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Health and wellbeing: Towards a smooth transition

Health and wellbeing: Towards a  smooth transition

By John Stack

Health Wellbeing 

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Career experiences later lawyers have lived are often overlooked and not given the proper consideration, which can lead to anxiety.

As a mature-age student, I was fortunate to complete my legal studies in 2015 with second-class honours, and I would not have achieved this if I had not obtained earlier criminology postgraduate qualifications. This is because criminology is the study of harm, and many of its components (such as sentencing principles, victimology and regulatory impact principles) can also be applied within many of the core legal subject areas.

Later lawyers demonstrate that, when law is combined with previous study and career experience, a gentle transition to a solid legal career is often achievable.

Later lawyers are well equipped to transition to the legal profession because they take ownership of a legal challenge. First as law students, by bringing prior work experience and qualifications to the proverbial table. And second, as later lawyer legal practitioner graduates readily able to draw on previously attained skills.

Unfortunately, in my experience, the wider legal profession has a tendency to measure employability in terms of post qualification experience, which often notionally starts on the day that the lawyer signs the Supreme Court legal roll. For later lawyers, this situation creates unnecessary anxiety and self-doubt. This is because the second or the third career experiences that later lawyers have lived are often overlooked and not given the proper consideration when employment opportunities are being sought out in a transition period. It would be preferable if potential employers appreciated that legal qualifications achieved by later lawyers complement, rather than define their transition to the legal profession.

Later lawyers also often have many competing roles, responsibilities and interests. This includes caring for immediate family, which can include parents and children. The support services needed by later lawyer graduates when they commence their professional careers should be different from the support services required by other graduates. Young women and men who enter the legal profession via the path of a law degree often do not have the competing challenges of combining daily employment, study and (perhaps) family commitments that are often part of life for later lawyers.

Mental health is a subset of the broader health and wellbeing picture. In transitioning to the legal profession, it is so important that there is a strong focus on how mentally healthy or otherwise later lawyers are or should be. Fortunately, the legal profession now recognises this, and the various facets of the profession are continuing to strengthen this agenda through organisations such as the Minds Count Foundation (formerly 

the Tristan Jepson Foundation), mental health programs established through increased funding from state and territory law societies and national initiatives such as the R U OK? movement.

There is no one right or wrong methodology or course of action to ensure that in the transition period to the legal profession, mental health balance is reached and maintained. Later lawyers can maintain a positive mental health outlook by keeping in touch with their cohort and participating in interactive initiatives. This might include activities outside the legal workplace such as games nights, book clubs or coffee catch-ups.

These activities should be considered essential ingredients in an important recipe to ensure positive mental health is experienced in a transition to the legal profession. Later lawyers who adopt a routine of building up resilience by participating in these, (or like) activities, will go a long way to sustaining their healthy transition to the legal profession.

It is also vital that later lawyers become active mentors and mentees in their transition to the profession. There is no reason why later lawyers cannot send the proverbial elevator down to young lawyer graduates and simultaneously ask for help and guidance from the more experienced members of the legal profession.

Recent media commentary has highlighted the impact of long working hours on junior lawyers (including later lawyer graduates) particularly in the context of recent royal commissions, large-scale litigation and corporate transactional work. This aspect brings pressures that make a transition to the profession more daunting than it should be. Support mechanisms such as time in lieu of working longer hours and actions by employers when extending contracts or secondments that do not cut people off at the knees, should be more commonplace in the legal profession.

Finally, later lawyers should not be afraid to back their own abilities. A component of this credo is to always treat the people they encounter, such as potential employers, clients, opponents or adversaries in the courtroom, with respect and dignity. This course of conduct helps to ensure the predominant reason we are all here, maintenance of the rule of law, continues to be defended and practised within Australian society. ■


John Stack is a member of the LIV YL Executive representing Later Lawyers. This extract is reproduced from John Stack’s chapter, “The Later Lawyer’s Transition to the Legal Profession” in Wellness for Law: Making Wellness Core Business, Judith Marychurch and Adiva Sifris (LexisNexis, Butterworths).

 

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