December 12, 2019

Rates of depression in the legal profession are more than three times those found in the general population, and recent estimates suggest more than 20 percent of lawyers are affected by anxiety disorders (compared to only 4 percent of the general population). Despite the prevalence of mental health disabilities in the legal profession and lawyers’ special responsibility to protect the dignity of individuals and respect human rights law, legal workplaces are among the least accommodating. In this session, a mental health expert and experienced labour lawyers will join Orlando Da Silva, who will provide the perspective of a lawyer who lives with chronic depression, to discuss issues related to mental health in the legal profession, including the following:

  • What is the cause of the high incidence of mental health disabilities in the legal profession? Is enough being done to address the problem? Must legal workplaces make fundamental changes to the way they operate in order to support mental health? Alternatively, can the problem be addressed by teaching individual lawyers and paralegals how to be more resilient and by providing better access to treatment?
  • What workplace behaviours suggest that a legal professional might be experiencing mental health issues? When does a “duty to inquire” arise under human rights legislation or professional rules or regulations? When, if ever, is a legal professional required to report concerns regarding a fellow legal professional’s mental health to the professional regulatory body?
  • How, when, and where should you ask individuals in your legal workplace whether they are mentally unwell? What type of help or support is it proper to offer a co-worker or subordinate?
  • What is the scope of an employer’s duty to accommodate a lawyer or paralegal with a mental health disability? Does a law firm have a duty to accommodate firm partners if they have a mental disability? What constitutes a bona fide occupational requirement in the legal profession?
  • What accommodations might help a lawyer or paralegal experiencing common conditions, such as depression or anxiety, to stay at work? When should a legal professional go off work on sick leave or disability leave rather than continue to work with accommodations? Are there circumstances in which lawyers or paralegals should permanently leave their professions because of susceptibility to recurring episodes of poor mental health?
  • Do lawyer and paralegal discipline and licensing processes appropriately balance legal professionals’ rights to accommodation and privacy with “the public interest”? How does the approach of legal profession regulatory bodies compare to those of other professional regulatory bodies?
  • How should human rights/diversity policies required by the Law Society of Ontario in “legal workplaces” of at least 10 licensees address mental health disabilities? More generally, what should legal workplaces do to reduce stigma, encourage legal professionals to seek help and accommodation, and help individuals with mental health disabilities survive and thrive in the legal profession?
  • What steps can individual lawyers and paralegals with mental health disabilities take to improve their mental health and to succeed in their professions? What are some helpful resources available to them?