Mental Health and the Law
Caroline Counsel worked for many years at VCAT in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing cases against solicitors. They were often isolated, unsupported and mentally unwell people struggling with their legal practices and often being abused by their fellow partners. One practitioner was in hospital suffering from a mental breakdown and the attitude of his then partners was to load up boxes of files, take them to the hospital, present him with a Dictaphone and tell him to keep working as it would take his mind of his problems.
This same solicitor was unable to face opening mail relevant to his own financial affairs and then his client’s affairs. He missed a deadline and a client’s legal rights were compromised. He was found trying to commit suicide.
Caroline Counsel’s platform (the first President to ever have a platform that then worked back into the strategic plan of the LIV) was “Leave No Lawyer Behind”; It was based on the premise that if you have healthier lawyers, they run healthier practices, and their clients are consequently better serviced.
Through Caroline’s efforts, this lead to the establishment of WATL – a combined effort of the LIV and the Victorian Bar to support lawyers and mental health. A mental health line for lawyers was created that they could access anonymously instead of having to approach their employers or HR managers. WATL started offering Mental First Aid courses to assist practitioners, managers and HR managers in Law Firms better identify and work with colleagues around better work place safety on mental health issues.
Caroline is also on the Inaugural Legal Admissions Board for Victoria under the Uniform Law and has been working to remove the stigma and need to “tell all” in relation to those seeking admission to the profession who have suffered from mental ill health. Advancements have been made to ensure that only those disclosures need be made by individuals who may or will impact on their ability to perform their role as a lawyer rather than having to report all incidents of mental ill health.