IBA launches new global commission to improve lawyer wellbeing

Commission is co-chaired by American Bar Association president Deborah Enix-Ross

The International Bar Association (IBA) has enlisted the president of the American Bar Associaton, Deborah Enix-Ross, to co-lead a new global body dedicated to improving lawyer wellbeing amid ongoing concerns that the strains of the job are adversely impacting the mental health of legal professionals.

The IBA’s new Professional Wellbeing Commission has been tasked with promoting the importance of wellbeing as a core issue and priority for the global legal community, helping change the culture and mindset of the legal profession and removing the stigma of discussing mental health issues while respecting cultural differences around this topic.

The commission is seeking to meet these goals through a planned course of activity that will bring together experts inside and outside the IBA who are committed to advancing wellbeing in the legal profession.

Enix-Ross, a New York-based senior adviser for Debevoise & Plimpton's international disputes team, is teaming up with Steven Richman, a Princeton-based member at top 200 US firm Clark Hill, to lead the commission, the duo having previously led a Wellbeing Taskforce for the IBA.

The taskforce set the stage for this latest initiative, commissioning a survey of more than 3,000 professionals that identified high levels of stress and anxiety across all demographics.

It found there is a low awareness about wellbeing support and services that are available, while in some jurisdictions there is no wellbeing support being offered at all. Stigma is often a major challenge that prevents legal professionals from speaking out on wellbeing concerns and there is a general lack of knowledge about best practice to tackle wellbeing issues.

In a joint statement, Enix-Ross and Richman said: “The wellbeing 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.”

Richman and Enix-Ross will serve as co-chairs for two years, coordinating 15 commissioners who will comprise an international team of IBA members and external experts. Commissioners, who will serve terms of between one and five years, include Bree Buchanen, president of the Institute for Well-being in Law, a US not-for-profit, and Elizabeth Rimmer, chief executive of the UK mental health charity LawCare.

A study published last month by LawCare highlighted that more than a fifth of lawyers contacting the organisation for support were doing so because they were suffering from stress. A further 12% got in touch because of anxiety issues, with 8% citing depression.

LawCare is the official charity for the Women and Diversity in Law Awards, which will take place on 21 March in London. Nine law firms and not-for-profit organisations are shortlisted in the Mental Health and Wellbeing Initiative of the Year category.


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