Peer Support Online Training Program

The Cause

Peer Support Across the Prairies and Northwest Territories:
Offer peer support to members of the legal profession in regional and rural Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Who we are
The Alberta Lawyers’ Assistance Society (Assist) is a charitable society providing free, confidential help to members of the legal profession and their families with personal issues.

Two full-time staff are supported by a volunteer board and committees, whereby thousands of volunteer hours are leveraged each year.

As a way of giving back and paying it forward law students, articling students, lawyers, and judges volunteer their time, without fanfare, to help their colleagues experiencing personal problems.

The Law Society of Alberta provides annual funding, and Assist raises private donations to support growth and increase awareness.

The Program
Assist’s core service is professional counselling, offered through a third-party service provider. To further Assist’s vision of prevention, a peer support program was developed. Research shows that peer support is integral to maintaining mental health, a message affirmed in 2014 by Lt. General Roméo Dallaire in speaking to the profession about the importance of peer support.

The program involves matching individuals with a trained volunteer lawyer who is willing to share knowledge, experience, and provide practical, emotional, and social support. Peer support is used in conjunction with professional help, and as an alternative to speaking to a professional.

The goal of the program is to turn participants into peer support volunteers, captured by the testimonial:

“I wish I had contacted Assist sooner. I hope one day to be able to provide similar peer support.” - Anonymous

Currently, peer support volunteer training is delivered in-person in Calgary and Edmonton. The plan is to adapt course material to an existing web-based educational platform, so that training is available remotely to lawyers across Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Who Will it Benefit?

Expanding peer support to lawyers across Alberta and the Northwest Territories, will help the profession where the community of lawyers is smaller and need is greater, due to remoteness, isolation, and less social engagement opportunities.

Helping individual lawyers in distress serves the legal profession, their families, and the community as a whole.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental illness will strike one in five people and the other four will be affected by mental illness in a family member, friend, or co-worker.

Evidence supports that the legal profession is at greater risk:

“... attorneys are more than three times as likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers, and more apt to become dependent on drugs, have health problems, get divorced or contemplate suicide.” - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in a speech delivered March 17, 2004.

According to an independent survey two-thirds of legal professionals in Alberta confronted stress and burnout, half experienced anxiety, and a third suffered from emotional distress, depression, and compassion fatigue. