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Articling Students’ Mental Health

2 minute read
Also authored by: Chelsea McKee

A 2022 study, released by a research team at the Université de Sherbrooke, provided the first comprehensive empirical study on wellness in the Canadian legal profession. It reported that 72% of articling students (264 total articling student participants) experienced psychological distress, including symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, concentration problems, anxiety or insomnia. This was one of the highest proportions of psychological distress observed among legal professionals.

Articling students can work on developing two key skills to ease the risk of or reduce symptoms associated with mental health issues – the ability to set limits (assertiveness) and the ability to psychologically detach from work outside office hours. While these essential skills are required to cope with the profession’s stressors, it is often difficult for articling students to take steps to develop them.

At an individual level, it is important that students keep up with their interests outside of work. While it is very easy to fall into the “I’m too busy” or the “I’m too exhausted” mindset, maintaining any level of involvement with things you enjoy outside of the office will help you psychologically detach from work outside office hours. While it seems like drawing appropriate boundaries may be negatively received, they are essential for your longevity and overall happiness in the profession. This could look like speaking up before you reach an unmanageable level of work overload, or after a period of intensity asking that your workload be more balanced for a period of time. It is important that you respectfully advocate for yourself and your mental health.

Systemically, it is important for law firms/employers to provide training and mentoring/coaching at the beginning of articles to help students acquire these skills. This can be achieved through “the implementation of policies (e.g., the right to disconnect after office hours), by management practices (e.g., clarifying expectations) or by psychosocial environment policies (e.g., psychological safety).” Employers will benefit from efforts made to provide articling students with access to mental health resources, destigmatize mental health disclosures, and respect their privacy and confidentiality. It is also “essential to welcome them with open arms and protect their commitment to the profession, particularly in the first five years of practice.”

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