All the nice lawyers love a SAILA!

SAILA statue image

 

 “About 20% of lawyers, or one in five, are ‘walking wounded’, meaning functioning and practising law while attempting to cover up, hide, or camouflage his or her psychological distress.”

~ Professor Susan Daicoff in Lawyer, Know Thyself.

What’s SAILing got to do with lawyering? Southern Africa’s Integrative Lawyer’s Association (SAILA) has come into existence because of an emerging need for a space in which lawyers, who are ready to talk about the interior experience of being a lawyer, can connect and support each other. While the Centre for Integrative Law is a consultancy that provides workshops and training in Integrative Law, it appeared that informal gatherings were required for those lawyers wanting to dip a toe into the water of Integrative Law without signing up for a full day workshop just yet… and so SAILA was born.

Most lawyers are not even aware of this oddity – that in South Africa, in our law schools, law firms, law societies and in legal publications, rarely if ever is regard paid to what it is like to be a lawyer. What do lawyers experience, what do they feel? How do they set aside the trauma they may witness during the day, when it’s time to go home to their families at night? There may be the occasional mention of stress but aside from this, all focus is on the law and what lawyers do, and how far up the ranks they are climbing, and certainly not how they feel about it. Nor do we see stories about what lawyers do aside from legal work. Heaven forbid we should talk about women lawyers who are balancing motherhood and law or male lawyers who have spent so many hours at the office they no longer no know who they are supposed to be when they do spend time at home. Does it matter that there’s no public discourse about how it feels to be a lawyer, you may ask?

There is a chapter devoted to Lawyer and Law Student Distress in Lawyer, Know Thyself by Professor Susan Daicoff, which is reviewed here.  Daicoff’s research shows that:

 “About 20% of lawyers, or one in five, are ‘walking wounded’, meaning functioning and practising law while attempting to cover up, hide, or camouflage his or her psychological distress.”

Therefore it does matter that we continue to ignore lawyers’ experiences of practising law. If you look at global statistics for substance abuse and depression in the legal profession, you’ll see that they are approximately double that of the non-lawyer population.   It matters because if you happen to be a young associate who’s currently receiving psychiatric treatment, you may be thinking that you are at fault for not being tough enough to be a lawyer. It matters because research shows that the legal profession has higher levels of VT – Vicarious Trauma, than other counselling and advisory professions. It’s been put forward that this is largely as a result of lawyers never receiving any counselling themselves. While other professions provide training in managing trauma and ongoing supervision, the legal profession, for the most part, turns a blind eye and insinuates the lawyer is to blame for not handling the job. This applies not only to lawyers who deal in the devastation of divorce and abuse cases but also to those who work in high-stakes commercial litigation.

So yes, it is time we start talking about this issue. SAILA is just one avenue, among the many initiatives the Centre for Integrative Law is working on, where lawyers can start to talk to others in their profession about how it feels to be a lawyer. To date SAILA has had two meetings in Cape Town and there is interest in the Eastern Cape to start meetings and in Johannesburg. How exactly SAILA is going to be structured and what it ultimately would like to achieve are all up for debate. For now, it’s hoped that the forum will grow and that all lawyers who’ve attended a SAILA meeting will come again and bring a friend or two so that together we can find ways

  • to meet our own needs as lawyers so we don’t burn out
  • to discover the parts of the law that inspire us to continue practising
  • to re-connect with why we became lawyers in the first place
  • to find ways to bring more of who we are to the work we do

Please email events@integrativelaw.co.za if you wish to be notified about SAILA gatherings. The next Cape Town gathering is on Wednesday 16 October 2013 from 5-7pm.

PLEASE TAKE 2 MINS TO LET THE CIL KNOW WHAT ASPECTS OF INTEGRATIVE LAW INTEREST YOU! CLICK HERE: What do YOU want from the Centre for Integrative Law?

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