The International Bar Association (IBA) has announced the creation of the Professional Wellbeing Commission – a new, permanent body within the IBA dedicated to improving the well-being of lawyers and legal professionals around the world. With the importance of the well-being of the legal community gaining greater recognition and the need for action also growing, this new initiative represents the IBA’s commitment to prioritising the welfare of its members, as well as that of the wider legal community.
The new Commission has several key objectives, including:
- Promoting the importance of well-being as a core issue and priority for the global legal community
- Identifying, coordinating, and organising various global stakeholders in changing or modifying the culture and mindset of the legal profession
- Raising awareness of the challenges and stigma surrounding discussions of well-being, while keeping in mind the cultural differences needed when engaging with this issue
- Highlighting the ways in which well-being issues, needs, and responses vary between different demographic groups
- Promoting and sharing policies and working practices that help to promote positive and sustainable well-being within the legal profession
- Making recommendations to change or modify the practical and regulatory environment of the legal profession at all levels, where possible
The Commission aims to achieve these objectives through a planned course of activity, particularly by bringing together representatives of organisations from different jurisdictions, sections of the IBA, and outside experts with an interest in advancing well-being in the global legal community; identifying issues and concerns that are common across jurisdictions and where collaboration will be beneficial, while also highlighting and acknowledging the need for targeted jurisdictional interventions, based on local attitudes and responses to these issues; helping to develop and disseminate the IBA Wellbeing Principles (see below); and contributing to the creation of a global portal of resources and best practice via the Commission’s website.
The co-chairs of the new Commission are Steven Richman and Deborah Enix-Ross, with tenures for two years. During this period, they will help coordinate the work of 15 commissioners, comprising an international team of IBA members and external experts, serving terms of between one and five years.
In a joint statement, the co-chairs stated: “The well-being challenges faced by the profession seem to be growing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is vital that any response to this crisis is coordinated at a global level, and so we look forward to working with our commissioners, and dedicated IBA staff, to make a difference to lawyers and other legal professionals wherever they may be in the world. We are extremely excited by the opportunity to continue the great work of the IBA presidential well-being task force, initiated by a former IBA President, Horacio Bernardes Neto. Our hopes for the success of the Commission are high and we are honoured to be entrusted with its launch.”
As the work of the Commission develops, the role of bars and regulators, and well-being in the judiciary will become key areas of focus, among others to be determined.
In 2019 the then-president of the IBA, Horacio Bernardes-Neto, recognising the depth of the problem of well-being in the legal profession, established a presidential task force, the activities of which initially involved conducting two global well-being surveys: one for individuals, the other for institutions. There were responses from 124 countries: more than 3,000 responses to the survey for individuals, and 180 institutional responses. Survey results showed that:
- The well-being challenges faced by lawyers are similar across jurisdictions.
- There is low awareness about well-being support and services that are available.
In some jurisdictions, there is no well-being support.
- Stigma is a major problem making it very difficult for practitioners and students to acknowledge they may have problems and seek help without worrying that it will damage their careers or livelihoods.
- There is a general lack of knowledge in the legal community about good practices to tackle these issues, and what that looks like.
The results of the task force’s surveys were published in a 2021 IBA report, titled “Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession: A Global Study“. The report also contained a set of ten principles, as well as the recommendation to create a permanent body within the IBA to build on the principles: the IBA Professional Wellbeing Commission is the direct and tangible result of that commitment.
The IBA Wellbeing Principles are:
- Mental well-being matters.
- Mental well-being is not a weakness.
- Raising awareness is fundamental.
- A commitment to change, and regular continuing assessment, are needed.
- Policies matter.
- Maintain an open dialogue and communication.
- Address systemic problems.
- Recognise intersectionalities.
- Share good practices.
- Learn from others.
The Commission’s resources will likely include research, tools and materials relating to legal education, including producing the best international guidelines for legal education providers. To include law schools and institutions that coordinate and integrate wellbeing in their ongoing continuing learning education curricula, and the general business of wellbeing – including a focus on the role of both law firm leaders, and clients, particularly in terms of helping them to calibrate their expectations.