New Zealand Law Society - Lawyer wellbeing: a collective effort

Lawyer wellbeing: a collective effort

Lawyer wellbeing: a collective effort

Clinical Psychologist Dr Sarah Anticich describes lawyer wellbeing as a team sport and shares the five pillars of wellbeing along with helpful insights as to what the collective effort can achieve in shaping better work environments.

The traditional approach to lawyer wellbeing has predominantly concentrated on addressing individual symptoms while often neglecting the profound impact of psychologically unsafe work cultures. Current research underscores the efficacy of a more comprehensive strategy, involving organisational and individual approaches to wellbeing.

Recognising wellbeing as a collective effort is central to cultural change in the field of law as individual endeavours alone cannot satisfactorily meet needs and foster autonomous motivation; the role of workplaces is substantial. As such, collaboration between lawyers, firms and the legal system is crucial to effect positive changes, acknowledging the collective nature of wellbeing. As succinctly stated by Prof. Deborah Rhode, “wellbeing is a team sport.”

Dr Sarah Anticich

To cultivate sustainable wellbeing for the legal profession, a holistic approach is indicated, encompassing subjective wellbeing, psychological wellbeing, and various facets such as physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. The integration of positive psychology and organisational scholarship further emphasises the multifaceted nature of wellbeing, highlighting the pursuit of meaningful engagement and personal development.

More specifically, psychological interventions, grounded in values-based methods, play a pivotal role in enhancing autonomous motivation and reaping wellbeing benefits for lawyers. Central to this connection is the ability to meet needs and act with autonomous motivation, as emphasised by Self-Determination Theory (SDT).

Legal institutions and individual lawyers can collaboratively create environments that foster growth, autonomy, and overall wellbeing, effectively addressing the multifaceted challenges within the legal profession

SDT is recognised as a valuable framework for promoting lawyer wellbeing and underscores the fulfilment of fundamental psychological needs–relatedness, competence, and autonomy. The application of SDT holds potential for addressing common mental health challenges and associated challenges for the legal profession including mental wellbeing, engagement, turnover, depression, problematic drinking, perfectionism, overcommitment, work-life conflict, procrastination, healthy habit change, intrinsic values, mindfulness, and burnout prevention. By recognising the role of SDT, legal institutions and individual lawyers can collaboratively create environments that foster growth, autonomy, and overall wellbeing, effectively addressing the multifaceted challenges within the legal profession.

Employers play a crucial role by fostering workplace cultures and imparting supervisory behaviours that align with lawyers’ SDT needs. Simultaneously, individual lawyers can take proactive steps to fulfil their needs and cultivate autonomous motivation, bridging the gap between their values and behaviours.

Self-Determination Theory

To further enhance wellbeing, law firms can integrate Self-Determination Theory (SDT) into their practices, considering the five pillars of wellbeing: Reflection, Attention, Connection, Motivation (SDT), and Action.


Encourage lawyers to reflect on their work experiences, identifying aspects aligned with their values and contributing to autonomy, competence, and relatedness. This reflective practice enhances self-awareness and guides intentional actions for improved wellbeing.


Foster a culture of mindfulness and attention to individual needs and motivations. Lawyers benefit from paying attention to their inner motivations, values, and the impact of workplace conditions on their wellbeing.

Connection (high-quality relationships)

Emphasise the importance of high-quality relationships within the workplace. SDT highlights the need for relatedness, and positive law firms can facilitate connections through regular meetings, team-building activities, and open communication.

Motivation (SDT)

Ensure that motivational strategies align with SDT principles, focusing on autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomy-supportive supervision significantly contributes to lawyer wellbeing.

Action (intentional daily steps – eat, sleep, move)

Encourage lawyers to take intentional daily steps towards wellbeing, considering factors like sleep, nutrition, and physical activity. Supporting autonomy in work arrangements empowers lawyers to make choices aligned with their wellbeing goals.

