The Right Bloody Thing to Do

By Dean R P Edwards

Monash Dean of Law Bryan Horrigan (left) joined panellists (left to right) Federal Court Justice Shane Marshall, King & Wood Mallesons partner John Canning and Monash University Pro Vice-Chancellor David Copolov OAM (Credit: NLL)

Monash Dean of Law Bryan Horrigan (left) joined panelists (left to right) Federal Court Justice Shane Marshall, King & Wood Mallesons partner John Canning and Monash University Pro Vice-Chancellor David Copolov OAM (Credit: NLL)

On the 12th May 2015, lawyers and educators met to celebrate the launch of the Monash Mental Health Front and Centre Wellbeing in the Law Initiative.

Panellists offered some “antidotes to the pressures” that lawyers and law students face alike at Monash Law School’s launch.

The panel brought together some of the law’s top professionals – the Honourable Justice Shane Marshall of the Federal Court and King & Wood Mallesons partner John Canning – into conversation with Professor David Copolov OAM, Monash’s Pro Vice-Chancellor and a practicing psychiatrist, and Professor Bryan Horrigan, Dean of Monash Law School and the panel’s host for the hour-long panel discussion.

Before the panel discussion got underway, Horrigan and Monash Law’s Student Experience Manager Lloyd England opened the evening with a launch of a YouTube video series (watch here) produced by the university to raise mental health awareness and mindfulness in the law.

Dean R P Edwards and Marie Jepson

Dean R P Edwards and Marie Jepson


Monash Law School then recognised the efforts of the evening’s Guest of Honour, Marie Jepson, founder of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, which advocates for greater mental health awareness and support in the legal profession.

The Tristan Jepson Foundation recently introduced the “TJMF Psychological Wellbeing: Best Practices Guidelines” which the Foundation encourages law firms and other organisations to adopt and put into action.

Monash Law School formally announced its adoption of the Guidelines on Thursday night, joining more than 100 organisations to sign onto the Guidelines to date. Jepson praised Monash Law School’s effort as “modelling leadership for others in the law”, adding that “there is no end point to this campaign” to push mental health into the limelight in the legal profession.

With stress a well-known factor in the profession, a 2007 Beyond Blue survey found that 15 per cent of law students and lawyers suffer from “moderate to severe depression”. Other surveys report that around 20 per cent of barristers and 33 per cent of solicitors are depressed at some point in their career.

Lloyd England, who introduced the panel, said that the statistics show that “mental health problems don’t end with the law degree”.

Justice Marshall and Canning spoke to their personal, lengthy battles with mental health issues and how they learned to cope over time – and more importantly, how as they overcame difficulties, they could share their experiences in the hope of helping others suffering silently. “De-stigmatisation starts with the law students and lawyers of tomorrow”, Canning said, noting as well that, in his experience at Mallesons, “young people tend to talk more about mental health”.

Dean R P Edwards, Justice Marshall, Arna Delle-Vergini

Left to Right: Dean R P Edwards, Justice Marshall, Arna Delle-Vergini

Panellists also shared their thoughts on strategies within the profession to change attitudes and support individuals with mental health issues.

“It comes down to humanising the legal practice,” Copolov said. “The healthiest lawyers are those who report an intrinsic sense of moral satisfaction” and are collegial rather than overly adversarial. “It’s important to have a breadth of activities beyond the law and to seek support”, Copolov added.

When Canning had pushed for action on mental health within his workplace, he said colleagues were receptive and set up a subcommittee to discuss ways forward. In the words of one of those colleagues, Canning paraphrased, “it’s just the bloody right thing to do.”