IBA releases guidance for law schools to safeguard student mental health

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By Sophie Dillon on

Wellbeing issues should not be sign of weakness, says International Bar Association

The International Bar Association (IBA) has issued a list of ten recommendations for law schools to promote the wellbeing of law students and academics.

The IBA, an international body made up of international lawyers, law societies and bar associations globally, has released its new guidelines to address the current issues with mental wellness in the legal profession.

In releasing the new guidelines, the body noted that past research highlights how the competitive nature of the profession, the high-pressure environment, and the academic demands of the legal field are associated with higher-than-average levels of stress, anxiety, and depression among students and lecturers.

The IBA’s ten recommendations encourage law schools to:

    1. Acknowledge the importance of, and actively promote, wellbeing in legal education;
    2. Abandon a view that wellbeing issues should be seen as signs of weakness;
    3. Raise awareness of the different ways in which wellbeing can be addressed and prioritised in law schools;
    4. Make a commitment to evidence-based, long-lasting change in addressing wellbeing and the challenges faced in legal education;
    5. Continually assess and evaluate the efficacy of changes and initiatives designed to promote wellbeing;
    6. Ensure policies and procedures within legal education reflect the importance of student, faculty and staff wellbeing;
    7. Foster an open dialogue between students, faculty and staff, promoting a culture of trust and inclusivity;
    8. Commit to addressing systemic problems, such as excessive competitiveness and lack of empathy;
    9. Recognise intersectionalities, including the benefits to wellbeing of embracing equality, diversity and inclusion; and
    10. Sharing best practice examples in an ongoing dialogue both internally and externally.

Commenting on the recommendations, Dr Emma Jones an IBA professional wellbeing commissioner and a co-author of the guidelines, said:

“The IBA’s 2021 report refers to a crisis in wellbeing within the legal profession. These new guidelines place legal education at the heart of our response. We must act now to ensure the lawyers of the future are able to prioritise wellbeing without fear of stigmatisation. We need to challenge the damaging cultural norms which have come to exist within the law, and promote thriving and flourishing amongst students, faculty and staff.”

The new guidelines follow a Legal Cheek survey, revealing that a staggering 87% of students had experienced challenges with their mental health or wellbeing at some point during their law school studies. One respondent went as far as revealing that they felt “terrified” to disclose information about their mental health for fear of coming across as “a whinging baby”.

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