Mental health and the legal profession

By Dr Michelle Sharpe


A stigma is a mark or sign of disgrace. To stigmatise someone is to characterise them as disgraceful. People suffering from mental ill health are commonly stigmatised in the general community. This stigmatisation may adversely impact upon a person’s self-esteem and their ability to access support to assist in their recovery.

The stigmatisation of people suffering from mental ill health within a profession, such as the legal profession, holds particular dangers to individual professionals. These dangers can ripple out to the profession at large and the consumers of these professional services.

The most immediate and obvious danger in the stigmatisation of legal practitioners who suffer from mental ill health is that it promotes negative and ignorant views of mental illness. These views seem to suggest a failure or weakness in sufferers. Many dangers flow from this, including the adverse impact that the disclosure of ill health may have on the careers of legal practitioners. For example, employers and colleagues may doubt the ill practitioner’s competency or suitability for legal practice. The practitioner may accordingly experience social isolation in the workplace and a reduction of opportunities for career advancement. As a consequence, some practitioners who are treated in this way may sadly conclude that their employers and colleagues are indeed right: they are not fit for practice.

The loss of a legal career (which may have been hard-fought and long-cherished) has adverse impacts beyond the individual. Not only does the practitioner experience immediate personal losses, such as self-esteem and income; the community at large will have lost the services of the legal practitioner. In regional areas these services may be sorely missed. The cost to the public in training legal practitioners for practice (even in fee paying courses) will have been wasted. And the profession may well have lost a legal practitioner that could have made a contribution to the legal sector, whether in mentoring others, or in improving access to or administration of justice.

Unsurprisingly, the stigmatisation of practitioners who suffer from mental ill health often discourages other practitioners from disclosing their own illness to employers and colleagues. A practitioner’s reluctance to disclose mental ill health may not only increase feelings of isolation that might aggravate the illness; it may also create a barrier to accessing much needed help and support.

Stigmatisation may also have a chilling effect on employers and colleagues providing this help. Help is unlikely to be readily available to mentally ill practitioners if mental ill health is viewed as a personal failing or as a personal trait that is inherently unsuitable for legal practice. A legal practitioner’s inability to receive help may cause harm beyond hindering the individual practitioner’s recovery. If the practitioner’s illness results in an absence from work, or in leaving the profession altogether, the community and profession will have lost the services of that practitioner.

Conversely, if the legal practitioner remains in practice without the required support, the unmanaged mental ill health of the practitioner may undermine the timeliness and standard of his or her work. It may cause a practitioner to withdraw into him or herself and impede communications with colleagues and clients. As a consequence, the end consumer of legal services – the practitioner’s client– may be adversely affected.

But this harm is not confined to individual clients. If a client incurs loss or damage as a result of a legal practitioner’s failure to maintain a high professional standard, the profession’s insurer may be required to pay compensation to that client. The size and volume of insurance claims have an impact on the cost of insurance to the profession at large. Further, there is the intangible cost to the reputation and standing of the profession in the community.

The ripple effect of stigmatising legal practitioners suffering from mental ill health can be seen to extend further still when it is remembered that tribunal members, magistrates and judges are drawn from the legal profession. And they take with them any mental health issues they may have had in practice, together with their attitudes and prejudices toward mental health issues. If the wellbeing of these decision-makers is similarly poorly supported in their workplaces, it is likely that the performance of these decision-makers will be adversely affected; in their timeliness and quality of judgments and in their dealings with the legal practitioners who appear before them and their clients.

Challenging the stigma attached to mental ill health is not just an act of compassion for those who suffer from mental ill health, but is ultimately an act of self-interest.

On an even broader level, the stigmatisation of legal professionals who suffer from mental ill health poses the less obvious and more insidious danger of undermining respect and compassion for others both inside and outside the profession.

Respect and compassion are integral to a legal practitioner’s ability to communicate effectively with their clients, their colleagues and decision-makers. They enable a legal practitioner to more readily identify a client’s needs and to communicate the range of options open to the client. They enable the practitioner to be more persuasive with colleagues and decision-makers.

