The rule of lawyers: Applying therapeutic jurisprudence at the intersections of wellbeing, disciplinary proceedings and professionalism
Recent appeals from decisions of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in England and Wales have highlighted the complex and problematic interplay between the mental health and wellbeing of individual legal professionals, their professional standards of behaviour, and potential misconduct, including dishonesty. There is growing evidence that the legal profession in the UK is experiencing low levels of wellbeing and significant issues with mental health. Such issues can affect practitioners’ ethical choices and decision-making, leading them to be in breach of required professional standards. This paper will use therapeutic jurisprudence as a heuristic lens to explore the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic consequences of the current disciplinary regime for legal professionals in England and Wales in instances where mental health and wellbeing are potentially the key influence upon, or one of the factors contributing to, the alleged breach of professional standards. It will argue that much of the current disciplinary regime is profoundly anti-therapeutic, failing to acknowledge the intersectionality of the issues involved or the significant human cost which can result from its outcomes. In contrast, the paper will argue for the introduction of a fitness to practice regime for solicitors, together with broader shifts in regulatory policy and practice across the legal profession, to facilitate therapeutic consequences both within disciplinary actions and more widely within law.