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Time to innovate for better mental health

Editor's Box

There is much being written and, on occasion, talked about at conferences regarding mental health in the legal profession. More often it is about private practice lawyers managing stress or that the law society is starting to recognize the impact mental health can have on the actions of some lawyers who appear before disciplinary tribunals. 

However, you rarely hear about it related to in-house lawyers but the stress levels in-house are certainly rising with pressures to adhere to budgets, take on more work internally and work more closely to enable business while at the same time managing risk. Very few corporate counsel talk about going in-house to find better work-life balance anymore. 

While our Innovatio winner initiatives are often born out of trying to find ways to relieve the stress of too much work, I have yet to see projects that address the challenges of mental health in the workplace. Many teams struggle to find ways to balance workloads — as Charles McCarragher of TD told me (see page 29) the impetus for the alternative sourcing model his group came up with was born out of the need to create a “release valve” for his overworked contracts group.

Out of all of our 2018 Innovatio nominations, I was struck by a portion of Air Canada’s initiative as part of its process improvement transformation. It addressed the need for its legal team to “take time for themselves.” I know, it’s shocking.

As part of its Flight Path to World Class Legal Acclaim program to drive customer service behaviours and guide it in how the legal team interacts with business colleagues, one pillar of the Flight Path is giving lawyers time to invest in themselves. 

“I believe that we can only excel at customer service if we care about ourselves first, and one component of that is our Time for Yourself initiative. While as dedicated professionals we have always had the flexibility to take needed time, the intense demand we have confronted made doing so seem, too often, like a luxury we just couldn’t afford,” wrote Air Canada senior vice president, international and regulatory affairs and chief legal officer David Shapiro. “We felt that by having a distinct initiative, we would not only be legitimating time we need for ourselves, but signalling, symbolically, that we truly value and encourage our team to set aside and prioritize ‘self-time’ as a commitment to ourselves but also each other and our colleagues. If we are emphasizing customer service by showing we care about our business colleagues, we need to start by acting in ways that show we care about ourselves and each other.”

Innovatio judge Dorothy Quann and others highlighted this element as the nominations for the category of Law Department Management were being evaluated. While reporting on what they did with their “me time” was not required, the Air Canada legal team members have used Time for Yourself in many different ways, including volunteering at their kids’ school, taking a short trip or just reading that book they’ve been meaning to get to.

For next year, we will be looking to create a category for Innovatio that explores what legal teams are doing in the way of mental health initiatives. Because when everyone on the team is able to detach, refresh and think differently, change and innovation can happen.