Consumers of legal services who are treated with respect and compassion by legal practitioners and decision-makers are more likely to consider that they have received a fair hearing, whatever the ultimate result. With respect and compassion for others, a practitioner is less likely to descend into inappropriate workplace behaviour. Such may, in turn, have its own adverse consequences on the mental health of others.

It follows that the dangers of stigmatising legal practitioners are not limited to the practitioners themselves. They ripple out across the profession and the community at large. Challenging the stigma attached to mental ill health is not just an act of compassion for those who suffer from mental ill health, but is ultimately an act of self-interest. We are all connected. How we treat others contributes to a workplace culture and a community culture that influences how we are in turn treated.

Dr Michelle Sharpe is a barrister practicing primarily in the areas of general commercial and regulatory law. She chairs the Health and Wellbeing Committee at the Victorian Bar.

This article was first published on 29 June 2015, on Right Now and is republished on newlawyerlanguage with the consent of Dr. Sharpe.

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.

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.”




Dear lawyer Bob, please be kind and gentle to yourself and remember …

by Bernadette Healy


Have you ever tried writing a letter to yourself?  It can be an amazingly comforting experience. About ten years ago, I had a particularly memorable experience of composing and then later reading such a letter.

I had just returned from a very, very relaxing holiday.  Back at work on the first day I remember being so relaxed that I floated through most of the day.  At some point however, I was in the company of someone who needed me to go with them (metaphorically that is) to a very painful emotional place.  This of course is very common in the working life of a psychologist (and many others, including lawyers).  On this particular day, however, I was not there with them as they needed me to be.  They left and I sat and reflected and owned the fact that I had failed to do my job properly.  I recognized that I had been in a sort of relaxed fog that I didn’t really want to get out of and that nothing much could get through it unless a more conscious effort was made by me to make that happen.   I can still remember the mixture of feelings I had as I sat and analysed that particular work incident.  I thought what can I do about it (in addition to reparation with the individual) to try and ensure that it doesn’t happen next year?  I decided to write a letter to myself to be read the following year on my return from holidays.

I wrote myself a letter about how it felt to be back at work and what I might like to be on the lookout for, in terms of avoiding repeating the same mistake.  I made suggestions to myself and also reminded myself to be kind rather than punitive in my approach.  It was a very easy letter to write and I found myself being very reasonable to myself, accepting responsibility, applying critical thinking and suggesting strategies to myself.  I then signed off in a very warm and loving manner.  As soon as I had a diary for the following year, I attached the letter to the relevant week.   When I came back from holidays the following year, I read my letter to myself and ensured that I took my own advice!  Most importantly though, I experienced a quiet and private feeling of comfort that I had  not reacted to the mistake in either an overly indulgent or overly critical manner and that I had been able to trust in my own judgement about an effective response for the future.

Journaling (writing to yourself, specifically for yourself), can be a very powerful process.  If you will be patient and practice writing in one of the various journaling styles – of which the letter to oneself is an example – you will experience yourself coming up with all sorts of ideas, pieces of wisdom and an ability to identify potentially problematic patterns (amongst much more).  There are all sorts of variations of journaling, for example:

Style of Writing: Conversation / script

Helps With: Preparing for negotiation or performance meeting including


“Hi Bob where is that xxx I asked you to prepare?”

“It’s a fascinating project and I have identified at least 3 possible tracks so far and would welcome your input about which one should receive most attention going forward”

“Its still a work in progress – how do you want me to proceed moving forward? “

“So its not finished?”

“That’s correct.  I assumed you wanted me to approach it comprehensively. But if you would prefer I give comprehensiveness a lower priority that the timeline I can adapt my approach from now on.”

“That’s right, I am having trouble setting task priorities  “

“Just get it done!”

“Of course but is it possible moving forward to provide an indication of the tasks within a framework, that is, level of detail required / priority of task relative to others / timeframe?”

