The Wellness Doctrines

Book Launch

Justice Anna Katzmann [1] 30 September 2015

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Good evening.

May I begin with a number of acknowledgments?

First, let me say how honoured I am to have been invited to launch The Wellness Doctrines. Second, I want to thank Terry McCabe for hosting the event and for his support generally. Third, I wish to pay my respects to the Gadigal elders as we gather on Gadigal land.

Next Sunday marks the beginning of Mental Health Week. Almost seven years ago to the day, as president of the NSW Bar Association, I gave a speech in the subject of "Lawyering as Emotional Labour". I began that speech with the words of the distinguished American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes. It seems apt to return to those words today. They were drawn from a speech Holmes gave to Harvard undergraduates in 1886 in which he reflected on the nature of the legal profession.

Only when you have worked alone - when you have felt around you a black gulf of solitude more isolating than that which surrounds the dying man, and in hope and in despair you have trusted to your own unshaken will - then only will you have achieved.[2]

Holmes repeatedly referred to the isolation of legal work. In a later speech, delivered at Brown University, he said that the man of high ambitions "must face the loneliness of original work". He claimed that "no one can cut out new paths in company", only alone and only then will the ambitious man have achieved. Of the beginning of his life in the law, when he embarked upon his journey on what he referred to as "the ocean of the Law", he said:

There were few of the charts and lights for which one longed when I began. One found oneself plunged in a thick fog of details––in a black and frozen night, in which were no flowers, no spring, no easy joys. Voices of authority warned that in the crush of that ice any craft might sink…One saw that artists and poets shrank from it as from an alien world. One doubted oneself how it could be worthy of the interest of an intelligent mind.[3]

I expect that these reflections will resonate with many of us.

I have been a member of the legal profession for more than 35 years. For a good deal of that time, we pretended that mental health was not an issue for the profession. After all, it was important to project an image to the public of strength and invulnerability. We were the problem-solvers. How could we have problems of our own?

But none of us is invulnerable. We all struggled in varying degrees with the pressures of legal practice, the demands of clients and partners, the boorish judges, the hard cases, the fear of failure, and the humiliation of defeat. We managed the stresses and the disappointments with alcohol and/or other drugs. Heavy drinking after court each day was de rigeur. No-one thought anything of it. It was the norm. Physical and mental health suffered. Marriages collapsed. This, too, was normal. Few paused to consider whether we should be trying to do something about it.

But things have changed - and not before time. Much of the credit for the change goes to the sufferers of mental ill-health and their families who have been prepared to share their stories in the hope of helping others. Jerome is one of these.

I congratulate Jerome on his significant contribution to the public debate on this important and long-neglected issue.

This book is a hybrid - part memoir, part guidebook. It draws on, and is inspired by, Jerome's personal experiences and the first-hand accounts and case studies of numerous legal and health professionals. It is a brave book, because it reveals Jerome's personal struggles with mental illness. It is also a generous book, for Jerome shares his insights with the reader. Overwhelmingly, it is an optimistic book. It reflects upon the past, but is directed to the future. Despite its title and the zeal of its author, however, The Wellness Doctrines is not in the least doctrinaire. Moreover, it is an easy and engaging read.

The target readers are law students and young lawyers. The book's ambition is that they will be armed with practical tools to flourish in their professional and personal lives. But this is not just a book for them. It is a book for all lawyers, for practitioners and academics, for the managers and the managed, and for all those who care about our welfare and the delivery of our services. We can all learn from it.

In his foreword Sir Gerard wrote: "This is a book of its time and it is a book for its time". I would go further. It is a book of and for all times. Modern life certainly has its pressures as does the contemporary practice of law. For one thing, the proliferation of law schools over the last forty years has seen a massive increase in the number of law graduates and a corresponding increase in competition for legal work. This creates additional pressures. But the study and practice of law has always been stressful. And depression and anxiety are not new conditions amongst lawyers. I don't know whether Oliver Wendell Holmes was clinically depressed, rather than merely introspective, but his contemporary, Abraham Lincoln, whom Jerome quotes in his book, certainly was. What is new is that at long last steps are being taken to address these issues and to improve the legal workplace. They may be baby steps, but they represent an important development. It takes both courage and intelligence for a sufferer to come to terms with his or her illness and seek treatment. To confront and then tackle the problems of legal practice it takes intelligence and leadership. Neither is lacking. But time is of the essence.

This message rings loud throughout The Wellness Doctrines

Dr Robert Fisher, Head of Psychiatry at St Vincent's Hospital and a member of the board of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, was a consultant on the book. I am also a member of the TJMF Board. The Foundation is pleased and grateful to Jerome, both for his decision to donate a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the book to the Foundation to enable us to proceed with our work, and for his endorsement of that work. Many of you will be aware of the Foundation's objectives to decrease work-related psychological ill-health in the legal community and to promote workplace psychological health and safety. To these ends, the Foundation has developed Best Practice Guidelines for the profession. The TJMF Psychological Well Being: Best Practice Guidelines are freely available on the Foundation's website at I would encourage you to sign up to them, if you have not already done so. McCabes was an inaugural signatory, now one of 110 - and growing.

I wish you all a very happy mental health week. Take a moment during mental health week to think about how you can improve your own well-being and make the lives of those around you a little more pleasant. Reading Jerome's book would be a good start.

Please join with me in wishing Jerome good fortune and healthy sales. He has done us all a great service.

[1] Judge of the Federal Court of Australia and Additional Judge of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory.

[2] OW Holmes, "Commencement Address-Brown University, 17 June 1897, "Occasional Speeches, 97-8, quoted by G Edward White, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: Law and the Inner Self, Oxford University Press, 1993, p 90

[3] Max Lerner (ed), The Mind and Faith of Justice Holmes: His Speeches, Essays, Letters and Judicial Opinions, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1943, pp 32–3