Judicial Stress
Judicial Stress


Judicial wellbeing academic research

The psychological impact of judicial work: Australia's first empirical research measuring judicial stress and wellbeing 
Schrever et al (2019)

This article presents the methodology and primary quantitative analysis of Australia's first empirical research measuring judicial stress and wellbeing.  The findings arise from the survey of 152 judges and magistrates from five Australian courts, and reveal a judicial system not yet in mental health crisis but under considerable stress.

This article is available via Westlaw AU: Schrever et al, 'The psychological impact of judicial work: Australia's first empirical research measuring judicial stress and wellbeing' 28 JJA 141

Australia's first empirical research measuring judicial stress and wellbeing: A preview of the findings 
Schrever (2018)

This short preview article, published as part of the Editor's 'Current Issues' section, summarises the headline findings of Australia's first research into the nature, prevalence, severity and sources of judicial stress in Australia.  

Judges’ perspectives on stress and safety in the courtroom 
Flores et al. (2008)

A broad-scale qualitative and quantitative study of the nature, prevalence and severity of stress symptoms among 163 American trial judges. The authors also consider the impact of individual difference factors, and the efficacy of a range of coping strategies employed by judges. In the introduction, the authors provide an excellent summary of judicial stress research up to 2008.

Vicarious trauma in judges: The personal challenge of dispensing justice
Jaffe et al. (2003)

A large and well-designed empirical study looking at vicarious trauma symptoms among 105 American judges, concluding un equivocally that judges experience vicarious trauma in their work. The introduction provides an excellent explanation of the concept of vicarious trauma as it applies to judges, and the discussion proposed a number of coping and preventative strategies.

Work-related stress in American trial judges
Eells & Showalter (1994)

A list of 77 hypothesised stressors specific to the judicial role, were reviewed and rated by 88 American trial judges. Ill-prepared counsel, exercising judicial discretion, highly emotional cases, and cases involving intense public scrutiny were endorsed as the greatest sources of work-related stress.

Recent speeches and papers by Australian judicial officers

Making Wellness Core Business
Chief Justice Anne Ferguson (2019)

Delivered as the keynote speech at the Wellness Network for Law Forum hosted by Monash University in February 2019, this address by Chief Justice Ferguson makes the strong case for a whole of profession response to the issue of stress and mental illness within the legal profession – which would involve all legal workplaces, including the courts, treating wellbeing as core business.  Specifically highlighting judicial wellbeing and the recent research of Carly Schrever, her Honour sets out four strategies for responding to stress at the structural and cultural levels.

Lifting the Judicial Veil: Vicarious Trauma, PTSD, and the Judiciary - A personal story
Magistrate David Heilpern (2017)

In this exceptionally honest, open and well-written reflection, Magistrate Heilpern of the NSW Local Court shares his personal experience of vicarious trauma while on the bench, and discusses surrounding issues - including the language of judicial wellbeing, the systemic sources of judicial stress, and the need for research.

Towards Wellbeing: How to be a Human Being and a Lawyer too
Judge Felicity Hampel (2017)

In this Annual Lecture of Tristen Jepson Memorial Foundation, Judge Felicity Hampel discusses the wellbeing of County Court judges, and what it means to be both a lawyer and a human being.

Health and Wellbeing in the Legal Profession
Associate Justice Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou (2016)

In this speech to Deakin Law School Alumni, Associate Justice Ierodiaconou looks at lawyer wellbeing through the lens of Positive Psychology, and two important pillars of psychological health: meaning and achievement. She considers what individuals, organisations and the profession more broadly can do to foster meaningful careers in the law.

Inspiring change: Creating a healthy workplace
Associate Justice Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou (2015)

In this Annual Lecture of Tristen Jepson Memorial Foundation, Associate Justice Ierodiaconou (Supreme Court of Victoria) discussed the role of legal workplace culture in contributing to the elevated levels of depression and other mental illness within the legal profession. Her Honour draws on empirical research, literature and her own experience as a law firm partner to suggest strategies to restore and maintain healthy workplace culture.

Depression: An issue in the study of law
Justice Shane Marshall (2015)

Presented at the National Wellness for Law Forum in Canberra, Justice Marshall provides a narrative history of the significant and growing scholarship regarding the prevalence of depression within the Australian legal profession and student population, and the various ways in which legal institutions have responded. He also speaks openly of his own struggle with depression during his time as a Federal Court judge. 

Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation Annual Lecture
VIDEO Justice Virginia Bell AC (2014)

In a lecture live-beamed to every Australian State, the Hon. Justice Virginia Bell AC provides the background to the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation’s Best Practice Guidelines for mental wellbeing in the legal profession, looking in particular at the legal duty on employers to take reasonable care to avoid psychological injury to employees. The lecture was the launch of the guidelines, to which there are now more than 80 signatories, including all major law firms and law schools. Watch the lecture, or read her Honour’s paper.

Forward: University of New South Wales Law Journal
Justice Anna Katzmann (2014)

In this well-researched and beautifully written forward to an edition of the UNSW Law Journal dedicated to lawyer mental health, Justice Katzmann describes her impressions of the extent and severity of the problem, and makes a strong case for cultural change at all levels of the profession.

Judicial wellbeing commentary

Mindfulness and Judging
Judge Jeremy Fogel (2016)

Authored by Senior United States District Judge and Director of the Federal Judicial Centre, Jeremy Fogel, this short and readable paper briefly explains what is meant by ‘mindfulness’, and then discusses how mindfulness practice may be applied to improve both the experience and performance of many aspects of judicial work. The paper finishes with Judge Fogel’s recommended reading and viewing on the topic.

