How Lawyers Can Achieve Good Mental Health

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Mental well-being does not have a particular meaning but when we talk about it, we are referring to how a person feels, thinks, and can cope with the normal stresses of life.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined wellbeing as “a positive state experienced by individuals and societies. Like health, it is a resource for daily life and is determined by social, economic, and environmental conditions”.  

The mental well-being of lawyers has been well-researched in other jurisdictions outside Africa.

In a recent global study by the International Bar Association (IBA) on mental wellbeing among the legal profession, it was noted that no jurisdiction was unaffected although in Africa there is little appreciation or discussion on the mental wellbeing of lawyers.

When you feel you cannot take it anymore, take a break

This could be attributed to our cultural setting and the stigma associated with discussing your mental well-being.


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As lawyers, there is a belief that discussing your mental well-being challenges shows that you are weak, which is not true.

But a person can ask; does it matter that we prioritize the mental well-being of the lawyers?

Yes, it matters due to the role they play in society in ensuring all aspects function in line with the set rules or laws.

To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. You can not ably represent your client when you are not mentally well.

A mentally healthy lawyer is the best thing that can happen to a client.

Important to note is that the challenge of poor mental well-being does not start when a person starts practicing law but rather starts as early as law school.

Writing down your thoughts and feelings is a good way to improve your mental well-being.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings is a good way to improve your mental well-being.

One would wonder why.

There is a lot of stress at law school due to the workload and even the whole training emphasizes that a student should “think as a lawyer.”

They are expected to be practical, rational, and emotionless so that their judgment is not affected by how they feel, and this makes them learn that emotions are bad.

This means that in representing a client, a lawyer is required to put their client’s interests at the forefront even if they do not believe in those interests.

This comes with a psychological cost to the lawyer in trying to put aside their beliefs and pursue those of their client.  

Furthermore, depending on the type of practice, a lawyer can be affected directly; for example, a criminal law practitioner can have effects of trauma due to exposure to the evidence presented before the court or even listening to evidence of a case.

This can affect one’s emotional and psychological state which in turn undermines their mental wellbeing.

In addition, the Law Development Centre (LDC) makes the situation worse, and at the end of it, we have lawyers joining legal practice with mental well-being challenges.

They appear to be normal but, they are not, and they think because they have not been diagnosed with mental health challenges then they are okay which may not necessarily be true as we cannot neglect the effect of the pressure at law school and LDC.

Bako Jane Patricia is a Lawyer and Counselling Psychologist
Bako Jane Patricia is a Lawyer and Counselling Psychologist/ Courtesy Photo

The legal profession is known to be prone to pressure, with perfectionism and competitive traits, and high rates of burnout and depression, among others.

Despite these challenges, hope is not lost, something can still be done to promote good mental well-being among lawyers.

Below are some of the strategies that can be adopted by either an individual lawyer or the employer to ensure that their mental wellbeing is good or be able to cope with the pressures of the profession;

  • Take care of your physical well-being

Your body and mind are connected, and one affects the other.

It is therefore important that you take care of your physical body by having an exercise schedule, eating well, and getting enough sleep.

This will help you to promote good mental wellbeing.

You cannot think straight if your body is exhausted and therefore, take good care of it.

  • Connect with others.

It is important to have a life outside of work in the form of connecting with other people and this can be done through building meaningful and reliable networks.

  • Take a break.

Understand your emotions and know when you need to take a break from work.

This could be a few days or even a week.

Often lawyers who are in private practice especially those starting up tend not to take leave in the belief that they will lose business.

However, your mental wellbeing is important. When you feel you cannot take it anymore, take a break.

Recently, a young lawyer shared with me how every month he feels overwhelmed and burnt out that he takes 2 days off just to unwind and he notifies his employer to allow him to work remotely.

When did you last take rest as a lawyer? Do you wait for December to rest?

Do you have a schedule of leave from work? When you take leave, do you turn on “out of office” messages on your email or do you continue to engage with the clients? 

Make it a point to take time off work.

Physical exercise can help improve your mental well-being

In my research and interactions with one of the founding members of TASLAF Advocates, I found out that in an effort to create a good workspace, the staff is given one day out of the office to work remotely and I believe it is a good practice to allow staff to unwind sometimes, as a way of promoting good mental wellbeing. 

  • Recognize the need to have a work-life balance.

There is often a challenge for a lawyer to achieve work-life balance and this is attributed to the long hours of work and workload.

This can make them struggle to strike a balance between work and non-work commitments such as personal, family, and social life.

Research has shown that the legal profession does not allow a lawyer to meet other obligations such as social, family, and personal life.

When a lawyer can balance work and personal life, then he or she is able to cope with stress, reduce anxiety, and improve their overall well-being.

If a lawyer is unable to strike a balance between work and life, this can affect his or her mental well-being.

  • Set realistic demands on yourself and manage your workload. 

You know yourself better than anyone else and therefore it is important that you set demands that you can handle without putting a lot of pressure on yourself.

It is necessary to work hard but there is a need to set realistic goals for yourself in terms of what you can do and what you cannot do.

Learn to say no sometimes especially if you know a particular case may have a mental toll on you.

Furthermore, if it is in your power, try to manage your workload.  

In addition, the employer should create a culture where working overtime is discouraged especially if you sense that your employee is unable to withstand the pressure of handling a certain case.

  • Organize briefing sessions

These sessions are important to allow colleagues to share amongst themselves the challenges they are encountering while dealing with a case.

Working in silos makes one isolated from the rest of the team and thus unable to share their challenges.

Speaking out your challenges as a lawyer is a step towards promoting good mental well-being.

  • Practicing mindfulness techniques

These help in reducing stress and they include practicing aspects such as taking deep breaths every day and more so when you feel you are under tension.

For those who like to write, you can journal your thoughts and feelings as a way of releasing them out. 

Another technique that I find useful is visualizing and this involves you focusing on an object around you and studying its detail as a way of distracting you from a situation that is unpleasant to witness or likely to cause you panic attacks.

It is possible to learn to practice mindfulness and if you find it useful you can learn it and it will help to support you in having a good mental well-being.

  •  Change in culture

In Uganda, the legal fraternity has not yet embraced the need to start having discussions on mental well-being.

In 2021, while researching occupational stress and how it affects the psychological well-being of criminal law practitioners, one of the respondents asked me a question as to why I had come to study their “madness”.

To me, this showed how we are not yet open as a profession to have these conversations.

Part of the findings from that research showed that lawyers experience emotional and physical exhaustion while handling criminal law matters.

Of course, I totally failed to disseminate these findings even after reaching out to the Uganda Law Society (ULS) several times.

This indicated to me that the topic of the mental well-being of the lawyers is far from being a matter of discussion among the profession.

I believe lawyers cannot push for the prioritization of their mental well-being by themselves.  

We need a collective effort especially from the Law Society and employers to set up strategies geared towards the promotion of mental well-being among lawyers.

Perhaps the Law Society could incorporate as part of Continuing Legal Education (CLE), topics on how to navigate the challenges of the profession to promote good mental well-being.

We need a broader cultural change in the legal profession in Uganda to normalize discussions on mental well-being if we are to have a collective response to the mental health challenges among lawyers. 

Bako Jane Patricia/Courtesy Photo
Bako Jane Patricia
Lawyer and Counselling Psychologist | +256-785138755 | | Website

LLB, LLM ( University of Pretoria), MSc Counselling  Psychology

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