Help lawyers to cope with work stress: CJ Menon

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon speaking at Mass Call held on Aug 26, 2016 at the Supreme Court auditorium.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon speaking at Mass Call held on Aug 26, 2016 at the Supreme Court auditorium. PHOTO: ST FILE

He urges firms to prioritise mental health as overseas surveys show lawyers suffering

Law firms should do more to help lawyers who may be struggling to cope with the volume and pace of their work, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said on Monday.

He urged firms to examine the safeguards they have and to make this a priority, adding that young lawyers in particular are under increasing strain. For instance, a recent survey in Britain found that more than 90 per cent of 200 lawyers felt too much emotional or mental pressure at work, Chief Justice Menon said at this year's Mass Call, a proceeding that formally admits lawyers to the Bar.

"If this were not troubling enough, one in four described the stress he experienced as either 'severe' or 'extreme'," he said.

He also cited an Australian study which reported that lawyers suffer from significantly lower levels of psychological health than other professionals.

And while there has not been an equivalent study done locally yet, the Chief Justice said that the experience of other jurisdictions is enough to spark concerns here.

 
 

He was the presiding judge at the first session of this year's Mass Call on Monday. Judges of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Steven Chong presided over the second and third sessions, respectively, yesterday.

In total, the legal community welcomed 483 lawyers this year at the event held at the Supreme Court auditorium, which was gazetted as a courtroom. This figure was a slight dip from last year's 509 and the record admission of 535 in the previous year. In 2014, the number stood at 430.

Citing examples in his address, Chief Justice Menon said international law firm Clifford Chance has a mental health awareness scheme for new recruits. They undergo resilience training and have access to specialist speakers, such as psychologists.

Singapore Management University School of Law deputy dean David Llewelyn, who was called to the Singapore Bar yesterday, said the practice of law has seen rapid changes, bringing with it obvious pressures. Said the 61-year-old Briton: "While many are able to adapt and think laterally, there are those who need mentoring to take them through their early years of practice, which... are the worst, as you are learning something new every day. It is very different from university."

Chief Justice Menon commended the Law Society of Singapore for its various initiatives to help lawyers, including a Members' Assistance and Care Helpline that acts as "a first port of call" for those who are struggling.

He also gave an update on a committee announced at last year's Mass Call to review training contracts and how undergraduates are assessed for employment. The Committee for the Professional Training of Lawyers, led by Justice Quentin Loh, has carried out 10 focus group sessions to gather feedback from the legal community, he said. The committee is expected to issue its report in the next few months.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2017, with the headline 'Help lawyers to cope with work stress: CJ Menon'. Print Edition | Subscribe