Last week I attended the National Wellness in Law Forum at Bond University and was inspired by so many dedicated individuals committed to changing the legal landscape to ensure that lawyers take care of our emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing. With so many firms signing up to the Jepson Guidelines I had a chance to reflect on how things have significantly changed since I began my career in law. Changes for the better. Changes that recognise that we are people first and lawyers second.
After this injection of optimism, I, ironically, spoke with an early career lawyer over the weekend who is experiencing bullying by various members of the firm she works for. It was a stark reminder that though we have come far, there is still such a long way to go.
I have often thought that law seems to attract bullies or perhaps gives a platform to those that are that way inclined. A license to belittle, control and berate others under the guise of the adversarial space we work within. Sadly, it happens every day on so many levels. It seems to be imbedded into the legal system and those wanting to continue working in this space need to ‘toughen up’ or simply put up, shut up or get out. Because you just can’t handle it.
But do we really need a ‘thick skin’ to exist in this legal workplace? Maybe to some extent it doesn’t hurt to work on our resilience skills, but that is entirely different to being expected to put up with behavior from others that is utterly unacceptable. This unacceptable behavior starts with some at the very top of our profession and ultimately filters down to those who are just starting out.
So the next time you are communicating with an advocate, colleague, opponent, court staff member, secretary or indeed anyone give a thought to how your words may affect them. You can be a good lawyer and a good person at the same time. One doesn’t have to come at the expense of the other.