Screen cap, John Poulsen , Managing Partner, Australian arm of Squire Patton Boggs
Screen cap: John Poulsen, Managing Partner, Australian arm of Squire Patton Boggs

The managing partner of the Australian office of US-based Squire Patton Boggs, one of the most successful law firms in the world ($US1 Billion global revenue with more than 1500 lawyers, and offices in 21 countries), attributes the firm’s prosperity and growth – even in recent years, when the market has been sluggish – to its focus on its staff.

In an article in the Australian Financial Review, John Poulsen points out that depression, anxiety and other mental-health issues are common in the legal profession. The Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, an Australian charity dedicated to supporting mental-health initiatives in the legal workplace, estimates that “50% of law students, 33% of solicitors, and 20% of barristers” have experienced depression.

Poulsen, who suffered from serious depression himself before seeking treatment fifteen years ago, believes that addressing the mental health of lawyers and their staffs must be a priority for law firms. “[When] your No. 1 focus is people, then clients, then systems and processes [… ],” he says, “finance looks after itself in a sustainable way.”

It seems obvious that a lawyer who is stressed, anxious and depressed is going to be less productive than one who is free from the symptoms of such conditions – not to mention the self-treatment strategies that often accompany them, such as alcohol and drug abuse. And Poulsen has the numbers to support his emphasis on fostering mental health in the legal workplace: a Financial Review survey recently placed the Squire Patton Boggs Australian office “among the fastest-growing firms in an otherwise relatively stagnant legal services market.”

Squire Patton Boggs is one of more than 150 signatories to a set of guidelines developed by the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, which addresses such issues as organizational culture and acknowledgment of staff efforts. Poulsen’s office works to facilitate a climate that includes “collaboration, professionalism, excellence and diversity.”

“None of it is rocket science,” Poulsen tells the Financial Review. “It’s just about treating people as you want to be treated yourself.”

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