Interview | Jerome Doraisamy (The Wellness Doctrines)
Jerome Doraisamy is a lawyer from Sydney, New South Wales. He attended St Aloysius’ College and then the University of Technology, Sydney, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Social Inquiry). Over the course of his legal career he has worked in a range of fields, from commercial practice to academic research to a major federal government inquiry.
The Wellness Doctrines is Jerome’s first book, and it examines the prevalence, causes and effects of psychological distress, anxiety and depression for law students and young lawyers in Australia in a manner never before seen – thematic discussion inspired by personal stories, first-hand accounts and case studies of over 45 legal professionals and health experts. It is hoped that his book will serve as a “survival guide” of sorts for new law students, incoming and current legal graduates, and other young lawyers.
Studies report one in three legal practitioners will be affected by mental health issues. What do you attribute to the anxiety and mental health issues suffered by legal practitioners: is it law school, the legal profession, or are anxious people just simply attracted to law?
It is a combination of all of those factors, although it is too crude to say anxious people are attracted to law. Statistically speaking, persons who display personality traits such as competitiveness, perfectionism and pessimism are more drawn to disciplines such as law, which can have the effect of increasing their anxiety levels when combined with the nature of law school and legal practice, and the issues pertaining to it such as a high volume of work.
Management of all issues facing those students, both internal and external, is imperative in order to retain optimal levels of health. Any solutions and strategies implemented should look to holistically and proactively combat issues across the board rather than focus on narrow or short-term items.
For those yet to read your book, what would you describe as its number one take-away point?
If a reader was to only take away one point, I would want it to be the idea that it is much better to proactively look after your health and wellbeing rather than react to a situation if and when it occurs. Putting in place preventative measures to be healthy and happy will significantly reduce your chances of burning out, meaning your chances of being an efficient legal professional will increase. Thus, to be the best, most successful lawyer, it is important to ensure that you are first a healthy, happy person.
If you were to look into a crystal ball ten years into the future, how do you see the legal profession’s relationship with mental health issues?
It would be too optimistic to hope that mental health issues will have been completely stamped out in the legal profession ten years from now; in fact, it is likely that rates of diagnosis may even increase in that time.
However, I do think it is possible for the profession to reach a point, within ten years, whereby both institutional support and individual responsibility is significantly heightened beyond what we currently see. Internal mechanisms for support in law firms, universities, organisations, etc. should be at a point whereby all persons feel supported and that there are avenues of help that compliment their personal needs, and individuals themselves should know exactly how they can take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing within the context of their personal and professional existences.
How do you think law schools and law firms could better support young lawyers and law students so that they don’t fall into depression?
Legal institutions should be re-framing the conversation around mental health issues in law to be more positive and uplifting, rather than talking about it in a way that seeks only to raise awareness and thus scare people into staying healthy. Instead, law students and lawyers should be motivated to look after themselves to be the healthiest, happiest individuals they can be so they have the best possible chance to be productive, successful lawyers. It must be reinforced that one is a person first, and a lawyer second.
What would be the one piece of advice you would give to a law student commencing their first year of law school in 2017?
Be kind to yourself. You are commencing a hugely challenging but rewarding journey, and it is one that will be more enjoyable and successful if you ensure that you retain a sense of self and prioritise what is important to you, on a personal and emotional level. Take care of yourself and everything else will then become easier to take care off!
Who is your biggest inspiration in tackling this profession-wide problem?
My inspiration is every law student coming through the ranks whom I meet. No student should ever have to experience the crippling, debilitating depression that I and many others have suffered, and any little thing I can do to help the new generation avoid those issues, I will be doing. That is what is getting me out of bed in the mornings!
Jerome is available for consulting and speaking engagements at law firms, universities, legal organisations and institutions, other professional service providers. Sessions (i.e. lectures, interactive workshops, book club meetings and small group discussions) can be claimed towards a lawyer’s mandatory continuing legal education, and fees are determined based on the session/s being delivered. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about a tailored session.