Lawyers and Students

Mental Health Week 2018 #4

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By Melanie Hodges Neufeld

The Canadian Mental Health Association – Saskatchewan Division website has numerous resources to help people stay mentally fit and healthy. Topics include:

The website also contains information on Mental Health in the Workplace – a topic of particular interest to our members. This page includes information on How do mental illnesses impact workers and workplaces? and How can I help a co-worker?

Please check out these resources or any of the resources we’ve highlighted this week if you have any mental health concerns about yourself or a co-worker.

[Originally posted on May 4, 2017]

Mental Health Week 2018 #3

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By Brad D. Hunter, Q.C.
Director of Insurance, Saskatchewan Lawyers’ Insurance Association (SLIA)

Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers – What Happens When You Call?

Mental Health Week is an annual national event that takes place during the first week in May to encourage discussion about mental health. During this week, the Law Society of Saskatchewan will be providing mental health  information to assist our members. This article first appeared in our spring edition of the Benchers’ Digest with the theme Mental Health: Struggles and Successes.

As mentioned earlier in this issue, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) is a free, confidential assistance program for Saskatchewan lawyers, judges, law students and their immediate families. SLIA oversees the contract with third party provider, Homewood Human Solutions, who manage LCL’s program and remains LCL’s referrals coordinator and administrator for professional counseling services. Client contacts are made directly to Homewood Human Solutions 24 hours per day, 7 days per week for immediate confidential assistance. Clients are generally provided up to five (5) free consultations, unless otherwise approved.

When a call is placed for assistance, callers are immediately directed to one of three intake centres in Vancouver, Guelph and Montreal. The caller is routed to the first available person to address the caller’s initial inquiry. The clinicians who deal with the initial inquiry are fully qualified and they triage the inquiry to determine whether it is a crisis situation requiring immediate assistance or whether it is a non-emergent inquiry. The clinician will take down the identification information for the caller to ensure that Homewood Health knows who the caller is, where they reside and where they work. However, that information is strictly confidential.

The clinician will then discuss with the caller what problem the caller is presenting with and what assistance they might require. The caller is also asked whether they have a preferred modality of counseling, being either a phone call from a designated clinician or a face-to-face meeting with a clinician. The caller is also asked for dates that he or she would be available for the initial meeting with the clinician. Depending on the issue that the caller is presenting and the availability of clinicians in the area in which the caller resides, a face-to-face meeting is typically set up within 3 business days. If it is a crisis situation, the intake clinician will refer the caller immediately to a treating clinician by way of telephone consult.

All of the clinicians employed by Homewood Health and their referral clinicians must have a masters degree and be licensed by the appropriate regulatory body. They must also have 5 years of post-education clinical experience. Callers are allowed to indicate a preference for a particular clinician in their area and if that clinician is part of the Homewood Health network and qualified to provide counselling in the area required then the caller will be linked up with that clinician.

The only individuals that have access to the confidential information provided by Homewood Health and its clinicians are the clinician and the Regional Clinical Manager. All of the information is contained on Homewood’s clinical portal and no paper copies are in existence. The confidentiality of the callers identification and problem is paramount to Homewood Health. Neither the Law Society of Saskatchewan nor Saskatchewan Lawyers’ Insurance Association have access to Homewood’s files.

Originally published in Benchers’ Digest, Spring 2018

Mental Health Week 2018 #2

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By Ronni Nordal
Bencher, Law Society of Saskatchewan

Understanding mental health issues among lawyers

Mental Health Week is an annual national event that takes place during the first week in May to encourage discussion about mental health. During this week, the Law Society of Saskatchewan will be providing mental health  information to assist our members. This article first appeared in our spring edition of the Benchers’ Digest with the theme Mental Health: Struggles and Successes.

Teenagers often will try things that put them at great risk, as they believe they are invincible – until tragedy strikes. While as lawyers we can clearly see the teenagers thought process as irrational, I suggest, we are equally irrational when it comes to our approach to mental health – lawyers think “it won’t happen to me” or “I am just fine”.

Within our profession, just as within society in general, a significant percentage have suffered, or will suffer from a mental health illness. The Canadian Mental Health Association quotes some stark statistics:

Who is affected?

  • Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.
  • In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.
  • Mental illness affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures.
  • Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
  • About 1% of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”).

How common is it?

  • By age 40, about 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness.
  • Schizophrenia affects 1% of the Canadian population.
  • Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment.
  • Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds.
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.
  • The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women.

