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IBA to target global leaders in wellbeing drive
Antoinette Moriarty

27 Oct 2023 / wellbeing Print

IBA to target global leaders in wellbeing drive

The head of Law Society Psychological Services (PS) has said that its emphasis on building ‘high-impact’ professionals is what will work in the long term to address the mental-health and wellbeing challenges affecting the legal profession.

Antoinette Moriarty (pictured) was speaking to Gazette.ie ahead of the annual conference of the International Bar Association (IBA) in Paris next week.

She will be participating in the event in her capacity as a member of a new professional-wellbeing commission formed under the aegis of the IBA last year.

The commission was made permanent in response to the stark findings of a global survey on wellbeing in the profession carried out by the IBA in 2021. Closer to home, similarly troubling findings also emerged from the Law Society's recent Dignity Matters report.

Leadership series

Moriarty told Gazette.ie that the IBA was planning an initiative aimed at giving global leaders in the legal sector the motivation, knowledge and practical resources to proactively address mental-health issues in the profession.

The commission has been given different areas of work, with the aim of making as big an impact as possible in the shortest period of time.

Her working group is planning a new leadership podcast, a “James Corden-style ‘carpool karaoke’ for lawyers”, as Moriarty describes it.

This will be accompanied by an infrastructure of practical resources, toolkits and webinars that the IBA hopes will be disseminated through its global membership.

‘Unique approach’

She described the Law Society of Ireland’s approach of integrating psychological and mental-health issues from day one of professional-practice training, with a module called The Complete Lawyer, as “unique” among legal organisations worldwide.

“There wouldn’t be another law society that takes full responsibility for psychological wellness from the beginning of training to the end of practice within the whole of the legal community,” Moriarty stated.

Psychological Services has three main goals:

  • To enhance the psychological wellbeing of all lawyers,
  • To ensure that dignity and respect is built into the workplace, and
  • To build ‘high-impact’ professionals.

Moriarty described ‘high-impact’ professionals as being good with people, good listeners, creative thinkers and effective problem-solvers. They also, she added, had the internal confidence and capacity to engage well with their work without burning out, or losing their sense of self, or their joy in their work.

All of these skills required what she called ‘psychological muscle’, which she is enthusiastically committed to building among Irish and, increasingly, international lawyers.

Building lawyers from the ‘inside out’

Asked whether changing culture or rules was more important, Moriarty said that there had been a shift in focus from the “nice” and “optional” aspects of wellbeing to more regulatory-oriented messaging.

The head of PS believes that building a high-impact professional stands somewhere between these two approaches, and that this “middle space” is what really works.

“If you really build lawyers from the inside out, it takes care of the culture; it takes care of the bullying and harassment; it takes care of the talent-retention problem,” says Moriarty.

“What’s beginning to happen is that the law is catching up with the fall-out of poor regulation on dignity in the workplace,” she said.

Moriarty added, however, that she did not want to see PS evolve into a service that reminded, or indeed chased, people about their regulatory obligations in terms of workplace behaviour. She Is more interested in catching people doing good than relying on catching workplaces doing wrong.

She listed the benefits of the ‘high-impact’ approach – including that it would attract people to the legal profession and help to retain talent, as well as proving cost-effective.

‘Psychologically fit’ profession begins with trainees

The head of PS also said that one in two of all trainees now engage in time-concentrated therapy being offered by 14 psychotherapists at the Law School.

Moriarty described the uptake as “much gentler” for LegalMind, which is on offer for qualified solicitors. She stressed that this service was not specifically targeting people in distress or crisis, and urged those who were “curious about what makes you tick” to also consider the service.

She hopes that the numbers engaging with LegalMind will soon match those being seen in the trainee population.

The psychotherapist said that other jurisdictions were watching Ireland with interest, particularly the idea of people coming to therapy in training, but also once qualified and while they were well, which she described as “a new way of thinking”.

“If you have a big law firm with 70 trainees, and 35 of them have done therapy, these are 35 minds that are forming in a very different way, as they enter the hierarchy,” she explained.

She added that if there were enough ”psychologically fit”, confident lawyers who knew how to practise healthily and safely, this would eliminate many of the problems of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment that the profession was desperately trying to fix.

Moriarty believes that these problems are a function of how groups are managed, led and resourced, which was why she is so interested in the leadership stream in the IBA commission.

Pilot programme

She told Gazette.ie that PS was excited to partner with law firm RDJ next year to develop the psychological wellbeing of the firm’s leaders and team, and to ensure that there were practices and structures in place to optimise performance, all in a culture of dignity and respect in the workplace.

Antoinette Moriarty will be moderating a panel session on building a high-impact law firm at the IBA conference on Monday, and is a panellist on the IBA commission’s own discussion on wellbeing on Tuesday.

The IBA conference comes at the end of World Mental Health month, and rounds off a programme of work carried out by PS – including a series of online and in-person workshops on wellbeing and healthy legal workplaces.

You can learn more about the services provided by Law Society Psychological Services on its updated web page.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland