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Lawyers’ wellbeing in a changing world

Wellbeing is a critical issue for lawyers, law students and legal academics, both in Australia and overseas.

FLIP Stream Director Michael Legg and UNSW Professors Janet Chan and Prue Vines recently convened a research workshop on Wellbeing in a Changing World: The impact of technology and innovation on the legal profession. The workshop was supported by the Law Society of NSW and UNSW Law. It brought together academics researching various factors impacting on lawyers’ wellbeing, including new technology and practice innovations as well as structural changes.

Professor Jennifer Robbennolt, who had travelled from the University of Illinois College of Law, discussed her seminal work on behavioural legal ethics in the contemporary context, with some reflections on the impact of technology.

The paper of Professor Richard Collier of Newcastle Law School, UK, discussed parallels and differences in wellbeing issues for practising lawyers and legal academics. Prof. Collier suggested that discussion of wellbeing should not be confined to any one area of legal practice, but advocated a holistic approach encompassing concerns from law school and across legal studies generally. Prof. Collier’s examination of the legal academy was taken up by Professor Rachael Field, in a presentation titled ‘Fit Your Own Oxygen Mask First’; and Prof. Vines and Professor Alex Steel spoke about wellbeing in law schools with a focus on students, drawing on data from law students collected in 2005 and again in 2018.

Also drawing on data, Dr Suzanne Poynton and Prof. Chan analysed the results of a national survey of Australian lawyers to investigate the inter-relationships between psychological measures such as depression, anxiety and stress; lawyers’ expression of satisfaction with their chosen career; and variables relating to work demands and workplace culture.

FLIP Stream members Prof. Legg, Dr Justine Rogers and Dr Felicity Bell presented collectively on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) in the practice of law on lawyers’ wellbeing, contrasting AI’s potential to enhance lawyers’ work yet also contribute to or even create, new stressors. Prof. Legg and Dr Rogers also examined the impact of alternative fee agreements, such as fixed fees and value-based billing, as possible answers to lawyer distress.

Other presentations included those of Prof. Chan and Ms Holly Blackmore on public sector lawyers, on “New Law” by Professor Margaret Thornton of ANU, and on incorporated legal practices by Ms Tahlia Gordon.

The attendees are hoping the papers presented will be published as an edited collection.