As members of the legal profession, we are expected to be confident, tough and always ready to zealously advocate on behalf of our clients. To admit we are struggling creates a vulnerability that simply is at odds with the perception of what a lawyer “should be”.

The reality is that lawyers are often zealously advocating on behalf of their clients while, at the same time, dealing with their own mental health illness. The fact a lawyer has a mental health illness does not define the lawyer, nor does it mean he/she cannot/should not continue to practice law. Rather, just like any physical disease, when a lawyer has a mental health illness he/she must seek treatment, and follow the treatment plan, in order to get healthy and remain healthy.

The first step, as always, is to accept there is a problem. The fact is, a lawyer is more likely to have an addiction or depression related illness than a member of the general public, including other professionals.

A 2016 study, funded by the ABA and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine indicated that alcohol consumption was a problem for lawyers at a rate between two and three times higher than other professionals.

Patrick Krill, an attorney and former Director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Legal Professionals Program recently presented to lawyers and students at a Law Society of Upper Canada professional development session and indicated that American lawyers suffer from depression at a rate about three times that of members of society in general.

I suggest the U.S – Canada border has nothing to do with the rate of depression among lawyers and rather the increased presence of addiction and mental health illness in lawyers is directly tied to the legal profession itself.

As a profession we need to remove the stigma. Lawyers are not better than anyone else in society – we are all human beings that put our socks on one leg at a time. We are vulnerable and are not invincible – and sometimes we need help – it is time to accept that and in doing so, once we, as lawyers feel comfortable to ask for help – that help needs to be available.

By its very nature, the practice of law can be adversarial. In an adversarial system any show of vulnerability can be perceived as weakness but perception is not always accurate. Vulnerability can actually be a sign of strength as it shows the lawyer is honest and aware and recognizes where she/he may be struggling or many need help. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. The question then turns to the response given to the request for help.

When a lawyer does ask for help, his/her colleagues and his/her regulatory body (in our case, the Law Society of Saskatchewan) need to be there and ready to offer assistance, not judgement and certainly not the risk of punitive consequences.

Think about having a conversation with a colleague who tells you they are struggling with getting out of bed and going to the office; are having panic attacks when thinking of going into a trial setting; and of recently breaking down in tears at their desk. What is your reaction? It should be no different than if that colleague told you they have been short of breath and having sharp pains in their chest when going up the stairs – both indicate a likelihood of illness; both call for your support; and both call for you to suggest seeking professional assistance.

Early in my legal career I was aware of a lawyer who was struggling with significant mental health issues that were affecting the practice and potentially putting clients at risk. That lawyer did not disclose to the Law Society, and other members who were aware, also did not disclose. Rather, other lawyers made themselves available to ensure clients were not at risk and the lawyer could seek the help needed to get better and return to practice. I remember the situation well and I remember that the consensus was that any type of disclosure would cause punitive sanctions rather than supportive ones.

The role of the Law Society is key. If I fear reprisal or that my right to practice law will be unfairly affected, I will not disclose my struggles which, in turn will leave my clients at risk. However, if I feel assured that the response of my regulatory body will be the same no matter whether the illness affecting my ability to practice is physical or mental – I will be more likely to disclose. The response needs to be supportive; nonjudgmental and confidential and needs to be proportional.

Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) is a free, confidential assistance program for Saskatchewan lawyers, judges, law students and their immediate families. SLIA oversees the contract with third party provider, Homewood Human Solutions, which manages LCL’s program and remains LCL’s referrals coordinator and administrator for professional counseling services. Client contacts are made directly to Homewood Human Solutions 24 hours-per-day, 7 days-per-week for immediate confidential assistance.

Homewood Human Solutions maintains confidential records, reports by reference only to client numbers, and is careful not to reveal any details that might inadvertently identify a specific client. At no time are any details made available to either the Law Society or SLIA which would tend to disclose the nature of the engagement with Homewood or the identity of the party using the service.

SLIA only receives aggregate statistics which provide information about usage of the program and in what areas to assist in the development of further programming for the benefit of its members. If you or a loved one have issues, our only concern is to see that you receive the help that will support your journey to wellness.

