Three lawyers open up about their experience with mental illness // Precedent Live

Precedent Live panel discussion
In front of a live audience, they described how the practice of law wreaks havoc on their mental health

By Precedent

On Wednesday May 9th, 2018


In our latest issue, we took a deep dive into the mental-health crisis in law. And yes, it is a crisis: close to 28 percent of lawyers suffer from depression and 19 percent live with anxiety. To uncover the root causes of those statistics, we profiled a range of lawyers who struggle with mental illness.

But that only marked the beginning of our work. We want to spark a lasting dialogue on mental health that can lead to meaningful change. And so, with that goal in mind, Precedent’s senior editor Daniel Fish recently moderated a panel discussion with three of the lawyers who appeared in our last issue. The event, hosted by Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, attracted more than 50 lawyers, who turned up to hear our panellists talk about the connection between the practice of law and mental illness. We’ve posted a video of the conversation below.

On stage, our panel — which featured John Hoyles, Mailni Vijaykumar and Frankie Wood — spoke with unflinching candour. Hoyles, the former president of the Canadian Bar Association, lambasted billable-hour targets, which, in his view, drive hyper-competitive lawyers into a spiral of self-destruction. “The billable hour is soul-destroying,” said Hoyles, who has struggled with depression for most of his life. “I am the perfect candidate for the billable hour. If everyone else will do 2,500 hours, I will do 2,700 hours. But that takes you down the road to depression.”

At another point in the discussion, Malini Vikaykumar, an associate at Stevenson Whelton MacDonald & Swan LLP, described how sexism and racism, which are endemic to the profession, exacerbate her anxiety. She told the crowd that she is often mistaken for a legal assistant, even when she’s dressed for court in her robes. Such moments make it even more difficult to overcome her most negative thoughts. “In law, we think of ourselves as very elite, very educated,” she said. “We think of sexism and racism as something that we would never propagate. But all of the unconscious judgements that we make about our colleagues — and about people that we see — have an effect.”

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