Despite the interdisciplinary nature of law, lawyers rarely turn to medicine to look for the intersection between the two fields.
The exceptions to this would be the endless debate about work-life balance. For example, The CBA Futures report makes several references to health and wellness for lawyers as part of a sustainable practice.
Another intersection would be the recent focus by the Ontario Bar Association’s initiative, Opening Remarks, to promote conversations about mental health in the profession. This is an initiative led by the OBA President, Orlando Da Silva, based on his own experiences with depression.
Occasionally there are ambitious individuals who obtain both a law degree and a medical degree. Given the inherent limitations of our modern lifespans, and the intrinsic demands of each profession, it’s unlikely that these people gain an in-depth understanding of both, but the combination can make for some interesting conversations.
Stephen J. Busalacchi conducts a number of interviews in his book, White Coat Wisdom: Extraordinary Doctors Talk about what They Do, how They Got There, and why Medicine is So Much More Than a Job. One of the physicians he interviews is Richard Roberts, who practices family medicine in Belleville, Wisconsin and writes about topics like reducing malpractice risk in medicine.
In his interview, Roberts says that he has a very different perspective of lawyers than many of his medical colleagues, “nobody likes a lawyer until you need one…” But then he continues, “…and then you want the toughest, meanest SOB, you can possibly find on your side.”
Part of this sentiment is reflected by the litigious nature of American society, and a different attitude towards costs in the different countries. In a post-Groia world, civility and restraint are not only characteristics of professionalism, they are values which have significant sanctions and consequences for the licensee.
During the civility crusade which has permeated Canadian legal ethics for the past decade, countless judges and experts emphasize that incivility does not benefit the client, adds additional expenses to the proceedings, and burdens the justice system. Yet the perception by many in the public is that they still want nothing less than a bulldog by their side. For this reason, the commentary to Rule 4.2-1 of the Model Code of Professional Conduct prohibits advertising that would suggest or imply that a lawyer is aggressive.
We sanction untowards behaviour in Canada by awarding costs, typically on a partial or substantial indemnity scale. As a Legal Post article discussing Tossonian v. Cynphany Diamonds and Hearing Clinic (Niagara Falls) Inc. v. 866073 Ontario Ltd. highlighted recently, even the winner in litigation can occasionally be denied costs entirely due to their conduct. But these costs only compensate for legal expenses incurred, not the enormous emotional and psychological turmoil that litigation can take, especially with uncivil behaviour or frivolous actions.
The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ) has attempted to explore some of these costs outside of legal expenses in their Cost of Justice initiative, which has interviewed over 3000 people. The CBA’s Equal Justice report laments the scarcity of data on the impacts of law on the public, and lauds the CFCJ effots to collect this data. The CFCJ project is part of a 5-year grant, funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and they released a fact sheet this week of some of their preliminary findings.
Some of the key problems with justice identified here include:
- Everyday legal problems have several associated costs. Nearly 18% of people who reported having a legal problem experienced stress or emotional difficulty as a direct consequence of having that problem.
- The percentage of respondents reporting they experienced a physical health problem as a result of the legal problem increased from 39.1% for people 18-35 years of age to 61.5% for individuals aged 55-64
- Women were more likely than men to identify a physical health problem as a direct result of a legal problem; 67.1% of women compared with 53.2% of men.
The cost consequences of litigation, and the existence of unnecessary or prolonged litigation, rarely takes these impacts into consideration. If lawyers want to improve the manner in which they are perceived by the public, they should recognize that the work they do may also have significantly detrimental effects, not only to the other side in litigation, but to their own clients. Ideally this is something that should be something weighted more heavily by the bench.
In addition to utilizing greater supports to enhance their own health and wellness, they should develop contacts and resources for their clients to help assist them through their trying times. The stress-based and medical impacts of proceedings must be taken into consideration in client communications by ensuring they have their clients have proper supports in place and strategic decisions in litigation minimize the impact on all those involved.
A couple years ago I discussed emotional intelligence and importing the latte method into legal services. I concluded by stating, “…it’s time we tell ourselves, “Lawyer, heal thyself.”” Unfortunately, given the impacts of legal problems highlighted by the CFCJ Cost of Justice project, lawyers must also heal their clients.