The Law Society also has a number of systems which it can recommend/input to assist members who are dealing with health issues of many sorts, to provide support to lawyers and protection to their clients when they are experiencing difficulty in maintaining their practice:

  • With the requirement that every member have a succession plan in place, the successor may be willing/able to provide support and assistance to the member during a difficult period.
  • Law Society Practice Advisors can be assigned to meet with the member to review their practice circumstances and recommend changes that can be made/supports that may be put in place to assist the member with continuing to practice safely.
  • Members, with facilitation by the Law Society, have entered into supervision arrangements with supervising members agreeing to establish and maintain a relationship with the member for a period of time, agreeing to meet with them regularly and provide support assistance and oversight.
  • The Locum Program and Registry was established by the Law Society to provide a conduit between members who are willing to provide temporary paid coverage and/or work support to members who may need to be away from their practice for a short period of time. While there are currently few members listed in the registry, helpful materials are also available on the Law Society website that may be used to safely and efficiently establish a temporary locum relationship between two willing and interested practitioners.
  • Finally, in the unfortunate event that a member is unable to continue with their practice, or must take an indefinite absence from their practice, and the member’s successor is unable to assume responsibility for the entire practice, the Law Society has the ability to seek an order appointing a Trustee to oversee and potentially wind up the practice in a way that protects the interests of the member’s clients.

It is now 2018 – and it is time for lawyers to be comfortable with the fact many of us will have a mental health illness – it is time to recognize that lawyers can get the help they need to deal with their mental health illness, just as they would with any physical illness – and that stigma and judgment are the real problems and what is holding many back from speaking out and seeking help.

Originally published in Benchers’ Digest, Spring 2018

Mental Health Week 2018

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By Craig Zawada, Q.C.
President, Law Society of Saskatchewan

Mental Health Week is an annual national event that takes place during the first week in May to encourage discussion about mental health. During this week, the Law Society of Saskatchewan will be providing mental health  information to assist our members. To kick off the week, please see the article below by our President, Craig Zawada, Q.C. This article first appeared in our spring edition of the Benchers’ Digest with the theme Mental Health: Struggles and Successes.

My initial thought writing this message, my first as President of the Law Society, is that I boxed myself into a corner.

Let me explain. One of the little things I wanted to do as President was provide a monthly report to my fellow Benchers. It was not intended to be anything momentous, just a way of letting them know what I was anticipating and doing, and trying to keep our activities front of mind.

I happened to be writing February’s report on January 31, which you might recall was “Let’s Talk Day”. That day has grown into a national conversation around mental health issues and lessening the stigma associated with mental illness. I shared with the Benchers that I had suffered from depression, and talked about the prevalence of mental health issues in the legal profession.

I was overwhelmed by the response. Most of the Benchers reached out, some with stories of how they too had dealt with similar issues themselves or with their families. The commonality of the afflictions was not a surprise – we all know the statistics. But the empathy and support was incredible.

Which brings me to being boxed in. I didn’t plan on that message going beyond the Benchers. It is not that I am ashamed of depression, it is just not something anyone brags about. Even though I have dealt with depression in my past, I do not feel “depressed”. I am in a pretty good place in my life right now, and I know many who have it far, far worse.

But we have a serious problem in the legal profession. Some estimates put the level of depression among lawyers at three times the general population. There are many reasons, but the nature of our job does not help. We are literally paid to shoulder problems, and some of the cases we handle on behalf of clients are horrible. Sometimes it causes short term stress. Other times it is much more serious.

This extends through all levels of the legal profession. For a specific example of the stigma that existed only 30 years ago, look up how Justice Gerald Le Dain lost his job on the Supreme Court of Canada just for asking for time off to deal with his depression.

Times are changing, I hope. But talking about the problem once a year is not enough. Even if we do not suffer from mental health problems or the symptoms they create, like addictions, it is hard to personalize it. It is always a general problem, instead of something which affects specific people. One of the Benchers put it far better than I can, and I hope he does not mind me using his quote:

“It is amazing how we can, and are expected to, present the appearance of having it ‘all together’. Yet, when the discussion actually takes place, we realize that many of our friends, neighbors and colleagues who seem to have perfect lives, experience the very same symptoms.”

That is absolutely true, and is another example of why the stigma should disappear. We don’t think less of people when they get cancer or the flu. Why should mental illness be any different?

So while I personally would rather not harp on my own experience, I thought if I just left the conversation to Let’s Talk Day, I would miss an opportunity. Particularly in a Benchers’ Digest which is devoted to Mental Wellness, I would not feel right by staying silent when I could offer actual evidence that things can get better. Much like alcoholism is a lifelong disease for some, I guess I will always say I suffer from depression. I don’t know what the future will bring, after all. But today I can say unqualifiedly that there is hope. No matter how bleak things may appear, it can get better and there are resources to help.

