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Solicitors struggling with their mental health will be able to access three free counselling sessions a year with a psychologist as part of a new mental health and wellbeing service launched by the Law Society of NSW.

The Solicitor Outreach Service (SOS) is part of the Law Society’s ongoing efforts to support the mental health and wellbeing of the state’s 35,000 solicitors during the COVID-19 crisis and the ongoing recovery from the devastating bushfire season and drought. 

NSW solicitors in acute crisis or distress will also be able to access psychological support via the new SOS hotline – 1800 592 296 – which will be operational around the clock, 365 days a year.

“Most of us at some point confront an hour that is very dark,” CEO of the Law Society of NSW Michael Tidball told LSJ.

“Our hope, and our vision at the Law Society, is that the profession in its entirety will recognise that no-one is excluded from the possibility of needing to access this service.”

The Solicitor Outreach Service provides access to up to three one-on-one psychological sessions per financial year, at no cost for NSW solicitors, as well as immediate psychological counselling for solicitors in acute crisis or distress, via a new hotline.  All SOS psychologists are Medicare-registered so solicitors who are eligible for Medicare-subsidised sessions may be able to continue treatment with their psychologist beyond the SOS.

The telephone counselling will be delivered by an external provider and is confidential.

President of the Law Society of NSW Richard Harvey said the service will be managed by psychologists “who [are] aware of the sorts of stresses that lawyers are probably going through, who will then be able to hear directly from solicitors who are for whatever reason under stress, duress or feeling low or even suicidal.”

Michael Tidball, CEO, The Law Sociey of NSW Michael Tidball, CEO, The Law Sociey of NSW

One of the great lessons of the last decade has been that mental health, and other struggles like addiction … that these things are tractable and treatable.

“Solicitors will have somewhere to go where they know that the people who are listening to them are solicitor-friendly and understand the sorts of issues lawyers are going through,” Harvey told LSJ.

Harvey said the difficulties experienced by the profession and the broader community so far in 2020 “gave us the impetus to get things up and running”.

 “The legal profession, like any other portion of society, is made up of human beings, so there’s always going to be a level of distress, but of course we have solicitors freely acknowledge that there is a great deal of pressure in legal practice,” Harvey said. 

“You can’t just say ‘I don’t feel like dealing with your matter today’ when you’re reading to run your case in court. You’ve got to be there; you’ve got to provide, and you’ve got to look after your client. That’s an essential part of being a profession, but it brings stresses that don’t necessarily apply in other sectors of society.

“Many lawyers are sole practitioners and often they are genuinely alone. They don’t have support staff, or they could be in remote areas, and so they are not in a position where they can just hop on the bus and go see somebody on Macquarie Street.”

Tidball said the Law Society has “a particular need to lead in this area”.

“The evidence of a high degree of distress in the profession and occurrence of challenges with mental health – that is not a new discovery,” Tidball told LSJ.

“There is way more science and knowledge and empirical evidence that we have been able to channel in 2020 about the messaging, the behaviour, the insights and the needs of a person who is making that first vital step of reaching out and making a call. 

“What we want to do is, when that happens, recognise that for them it is quite literally a tough call.”

For Tidball, the launch of SOS is one of his final initiatives before departing the Law Society at the end of this month after 14 years at the helm.

“One of the great lessons of the last decade has been that mental health, and other struggles like addiction … that these things are tractable and treatable,” he said.

“And to every practitioner who has a need, there is always hope through practical assistance.”

Solicitors can visit the Law Society website to find out more about the full range of mental health and wellbeing support services.