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The wellness doctrines for law students & young lawyers (NSW, Australia: Xoum Publishing, 2015)

by Jerome Doraisamy

Mental health issues are pervasive. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, in any year “one in five people in Canada experiences a mental health problem or illness.” The Wellness Doctrines tackles the subject of mental health and wellness for young lawyers as well as law students.

Given the high rates of mental health issues in the legal profession and among law students, The Wellness Doctrines offers a welcome “self-help ‘survival guide’” on the issue of mental health. Jerome Doraisamy is a young Australian lawyer who weaves his personal narrative with anecdotes based on interviews with mental health experts, law students, young lawyers, academics, deans and managing partners of law firms. 

These anecdotes serve to provide “solutions and strategies” for law students and lawyers dealing with mental health issues. While the book is aimed at the Australian market, the book’s messages are universal and are directly applicable to the Canadian legal setting. 

One of the author’s goals in writing the book is that he hopes to “inspire” law students and young lawyers living with mental health issues to “feel safe enough to disclose their issues and seek the help they need, without fear of personal or professional reprisal.” 

Why are law students and legal professionals reluctant to come forward and seek help? According to The Wellness Doctrines, many lawyers and law students believe that mental health stigma will have a direct impact on success and employment. To help overcome stigma, The Wellness Doctrines assures readers that there are many others who face the challenges of mental illness and that success is possible. In perhaps one of the most powerful chapters, “What have other people experienced? How do I know I’m not alone?” lawyers and law students share stories of anxiety and depression. 

To explain the prevalence of mental health issues in the legal world, the author focuses on certain personality traits shared by many lawyers and law students. For example, perfectionism or competitiveness leads law students and lawyers to focus on “esteem and prestige, as a determination of one’s worth among peers.” Thus, employer brand and salary come to define one’s standing within the legal field. Seeking prestige may be counterproductive. 

The author warns against following a particular career path “just because you feel like you should be doing it.” After all, “no one ever found happiness doing what others thought they should do.”

One of the core messages of The Wellness Doctrines is that “law students and young lawyers need to take control and responsibility for their own mental health.” However, individual responsibility for mental health can only take you so far. Without mental health awareness initiatives offered by universities and law firms, students and young lawyers may not realize that they are heading for a mental health crisis. Until mental health is discussed in law schools, and de-stigmatized, many students may not seek help. Thus, it is difficult to accept fully the author’s argument for self-reliance. The author’s strong message of individual responsibility is tempered, however, by a call for a top-down approach to mental health education in law schools and law firms. 

Law students and young lawyers in Canada will learn much from The Wellness Doctrines. The subject matter is so important and underscores why Canadian law schools should adopt mental health education as part of their curriculum. 

One of the greatest attractions of the book is that the message is not one of ongoing despair but of hope. Everyone who shared a story for the book “is currently thriving in professional life despite the enormity of what he or she experienced.” These success stories send a strong message: “No matter how bad you feel, regardless of how awful things may appear, don’t ever forget that things can get better.”  


Professor Thomas Telfer was inspired to write this review because of his own experience with depression. He has presented several public lectures on mental health. He writes, “To challenge mental health stigma, I have shared my story with law students, lawyers and the community. No one should suffer in silence and there is hope.”


Mindfulness at Western Law

Western Law students will be offered ongoing mindfulness meditation drop-in sessions led by Professor Telfer. In addition, he will be the facilitator of a five-week program, Mindfulness in Law for 1Ls, offered to 20
first-year law students.


This is an edited version of the book review published in (2017) 54:2 Osgoode Hall Law Journal 645-654.


This article appeared in the Western Law 2017 Alumni Magazine.
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