Style of Writing: Stream of consciousness

Helps With:

  1. Accessing your own ideas and wisdom
  2. Finding out where you are stuck
  3. Clearing out difficult emotional material for which there is no real solution but which might be taking up lots of space


Just write whatever comes into your head without any censoring of any kind, preferably first thing in the morning before doing anything else and keep going for 2 or 3 pages – push through resistance to the process! Keep private.  Don’t re-read until you have allowed yourself at least a week of writing.

Style of Writing: Letter to self

Helps With:

  1. Remind yourself of strengths
  2. Acknowledge effort
  3. Highlight need for improvement


  1. Dear self, just want to write to remind you that today you did really well coping with that thing that you have had a lot of trouble with…. And the strategy you used was …
  2. Dear self, please remember that you are particularly vulnerable to ….. and even more so when x Is around
  3. Dear self, please remember that today you really stuffed up / hurt someone’s feelings when you behaved …. Said …  Next time it would be better to …

Style of Writing: Letter to other (not to be sent)

Helps With:

  1. Helping yourself to let go of difficult emotions
  2. Honouring feelings towards another not able to be expressed


  1. Something you would ideally like to say to someone but know that that is unrealistic
  2. Something you wish you had said to someone who has died

Style of Writing: Detailed writing about known future anxiety-provoking situation

Helps With: Exposes yourself to your worst anticipated fears which frees you up to handling the actual situation more effectively


Write in detail about the situation that you will be facing and everything you fear will happen including all your worst case scenarios[1].  Re-write daily for at least 4 or 5 days before the event.

Style of Writing: Worry log

Helps With: Manages worrying; helps you to sort out whether your worrying is useful or otherwise; illustrates your vulnerabilities; and over time, and with continued use, helps to break the habit of constant worrying.


A few words jotted on note pad every time you become aware of worrying thought.  (Could be a thought to do with a current problem or it could be a ‘what if’ kind of thought.  Could be a problem solving thought or could be pointless rumination).  Put aside a time at end of day (same time each day) to consult worry log.



[1] Of course if you become extremely uncomfortable, discontinue and seek professional advice.

Mind over Matters

by Dean R P Edwards

dean blog 1

In the otherwise forgettable Wachowskis film Jupiter Ascending, one of the characters quipped in a perceptive moment, “Time is the single most precious commodity in the Universe”.

It was a fleeting moment of philosophical insight that the film failed to draw out, but I’d like to consider the
proposition in respect of the legal profession.

Time never seems to be in adequate supply for lawyers. We are constantly pressing up against deadlines and staying ahead of the increscent avalanche of emails and telephone calls.

Yet there is a qualitative difference between time being a rare commodity and its being a precious commodity.

In the age of instantaneous electronic communication, it’s fashionable to be “tech savvy”, checking emails as they arrive, pouncing on a new task or client’s question as soon as the phone rings or beeps or, according to modern tastes, barks like a rabid dog.

Instead of complaining that we haven’t enough time to attend to a task or perform it well, we should ask whether we have made the right priorities.

The Internet is replete with advice as to the downsides of multitasking and the one-stop shop that is the smartphone. The Age addressed the latter – replacing our smartphones with “dumb” phones – over the weekend.

Lawyers should take heed: stress is not just the consequence of a highly intellectual job. It results as much from making time scarce by biting off more than one can chew.

Our priority then ought to be quality. Quality takes time. We wouldn’t expect judges to provide poorly reasoned decisions churned out hastily. Likewise, we shouldn’t expect any less from ourselves and our colleagues in attending to tasks with a focus as to quality, not quantity.

If that’s not enough to cause the modern lawyer concern, don’t forget that your digital multi-tasking can literally overload your brain.

Some simple advice: put down the phone, pick up a pen and paper, and spend some time reasoning rather than reacting. If we grant that time is the most precious commodity in the Universe, then surely reason is stiff competition for the top billing.

