A global project aimed at addressing the mental wellbeing of legal professionals has been set up by the International Bar Association (IBA).

The key initial phase of the project consists of two global surveys – one for individual lawyers, the other for law firms and other legal institutions, including bar associations, law societies and in-house legal departments. Available in both English and Spanish, the surveys are anonymous and take approximately 10 minutes to complete. 

While the project cites COVID-19 as exacerbating tensions in professional and personal lives, it comes as a new report from advisory group The MOSAIC Collective (Mentoring Opportunities Shared Amongst In-House Counsel), based on a survey of nearly 1,500 legal professionals worldwide, has highlighted the challenges the sector faces. 

The MOSAIC Mood Index finds that while most lawyers (79%) are content in their jobs, 94% are taking work stresses home with them, and just over half (51%) struggle to talk about how they are feeling. More than a third (39%) have no career plan, and nearly 90% feel like their manager isn’t looking out for them.

Salary, the right job title and recognition, the quality and meaningfulness of work, and flexibility and work-life balance are the biggest contributors to lawyers’ happiness levels, while loneliness and high levels of work-induced stress are the key downsides. Lack of time is cited as the main blocker to making changes for the better (70%).

Meanwhile the IBA hopes that data gathered from its own completed surveys will provide insight into:

  • the pressing mental health concerns of legal professionals; 
  • the support they can expect to receive from their workplaces;
  • how the wellbeing of lawyers and other stakeholders in the legal profession is affected by their work and working environments;
  • identifying problems that each might have faced in getting the help they needed; and 
  • what law firms, bars and law societies should be doing to support those in distress.

IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto, who has made mental wellbeing within the legal profession one of his key priorities, has set up a taskforce as a precursor to establishing a permanent body within the IBA to address the mental wellbeing of legal professionals. 

In an address to IBA members, he said: "The devastating effects of depression, stress, addiction and other such attacks on our mental health may have preceded the current crisis, but there is no question that COVID-19 has exacerbated their impact. Yet, just as the pandemic has posed challenges for our profession and ways of life, and in the process refocused our attention to this critical issue, so it also presents opportunities for us to change for the better in the future."

He added: "These studies will provide us with a vital global snapshot of our profession. I sincerely hope that they will lead not only to the sharing of best practice guides, but also to starting conversations in those parts of the world where mental wellbeing is not spoken about so openly, and lawyers perhaps find themselves suffering in silence."

The IBA Individual Lawyer Wellbeing Survey and the IBA Institutional Wellbeing Survey can be found on their website here.