Early wellness intervention crucial for law students
By AdvocateDaily.com Staff
The financial and emotional pressures facing law students and recent graduates can be crushing and could lead to problems later in their careers — which is why it is vital for them to have a safe space for difficult conversations about stress and wellness, Toronto-area civil litigator Darryl Singer writes in The Lawyer’s Daily.
As Singer, principal of Singer Barristers Professional Corporation, explains, it is not uncommon for students to be called to the bar with a debt load of $150,000, before earning a single penny as a lawyer.
For aspiring young lawyers, he says, simply knowing they have to get a job and start paying down that debt can impact their health and well-being.
“Big money Bay Street jobs aren’t the right fit for everyone. And in any event, there aren’t enough of them to go around. Yet when faced with crippling debt, many students will make a choice based solely on money, thus ensuring themselves many lucrative, but miserable years in the profession,” writes Singer.
Students, he says, may pass up opportunities to article or junior in a firm, location, or specialty that they are passionate about, simply because the pay isn’t enough to tackle what they owe.
Similarly, writes Singer, some young lawyers who might have started their own practice and provide jobs for others, will elect not to do so, because of concerns over taking on further debt.
“Those who do strike out on their own or join smaller firms will have to quickly generate their own clients. The desire for fast money to pay down the debt so they can get on with the rest of their adult lives (buying homes and children), combined with lack of experience, makes them targets for fraudsters to dupe, which in turn puts the lawyer’s licence in jeopardy,” he adds.
Financial pressures that result in these outcomes can lead to a lawyer questioning their career choice, suffering from depression and even self-medicating with drugs, alcohol or other self-destructive behaviour, Singer writes.
“In fact, perhaps one in every five lawyers will face some sort of serious addiction or mental health issue in the course of their career,” he says.
In terms of solutions, Singer says law schools, the government and the law society need to develop comprehensive debt forgiveness, loan relief and tuition assistance strategies.
“These programs could be based simply on income levels. Or to ensure a more balanced dispersion of lawyers across the province. Or to attract lawyers to less lucrative practice areas, the loan forgiveness can be tied to that. The medical profession incentivizes doctors to practise in under-serviced locations by paying some or all of their educational costs,” he writes.
However, he says, early wellness intervention, starting in the first year of law school, is equally important. For example, says Singer, Osgoode Hall Law School employs a full-time social worker to run its wellness office and the Osgoode Peer Support Centre is a student-run, peer-to-peer counselling program that allows students to confidentially address their concerns.
Later this year, he says the Osgoode Hall Alumni Association board of directors will be joining forces with the Osgoode Peer Support Centre to add another level of confidential wellness mentoring involving alumni mentors who have experienced issues such as addiction, depression, coming out, or financial breakdown.
Ultimately, says Singer, the most important solution does not involve creating new programs or changing existing ones, bur rather providing “a safe space for law students to talk about wellness, and to not shy away from or gloss over the difficult conversations about why they are stressed out.”