Get that mess out of your head!

by Bernadette Healy


In replying to a question I recently asked regarding workload issues, a wise old judge replied that ordered thinking and a sole focus on one thing at a time were the key ingredients. Although this may be well known to many if not most of you, it is nevertheless common to find that those suffering stress overload have lost sight of this pathway.  This is what happens when numerous worst-case scenarios are being generated as one runs backwards and forwards scanning the task stacks for possible future threat but never staying long amongst the stacks to actually work on them.  The longer one feels overwhelmed, the more difficult it becomes to settle down and focus on one thing.

The following is offered as a practical reminder of how to get back to the point where you can again focus on that one thing and make some headway:

  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Get the mess out of your head
  3. Create Themes
  4. Own your own authority
  5. Interrogate your themes
  6. Accept your choice
  7. Focus on the chosen theme
  8. Be realistic and specific about gaps in your knowledge
  9. Take a break
  10. Start with number 1
  11. Park thoughts about other items or themes
  12. Keep Going
  13. Take charge of any avoidance patterns
  14. Re-visit your Theme numbering
  15. Keep going
  16. Acknowledge


  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Get the mess out of your head

When feeling stressed and overwhelmed it is common to also feel as if you cannot think as clearly as usual.  Anxiety often decreases the ability to order ones thinking even when one is at other times, quite systematic and logical. That is part of why anxiety can be so corrosive to your feelings of self-worth. Gaining a new perspective on your issues may feel impossible but practising a process which includes some sort of externalising will help to alleviate this feeling, creating a kind of ‘re-set’ towards the task challenges you currently face.

One way to start the re-set process, is to dump everything you have on your mind, down on paper.  Keep to a word or phrase for each concern or question and write it on individual pieces of paper.  Don’t worry about putting the thoughts in any particular order at this stage, allowing yourself instead, to accept the order in which they occur to you

  1. Create Themes

When you feel finished, put the pieces of paper out – perhaps on the floor or a large clear surface.  Stand back and consider what you have dumped.  Look for themes.  Write a name for each of the identified themes and do so on separate pieces of paper – perhaps using different coloured paper or markers and then put these on the floor also and move any related pieces of paper under those theme headings.   (It may work better for you to use a computer or a whiteboard. However the physical aspect of moving around and placing the paper and relating to the material in a concrete way, is beneficial in and of itself, particularly as an anxiety-reducing strategy)

  1. Own your own authority

At this point, particularly if your feelings of being overwhelmed have increased, stop and make a note of the personal attributes, qualifications and experience you bring to your current work situation.  This is to remind yourself of your authority, that is, that you have enough of what is required to handle the situation including the ability to know when a question or consultation will need to be sourced.  Remind yourself that you are enough to handle your current challenges.

  1. Interrogate your themes

Stand back again and look at the themes and the points under the themes.  Ask yourself which theme is the one with the most urgency right now?

  1. Accept your choice

Once you have made that choice, put the other themes and their related points plus any points that as yet do not belong to a particular theme, out of sight – and in a form that keeps them in the order that you have created to date.

  1. Focus on the chosen theme

Focusing only on your chosen theme, look at each piece of paper under the theme and ask yourself what is involved in this item?  List each related requirement or task.

Ask yourself which of the subheadings under your chosen theme needs to be tackled first? Second? Third? etc and number the subheadings accordingly

  1. Be realistic and specific about gaps in your knowledge

If a gap in necessary knowledge occurs to you – note it down using as specific a description as possible.

(Phrases such as: I am hopeless; I am always stuffing up; or I will never understand this– may get in the way for some at this point – they are examples of non-specific – and possibly automatic negative thoughts (NATS).  They are also examples of cognitive distortions – eg. Overgeneralizing – which can creep in to thinking in a way which may sabotage your efforts. Just let them come and go but don’t take any notice of them.)   Keep the notes about gaps in knowledge, short, non-personal and specific.  Put them to one side.

You now have the makings of a plan of attack.

