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Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession

By George Waggott, founder, and Roberto Fonseca-Velazquez, summer law student,

George Waggott Law

Much of the following information is a summary of the key takeaways from the Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession: A Global Study by the International Bar Association (IBA) International Presidential Task Force on Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession. Although the original study was created by and for the legal profession, the information provided is applicable to many other industries.

The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the topic of workplace mental health thrust into the spotlight. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines good mental health as a state where “...every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

From the Global Study referenced above, the key issues contributing to difficulties with mental health and wellbeing include the stressful nature of the work, intensive work/time demands, poor work-life balance and high levels of pressure. Factors relating to time pressures were most commonly perceived as having a negative impact on workers’ mental wellbeing. Workplaces where employees report bullying and harassment unsurprisingly produce the most detrimental effects on the mental wellbeing of employees. Self-employed professionals are also often particularly affected by lack of support and uncertainty. Further, a stigma around mental wellbeing remains. Nearly half of all the professionals surveyed indicated they fear discussing their mental wellbeing within their firm or organization due to the potential negative impacts it would have on their career.

The International Bar Association developed a list of key principles that represent the IBA’s efforts to help meet the challenges posed by focusing on wellbeing in the workplace. These mental wellbeing principles were developed with the legal profession in mind but are useful for all employers who are looking to start focusing on mental wellbeing in the workplace.

These principles include the following:

1.       Mental wellbeing is not weakness

Many professions, especially those perceived to be “tough”, have previously held a negative stigma of mental wellbeing. Although this is changing, employers have a responsibility to eradicate this stigma.

2.      Raising awareness is fundamental

Many workers feel unable to speak about their mental wellbeing because of stigma attached to the subject, and fears for the impact on their career or professional standing. This needs to change.

3.      A commitment to change, and regular continuing assessment, is needed

Knowing the data is the first step - we must understand the issues in order to be able to address them.

4.      Policies matter

A simple first step is to develop effective workplace policies that focus on mental wellbeing.

5.      Maintain an open dialogue and communication

Once a mental wellbeing policy has been created, it is vital that it is backed up with open dialogue and communication around mental wellbeing.

6.      Address systemic problems

There are typically structural and cultural practices that may be problematic for mental wellbeing. These needs to be examined and changed for the mental wellbeing policy to truly work.

7.      Share good practices

Good practices must be shared between individuals, institutions, sectors, jurisdictions and regional fora, in order to ensure that appropriate and healthy ways of working within the post-pandemic legal profession are disseminated and perpetuated. Worldwide and local gatherings of stakeholders is also vital.

8.      Learn from others

It is vital that the work and wisdom of other bodies working in this sphere are, and continue to be, shared and discussed.

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