Those resources include Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, and I urge any members who are battling personal issues, big or small, to take advantage of it. The program has been carefully constructed to be independent and respect anonymity. Many of us are embarrassed to admit we need help, especially those who are suffering the most. Please recognize that LCL respects that, and will put you in touch with essential resources. It is not the only way of dealing with personal issues, of course, but it is there for you to use.

I am proud to be a lawyer, and it is an honour to be part of a profession with so many giving, intelligent and principled members. The fact we take on tough issues is a badge of honour. But the physical and mental price we pay for that need not be accepted as a given. The more we talk about this, the more we can help those who are suffering.

Before I close out, I want to mention a few people who have contributed to keeping the Law Society moving forward. Erin Kleisinger, Q.C. was marvellous as President in 2017 and her ongoing advice and guidance is invaluable. I also want to recognize Perry Erhardt, Q.C., who has completed his term as Past President but remains a key part of our Bencher table. And congratulations to Leslie Belloc-Pinder, who was elected Vice President and will be an outstanding President in 2019. Tim Brown, Q.C., our Executive Director, continues to do a great job in managing the multiple priorities and projects that legal services regulation demands, and he makes my role of chairing the Board much easier.

Finally, I want to thank my fellow Benchers for their continued wisdom and insight. It is an arduous task to be on the Board of the Law Society, without much fanfare (or compensation). Without exception, they are all devoted to ensuring the needs of the public and the effective provision of legal services are met. Thanks to you all.

Originally published in Benchers’ Digest, Spring 2018

Career integration of Internationally Trained Lawyers

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By Lola Ayotunde

This is the second of 2 articles on Equity and Diversity. The first article “Equity and Diversity Committee Seeks Input by Kara Dawn Jordan was posted yesterday.

In response to this article, the Law Society is offering the following free webinar on May 24, 2018: Integration of Internationally Trained Lawyers. The webinar qualifies for 1 CPD Hour, which also qualifies for Ethics.

To register click here: Integration of Internationally Trained Lawyers

For most professionals who decide to migrate to other countries, one question resonates: “How do I integrate into my profession in my new home country?” As a lawyer planning to migrate to Canada, I found out that the door to my career integration is the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA).

The NCA is the standing committee of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada that assesses the legal education and professional experience of Internationally Trained Lawyers (ITLs). This article focuses on the challenges of ITLs who received their legal education outside Canada.

This is not an attempt to understate the plight of Canadian lawyers who received their legal education outside Canada or immigrants who received their legal education from a Canadian University. However, this article brings to light the challenges of migrant-ITLs who received their Certificate of Qualification from the NCA.

After crossing the rigorous hurdles of the NCA exams, I obtained my Certificate of Qualification. Becoming a lawyer is challenging everywhere but the process of searching for an articling position was one of the most difficult hurdles I have crossed in my career.

Although I received my Master of Laws degree from a Canadian University, I was not prepared for the realities that confronted me in my search for an articling position through countless calls, emails and visitations to law firms. I took the proactive step of applying for articling positions while I was writing my NCA exams, but the lawyers I was fortunate to meet either did not understand my position as an NCA student or were unwilling to commit to an NCA student because they were not sure I would obtain the Certificate of Qualification.

I received responses like “come back when you are qualified”. It was clear to me that many lawyers did not know about the NCA stream of lawyers/applicants and did not understand the  evaluation of foreign law degrees and certificates. I must say, however, that some lawyers spared time to ask questions and showed interest in knowing my capabilities and how my professional qualifications compared to the Canadian legal system, but for the most part, my endeavors to become a lawyer in Canada were met with several obstacles.

ITLs are saddled with unanticipated stumbling blocks in the process of seeking articling positions and, unfortunately, after call-to-the-bar. I found out that different factors worked against me as an ITL/NCAcertified applicant:

1. Recruitment Calendar

Most law firms and government organizations recruit articling students who are in the second year of law school a year before the students intend to commence articling. The process is totally  different for ITLs because of the NCA schedule. I was unable to secure an articling position while writing my NCA exams because the lawyers were not sure of my success in the NCA process and were unwilling to commit to a yet-to-be-certified ITL.

When I completed my NCA exams and received my Certificate of Qualification, I was ready to start articling, immediately. Unfortunately the big law firms had already recruited articling students during the recruitment period. Other firms have either not decided to take on an articling student for that year or already have an articling student or need some time to decide whether to take on articling students.

Of course most law firms do not recruit articling students spontaneously, hence the benefit for a second year law student. For an ITL looking for an immediate placement, and depending on when the Certificate of Qualification was obtained, this may mean waiting for months or a year before the recruitment window opens again and/or before a law firm decides to advertise for articling position.