  1. Take a break

Take a 5-10 minute break. Walk outside, stretch, listen to music, doodle – do something that requires a shift in attention and preferably uses a different part of the brain (going on the computer is not advisable but if you must, be mindful of its potential to increase your stress levels, for example, by being reminded of additional tasks, by becoming distracted by emails or by getting overly caught up in non-productive and time-consuming net-surfing!)

  1. Start with number 1
  • Look at your number 1 subheading (and the associated task points) and start working on these tasks and do so for 20mins (set a timer)
  • Break for 2 to 3 minutes and then do another 20 minute block [1]
  • Ensure that at least every 5 x 20 minute blocks that you give yourself a minimum 10 to 15 mins break.
  1. Park thoughts about other items or themes

If while working on one point, you become distracted by another item – quickly note down the item and your question or concern in a sentence or less and put this with the related theme.  Return to the point that you were working on before you became distracted.

  1. Keep Going

Stick to the area you have chosen until you have addressed each of the task points.  If you become aware of a missing piece of information or the need to consult someone ask yourself whether or not this is the optimum time to do so or could it be an avoidance strategy?

  1. Take charge of any avoidance patterns

Notice each time you feel the urge to move away from the task and how this manifests e.g. surfing the net / coffee /reading emails/ sending emails/ making a phone call / chatting etc.

Make a mental note to reflect on these urges at the end of the day, with a view to identifying (and then resisting) the patterns in your avoidance.

  1. Re-visit your Theme numbering

Once a Theme area is completed or as complete as possible, look at the remaining themes and see if the numbers you have allocated are still relevant – in light of what you have learnt while working on the theme chosen so far.  Make any adjustments necessary including re-organizing of points / allocation of points to new themes / noting down new questions and thoughts under appropriate headings.

  1. Keep going

Repeat the process for Theme no. 2 and beyond!

  1. Acknowledge

Ensure that during breaks – even the 2-3 minute – you stand up and move around and away from your desk.  Look out a window.  Remind yourself that you are doing the best that can be done by anyone, that is, you are giving your total concentration to one thing at a time and one which you have chosen to work on at that moment.  You are focusing.  You are approaching the task in a systematic manner.  You are quickly capturing relevant ideas and thoughts and putting them aside to be dealt with at the appropriate time.  You are learning to dismiss negativity.  You are beginning to notice any patterns regarding avoidance which is the first step towards change.  You are ok.


[1] The use of the timed 20 minute block is known as the Pomidoro Technique see

Law Revue

by Madelaine Holt
no regerts

No Regerts

Following sold-out shows and rave reviews in 2013 and 2014, BottledSnail is back in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with No Regerts: The 2015 Law Revue – featuring all new material and its trademark style of punchy and disarming sketch comedy.  This year’s show is creative, clever, and delivers non-stop belly laughs.

Although the cast and crew consists entirely of lawyers and law students, there are no law in-jokes to be found. Instead, the audience is treated to an underwater murder mystery, a housemate from hell, and a bunch of amateur ballerinas bustin’ a move. You will see how one small break in your career can have devastating consequences, and leave the night wondering if Jeep sponsored the show. The cast are an incredibly impressive group, including some familiar MICF faces (such as former Barry nominee, Rick Gunn) and some incredible new talent (Brett Taback channeling the Phantom of the Opera is one of the best things you’ll ever see. Ever.) Over the course of an hour, the versatile cast provide a slick succession of original, sharp-witted and thought provoking sketches.

We have BottledSnail to thank for putting together this incredible hour of sketch comedy for the third time. BottledSnail Productions is a volunteer-run, not for profit organisation that creates and supports high quality theatrical projects for Melbourne’s legal industry. You can see No Regerts at The Quilt Room, Trades Hall, on 26, 27 and 28 March and 2, 3 and 4 April 2015. Tickets are $20 to $25 and can be purchased from Ticketmaster or via

Prepare to laugh. This show is exceptional.

99 Schnitzels

Part sketch, part musical comedy, 99 Schnitzels (Veal Ain’t One) is a one-man show bursting with vibrant and unforgettable characters.  In the space of an hour, Joshua Glanc effortlessly transforms into a crossing guard, a gibberish speaking stand-up comic, and a South American pop star.  His characters range from absurd to vulnerable and unpredictable, yet they are all consistently endearing. The result is a show bursting with music, silliness and moments of true pathos.

In his first solo MICF show, Joshua Glanc gives you everything you want – strange, superb, surreal and side-splittingly funny comedy. Glanc’s outrageous ideas coupled with his energetic performance creates a gem of a show that is truly unique to him and is not to be missed by you.

You can buy tickets to 99 Schnitzels through The show runs from 25 March to 19 April and tickets are $15 to $20.

Hats off to you, Joshua Glanc. 99 Schnitzels is one hell of a show.

(Madelaine is a former cast member of the Law Revue who saw previews of No Regerts and 99 Schnitzels)


How a bottled snail changed my life

by Jessica Heyes


Yes, the bottled snail case is the negligence case we all learn about in first year law.  But I’m talking about something of much greater relevance to our daily lives as practising lawyers.

I’m talking about BottledSnail Productions, named from that famous case. BottledSnail is a company created by and for lawyers with an ingenious purpose: to support initiatives aimed at addressing the high levels of mental illness in the legal profession.

It does this in two ways. First, it provides creative opportunities for lawyers and promotes work-life balance in a profession that tends to struggle with that concept. Second, it supports the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, whose objective is to promote psychological health and safety in the legal community.

As a pianist and singer from a young age, I have always been involved in various musical projects.  But it’s safe to say that my involvement in these kinds of activities has decreased fairly steadily during the ten years I have been practising law, and especially now that I am a parent too.

So I was ecstatic to discover BottledSnail in early 2014, just in time to secure a place in the cast of the cabaret The Secret Life of a Lawyer – and then to join the cast of the musical Parade, which is on at the Malthouse Theatre from 23-28 February 2015.

When I tell people about my involvement with BottledSnail, they usually say: ‘How on earth do you have time to do that?’

And of course they are referring to the inherent tension between extra-curricular activities on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the expectation on many lawyers that they will be available to work 24/7 if need be – that it is rarely acceptable to say no to a partner or a client – and of course to the relentless challenges of caring for a small child.  And they are right – taking on something more than that seems like madness.

The fact is, the way I see it, I don’t have time NOT to do it.

There are lots of reasons why:

  • It’s so refreshing to do something that doesn’t have anything to do with legal skills. I think many of us lawyers have our identities and self-esteem bound into our job descriptions. It’s liberating to take on a challenge out of left field and find that we can be more than just lawyers. Studies have shown that achievement across a range of areas is more conducive to a fulfilling life than expertise in one very narrow area.
  • When you are used to a rational, analytical, critical way of thinking, it’s incredibly freeing to be able to make creative choices. How do I want to portray this character? What kind of tone do I want to produce when I sing that note? What do my instincts tell me is the right movement for this scene? When will the audience laugh or cry? None of these questions have answers that you can find in a judgment or textbook.
  • It’s fantastic exercise for the imaginative, emotional parts of our brains. Few things in law (especially corporate law) can move us the way that words and music can.
  • It builds our resilience to times of stress. Just being committed to something outside of work means gives us more perspective on work dramas – our well being isn’t so dependent on what is happening in the office.
  • Making a commitment to a project like this forces us to regularly take time away from work. It’s a great incentive to try and get everything done by 6pm instead of letting things drag on until 9pm (well after the law of diminishing returns has generally kicked in).

You don’t need to be an artsy type to participate in BottledSnail’s projects.  There are dozens of jobs associated with any production and opportunities to use all types of skills.

And I know from experience that all the challenges and sacrifices associated with being involved in Parade will pale into insignificance in that electric moment just before the house lights go down and the drum roll begins.

BottledSnail presents the Tony award-winning musical PARADE, at the Malthouse Theatre at 7pm from Monday 23 – Saturday 28 February 2015.  More information and tickets available at: