Putting Wellbeing at the Heart of Things By Sophie Speer*
Traditionally built on a work-hard-at-all-costs attitude, looking after your mental, physical, and emotional health has not always been seen as a priority for legal professionals. MAS has a long history of providing services for members of high-pressure professions and recently partnered with the New Zealand Bar Association and to extend its unique approach of caring for its Members health and wellbeing to New Zealand’s barristers. The law profession was renowned for its late nights, stressful deadlines, and until recently sometimes a “blowout” party culture. When you add trying to juggle all the other pressures of family life into the mix, it can lead to burnout and mental health issues.
Over the past five years, the law sector has experienced a cultural shift in the space of workplace health and wellbeing. Heightened awareness around mental health, pay equity, and the #MeToo movement mean the culture of the profession is slowly changing.
Austen suggests that the former prevalence of old-fashioned workplace attitudes, which often didn’t consider additional pressures placed on female lawyers who elect to have a family, could be a contributor for some to overwhelming stress.
Maria Austen, a barrister specialising in employment law and investigations says the spotlight on these issues has raised wider conversations about the importance of mental wellbeing and health within in the law profession. Maria has worked as a lawyer for over 20 years and remembers when times were different.
“To feel a true work/life balance, you have to know your workplace supports you.”
“We’re realising that especially with women, allowing a work/family balance is important, and has a huge effect on the culture of a law firm, and the performance of the individual.”
Those working in the profession need to focus on relaxation outside the office; creating an environment with minimal stimuli. Practitioners also need to enjoy the time in between big cases and projects to gather their breath and