Much has been written in these pages in the past year about the silence in the legal profession around mental health issues. Columnists such as Doron Gold have extensively described the sense of isolation lawyers feel in grappling with these problems and the unique host of factors that can exacerbate the issues.
High stress, the pressure of billable hours, a personal history of over-achievement and type-A behaviour, firm models that reward extreme and competitive behaviour and disincentivize work-life balance are slowly becoming acknowledged as corrosive for the health of many.
This is why a Law Times piece this week on the number of reports to the Discrimination and Harassment Counsel for the Law Society of Ontario should be read closely. As the #MeToo fallout wages on, the legal profession has been shockingly slow to catch up.
“What was missing was the ability to cite data to say, ‘There is a problem.’ To date, there was anecdotal evidence,” says Hum, one of the lawyers that works on the DHC.
“I don’t think people know that there is an issue in the profession.”
The figures that are in the report by the law society’s Equity and Indigenous Affairs Committee indicate that 125 individuals — or about 21 per month — reached out to the DHC for a new matter from January to June of 2018, a 50-per-cent uptick compared to the last six months of 2017, when about 14 reached out per month.
As the piece explains, behaviour that is described in the report includes discriminatory advertising for articling positions, persistent sexualized and predatory texting, verbal or physical threats, clients being mocked by opposing counsel due to a disability and demanding sex in exchange for legal services, among others. It’s a wake-up call, indeed.