2. Lack of Mentors

Most law schools have career officers that assist students with securing articling positions. ITLs do not have access to the services of career officers. More so, law schools often organize career  workshops that give law students the opportunity to meet lawyers while in law school.

Law students can cultivate mentorship relationships with lawyers in this process and receive valuable guidance in their career path. ITLs do not have the same access to career officers and mentors. It is a daunting task to navigate through and sometimes against the conventions and practices of the legal society you are about to join.

3. Systemic Discrimination

Underlying discriminatory factors can influence hiring practices or create roadblocks for ITLs. From my experiences thus far, I must respectfully suggest the matter is a systemic one. Persons in charge of hiring can be taken aback by an applicant’s name, professional background, accent or race, and this systemic discrimination can shut the door on an ITL’s integration into the legal profession.

The unfortunate impression that is left is that future colleagues, because of your name or background or race, may see you as less intelligent. Many ITLs come from countries that speak differently from Canadians. Even those that have English as their first language sometimes have a differentiating accent.

This sometimes creates communication gaps and some lawyers, colleagues and judges do not have the patience to listen and understand a different communication style. Having a senior lawyer advise an ITL/articling applicant to “consider taking a course at the Open Door” without ever meeting or talking to the aspiring lawyer is discouraging and disheartening. Such perceptions about ITLs are difficult to dispel even if the preconceived notion does not apply to that applicant you may be about to decline.

4. NCA Students or ITLs are not the same

Painting people with the same brush and making negative assumptions about them is perhaps another indication of systemic discrimination. Similarly, judging ITLs by the experience or job performance of another ITL or articling student is also common. No one should be judged by the capability and performance of another person, especially someone they have never met or identified with. No one should be visited with the repercussions of the actions of another person on the sole basis of sharing a similar racial or professional background.

Conclusion

In our progressively globalizing world, diversity is the new norm and the value an ITL can bring to a firm or organization cannot be understated. The international experience and exposure of ITLs has great potential to the legal profession and the evolution of law in Canada.

With the increasing number of ITLs routing through the NCA stream, our law societies need to affirm their commitment to embrace diversity and inclusiveness and develop effective plans to do so. The starting point is to educate lawyers about the NCA stream of lawyers and how foreign legal credentials compare to Canadian credentials.

In furtherance of a fair recruiting system, lawyers and hiring personnel should bear in mind that academic grading systems differ when analyzing foreign law school transcripts. Sensitizing lawyers about ITLs and the importance of a diverse and inclusive legal profession in the global legal industry is a good way of encouraging lawyers and others in the legal profession to welcome the change and prospects ITLs bring to the table. We all have a role to play; having a self-assessment and consciously dispelling the myths or notions about ITLs will help lawyers evaluate all applicants with open mind.

Originally published in Benchers’ Digest, Spring 2018

Equity and Diversity Committee Seeks Input

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By Kara-Dawn Jordan
Policy Counsel, Law Society of Saskatchewan

In 2017, the Law Society of Saskatchewan re-established its Equity and Diversity Committee. The purposes of the committee are to monitor developments and advise the Benchers on issues affecting equity and diversity in the legal profession; explore and recommend equity and diversity actions/initiatives; and recommend and support ongoing education and awareness training for members of the profession.

Over the last year, the committee’s focus has been on enhancing its understanding of the makeup of our membership as well as the equity and diversity issues affecting the legal profession in Saskatchewan and society generally. To that end, the committee has sought (and continues to seek) the input of various individuals and groups willing to share their experiences and perspectives. This input will inform the committee’s recommendations for action.

The committee is interested in hearing from any members who have personal experiences they are willing to share regarding barriers they have faced either entering the profession or practicing in Saskatchewan. Anyone interested may contact Ronni Nordal (Chair of the Equity and Diversity Committee) ronni@nordalleblanc.ca or Barbra Bailey (Policy Counsel) barbra.bailey@lawsociety.sk.ca, in confidence, to discuss how their experiences might best be communicated to the committee.

In order to enhance awareness and encourage dialogue among the membership about equity and diversity issues, the Law Society will look for opportunities to share the experiences and insights of our members and to focus on topics relating to equity and diversity. As such, we would like to thank Lola Ayotunde for submitting the following article (to be posted on Legal Sourcery tomorrow) sharing her experience and perspectives gained as an Internationally Trained Lawyer entering the profession in Saskatchewan.

 

Originally published in Benchers’ Digest, Spring 2018