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IBA commission renews focus on wellbeing for lawyers
Antoinette Moriarty of Law Society Psychological Services

07 Feb 2023 / wellbeing Print

IBA body renews focus on wellbeing for lawyers

The International Bar Association (IBA) has announced the creation of the Professional Wellbeing Commission – a new, permanent body within the IBA dedicated to improving the wellbeing of lawyers and legal professionals around the world.

The Law Society’s Head of Law Society Psychological Services Antoinette Moriarty is a member of the commission.

The initiative represents the IBA’s commitment to prioritising the welfare of its members, as well as that of the wider legal community. The move follows the 2019 IBA report on bullying

Key objectives

The commission has several key objectives, including:

  • Promoting the importance of wellbeing as a core issue and priority for the global legal community,
  • Identifying, coordinating, and organising various global stakeholders in changing or modifying the culture and mindset of the legal profession,
  • Raising awareness of the challenges and stigma surrounding discussions of wellbeing, while keeping in mind the cultural differences needed when engaging with this issue,
  • Highlighting the ways in which wellbeing issues, needs, and responses vary between different demographic groups,
  • Promoting and sharing policies and working practices that help to promote positive and sustainable wellbeing within the legal profession, and
  • Making recommendations to change or modify the practical and regulatory environment of the legal profession at all levels, where possible.

The commission will bring together representatives of organisations from different jurisdictions, sections of the IBA, and outside experts with an interest in the topic, drawing on the IBA Wellbeing Principles.

Global portal of resources

A global portal of resources and best practice will also be created.

The co-chairs are Steven Richman and Deborah Enix-Ross, with tenures for two years.

The pair will help coordinate the work of 15 commissioners serving terms of between one and five years.

In a joint statement, the co-chairs said: “The wellbeing challenges faced by the profession seem to be growing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is vital that any response to this crisis is coordinated at a global level, and so we look forward to working with our commissioners, and dedicated IBA staff, to make a difference to lawyers and other legal professionals wherever they may be in the world.

“We are extremely excited by the opportunity to continue the great work of the IBA presidential wellbeing taskforce, initiated by a former IBA President, Horacio Bernardes Neto. Our hopes for the success of the commission are high and we are honoured to be entrusted with its launch,” they concluded.

The role of bars and regulators, and wellbeing in the judiciary, will be key areas of focus.

Taskforce results

In 2019, a taskforce set up by then-president Horacio Bernardes-Neto surveyed 124 countries and received over 3,000 individual responses and 180 institutional responses.

The results showed:

  • Wellbeing challenges are similar across jurisdictions,
  • Low awareness about wellbeing support and services that are available,
  • In some jurisdictions, there is no wellbeing support,
  • Stigma makes it very difficult for practitioners and students to acknowledge problems and seek help without worrying that it will damage their career or livelihoods,
  • Lack of knowledge in the legal community about good practice to tackle these issues, and what that looks like.

The IBA Wellbeing Principles are:

  • Mental wellbeing matters,
  • Mental wellbeing is not weakness,
  • Raising awareness is fundamental,
  • A commitment to change, and regular continuing assessment, is needed,
  • Policies matter,
  • Maintain open dialogue and communication,
  • Address systemic problems,
  • Recognise intersectionalities,
  • Share good practices, and
  • Learn from others.

The commission’s resources will likely include research, tools and materials relating to legal education, including producing best international guidelines for legal-education providers.

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