Boosting lawyer wellbeing

In addition, contextual strategies for boosting lawyer wellbeing involve:

Developing effective leaders

Investing in leader development is crucial, as effective leadership significantly influences workplace perceptions, performance, and job satisfaction. Toxic leadership can lead to negative health outcomes, emphasising the need for positive leadership practices.

Cultivating the experience of meaningful work

Leaders play a pivotal role in fostering a sense of meaning and purpose in the workplace. Positive framing techniques help lawyers view their work as meaningful, contributing to engagement and overall wellbeing.

Expanding lawyers’ sense of control and autonomy

Empowering lawyers with control and autonomy is vital for wellbeing. Granting choices and the ability to take action helps lawyers cope with stress, contributing significantly to their overall wellbeing.

Through a combination of scientific principles, holistic strategies, and empowerment initiatives, these programmes aspire to create a culture where legal professionals can thrive both personally and professionally

Allowing flexibility in work arrangements

Granting flexibility enhances autonomy and job satisfaction. Embracing telecommuting and flexible work arrangements supports lawyers in achieving a better work-life balance, positively influencing their wellbeing and performance.

Building resilience

Lawyers need resilience to thrive. Competencies such as optimism, emotional awareness, and problem-solving contribute to resilience. Integrating resilience-building practices into workplace initiatives further supports lawyers in navigating challenges.

By adopting these holistic approaches, legal organisations can create a positive and supportive work environment that prioritises individual needs, values, and collective growth, ultimately fostering enhanced wellbeing within the legal profession.

Stepping Through and Stepping Forward

The Stepping Through and Stepping Forward interventions were developed specifically to support positive individual and systemic change in lawyer wellbeing by actively fostering psychological and physical health and sustainable high performance. Informed by the principles of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) and guided by the 5 Grow Daily Pillars of Wellbeing, the programmes seek to create a transformative impact on the legal profession.

Key Components

Scientific foundation: The programmes are underpinned by the science of wellbeing, positive psychology, growth mindset, and neuroscience. This robust foundation ensures that the programme’s strategies are evidence-based and align with the latest advancements in wellbeing research.

Holistic approach: By incorporating the principles of SDT and the 5 Grow Daily Pillars of Wellbeing, the programme takes a holistic approach. It not only addresses immediate concerns but also actively promotes psychological and physical health. This comprehensive strategy aims to create lasting and meaningful changes in the lives of legal professionals.

Actionable steps: The core intention of the programme is to empower members of the legal profession. By providing preventative and proactive wellbeing tools and support, the intervention equips legal professionals with the resources they need to lead more fulfilling and balanced lives.

Preventative: Stepping Forward aims to be a preventative force, addressing potential wellbeing challenges before they escalate. Simultaneously, it adopts a proactive stance by actively promoting wellbeing through intentional practices.

Systemic change: The overarching goal is to lead a positive transformation in the legal profession. This involves not only improving individual wellbeing but also contributing to the broader success of legal organisations.

In essence, the Stepping Through and Stepping Forward interventions are forward-looking and comprehensive wellbeing programmes designed to bring about positive change in the legal profession. Through a combination of scientific principles, holistic strategies, and empowerment initiatives, these programmes aspire to create a culture where legal professionals can thrive both personally and professionally.

Sarah is an experienced Clinical Psychologist with specialist experience in the areas of anxiety, trauma and mood disorders in children, adolescents and adults, and has worked in both public and private practice across a range of settings in New Zealand and Australia.

Sarah is also an approved ACC Sensitive Claims provider and provides therapy, and is able to offer Supported Assessments for other therapists.

In 2023 Sarah worked with the New Zealand Law Society to deliver the Stepping Forward and Stepping Through programmes.

In 2023 the Law Society Auckland Branch hosted the Stepping Forward Programme in person for lawyers PQE 6+ years and Canterbury Westland Branch piloted the Stepping Through Programme in person for new lawyers.

Find out more about other wellbeing initiatives and support services offered through the Law Society at

The Law Society also hosts a number of wellbeing events and initiatives which can be found at

Lawyer Listing for Bots