Judging stress
Carly Schrever (2015)

This article, published in the Victorian Law Institute Journal, makes the case for robust, empirical research on judicial stress in Australia, and summarises are series of initiatives currently underway in Victoria to support judicial wellbeing. 

Stress in the courtroom: Call for research
Chamberlain & Miller (2008)

The authors review the existing empirical literature on judicial stressors, and the evidence for experiences of stress-related mental illness among judicial officers. An excellent summary of the leading theories of stress is provided, explaining the distinction between burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatisation.

Helping judges in distress
Zimmerman (2006)

Isiah Zimmerman, clinical psychologist, draws on his 30 years of experience working with US judges across four states, to review the situations and stressors which motivate judges to privately seek help, and proposes a range of system-level interventions and programs to promote judicial wellbeing and longevity in office.

Judicial stress: An unmentionable topic
Justice Michael Kirby (1995)

Justice Michael Kirby’s seminal paper, opening the conversation about the existence, origin and impact of work-related stress among the Australian judiciary. Based on an address to the Inaugural Judicial Orientation Program, co-hosted by the AIJA and the Judicial Commission of NSW, this was the first of several papers by the same author on this topic. See full library for links to the others.

Reports on lawyer wellbeing and mental illness

The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change American Bar Association (2017)

Auspiced by the American Bar Association, this report provides a comprehensive and detailed list of recommendations on lawyer well-being, including judicial wellbeing (pages 22-24). Drawing on the insights of taskforce members and various legal associations in the United States, this report is a call to action that highlights the importance of supporting wellbeing in the legal profession and suggests pathways for change

Wellbeing at the Bar: A Resilience Framework Assessment
UK Bar Council (2015)

Drawing on the survey data of almost 2,500 UK barristers, this ground-breaking study reported that: 1 in 3 barristers find it difficult to control their worry; 2 in 3 believe showing signs of stress equals weakness; 1 in 6 feel low in spirits most of the time; and 59% demonstrate unhealthy levels of perfectionism. These results are analysed and explained, with recommendations and opportunities discussed.

Mental health and the legal profession: A preventative strategy
Law Institute of Victoria (2014)

This report summarises the LIV’s consultation project investigating work related stress among Victorian lawyers, and proposed a preventative health and wellbeing strategy for the Victorian legal profession. 

Report on psychological distress and depression in the legal profession
Kendall (2011)

Prepared for the Law Society of Western Australia, this report reviews and summarises the prominent Australian research on psychological distress within the legal profession, and the existing strategies for dealing with it. While focusing on WA, the report considers the initiatives and programs in place in other states.

Courting the blues: Attitudes towards depression in Australian law students and legal practitioners
Kelk et al. (2009)

This is considered the landmark study of stress and wellbeing in the Australian legal profession, commissioned by the Tristen Jepson Memorial Foundation and undertaken by UNSW’s Brain & Mind Research Institute. Results from over 2000 lawyer and law students suggested that solicitors and law students were around three-times as likely, and barristers twice as likely, as the general population to experience anxious and depressive symptoms, and all three groups were generally reluctant to seek help. 

Summary - Annual professions survey: Opening our eyes to depression among Australian professions
Beyond Blue (2007)

The first nation-wide study of depression within the Australian professions, revealing that lawyers had the highest rates of moderate and severe depressive symptoms, and the highest reliance on drugs and alcohol to manage feelings of sadness and depression.

Lawyer wellbeing academic research

Lawyering stress and work culture: An Australian study
Chan et al. (2014)

The first comprehensive study of the impact of legal culture on psychological wellbeing. Almost 1000 Australian lawyers responded to a survey measuring working conditions, stress levels, alcohol and drug use, and coping strategies. Anxious and depressive symptoms were higher among the respondents than the general population, and their subjective experience of stress was especially high. A number of features of the legal work environment were identified as correlating strongly with elevated stress.

Vicarious trauma: The impact on solicitors of exposure to traumatic material
Vrklevski & Franklin (2008)

This quantitative study investigates the impact of exposure to the traumatic material common in criminal trials, by comparing the levels of vicarious trauma symptoms in criminal and non-criminal Australian lawyers. Criminal lawyers reported significantly higher levels of subjective distress and vicarious trauma than non-criminal lawyers. A personal history of trauma was also associated with higher symptomatic stress. 

Why lawyers are unhappy?
Seligman et al. (2001)

Authored by Professor Martin Seligman, the founding father of the worldwide ‘positive psychology’ movement, this theoretical paper attempts to explain why empirical studies consistently show that lawyers and law students suffer greater psychological distress than their counterparts in other professions. Features of the legal personality and the working environment are identified which could explain this robust and disturbing phenomenon.

Lawyers and depression
AUDIO, The Law Report, Radio National (2011)

In a panel discussion at the Annual Queensland Law Society Conference, Damian Carrick speaks with two senior lawyers, both of whom have experienced clinical depression, and a psychologist with many years of experience working with lawyers, and asks: Why are lawyers more susceptible to depression than other professionals? Is it the nature of legal work? Is it the personalities of those attracted into the industry? Or is the environment in which lawyers work? What can be done to prevent the illness or, when it strikes, facilitate a full recovery?


TJMF Psychological Wellbeing: Best Practice Guidelines for the Legal Profession Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation (2014)

Based on similar guidelines prepared for the Canadian profession, TJMF’s Guidelines identify and delineate 13 evidence-based factors which indicate the psychological health of a legal workplace, and set out how each of these may be implemented at varying levels, from basic to best practice, within a organisation. There are currently more than 80 signatories to the Guidelines around the country, including all major law firms and law schools.

Reference list

Judicial wellbeing reference list  



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