This week (May 1st – May 7th, 2023) is Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week. This year’s Mental Health Week aims to amplify some voices and spaces within which mental health is promoted across Canada, including at the community level through non-profit agencies and programs.
The first comprehensive national study on wellness in the legal profession (titled “The National Study on the Psychological Health Determinants of Legal Professionals in Canada”) was published October 7, 2022 and revealed that legal professionals suffer from significantly high levels of psychological distress, depression, anxiety, burnout, and suicidal ideation. In particular, the study found that legal professionals within their early years of practice experienced some of the highest rates of distress. The study suggests that it is important to invest time and resources into improving mental health in the legal industry.
This blog post will highlight some ideas for maintaining and promoting mental health as a young lawyer in the Canadian legal industry.
1. Check In With Yourself and Others
It can be easy to get lost amongst the fast-paced and demanding nature of legal work, which is why one key to maintaining a healthy mind is to consciously check in with yourself and others regularly. A self check-in could be as simple as spending 5 minutes at the beginning of each week evaluating how you are feeling about the work week ahead and reflecting on the actions you can take to improve your well-being. These actions could include spending time with loved ones, blocking off time to pursue a hobby, or engaging in meditation or exercise. As well, checking in with colleagues can help create a sense of support and community.
2. Set Boundaries and Know Your Limits
The National Study on the Psychological Health Determinants of Legal Professionals in Canada found that three key characteristics that are likely to protect the psychological health of legal professionals are psychological detachment from work, the ability to set limits with assertiveness, and resilience in facing the challenges of professional life. These three characteristics can be understood as skills that legal professionals across all areas of practice and in all jurisdictions can work to build up over time.
3. Block Off Time for Hobbies or Loved Ones
Making time for your hobbies and loved ones can help ground you and enforce some psychological detachment from your legal work. For those with demanding legal careers, it may seem extremely difficult or next to impossible to find time in the week to set aside time for yourself while still meeting client expectations and billable hour targets. However, blocking even one or two hours off in the evening or on a weekend to pursue a passion project or focus on building your support network can lead to long-term rewards that will keep burnout at bay.
Overall, consciously setting mental health and resilience as a goal to work towards through frequent self check-ins, setting boundaries and limits, and blocking off time to detach from work can help promote wellness. As well, the research team behind The National Study on the Psychological Health Determinants of Legal Professionals in Canada noted that stakeholders in the legal industry should invest in training and mentoring, work culture, raising awareness and breaking down taboos, wellness support resources, adopting alternative business models, promoting diversity, and committing to work-life balance as part of efforts to improve mental health in the legal industry. These suggestions reinforce the idea that moving towards a healthy and sustainable culture within the legal profession in Canada will require small steps at all levels, taken over a long period of time, from all stakeholders.
Jane Huang is a corporate lawyer in the Business Law group at Miller Thomson. She is developing a commercial law practice with an emphasis on marketing and advertising, franchising, product regulatory, privacy, transportation, and intellectual property matters. Jane is registered with the College of Patent and Trademark Agents as a trademark agent-in-training.
Prior to becoming a lawyer, she gained business development experience at a tech startup and was part of the investment team at a venture capital fund. Jane graduated with a science degree from the University of Toronto and a law degree from Western University. While in law school, Jane was co-president of the Western Health Law Association and served as a teaching assistant for a 1L legal research, writing, and advocacy course.
In her spare time, Jane enjoys taking dance classes, admiring art, listening to podcasts, trying different kinds of food, and perfecting her skincare routine.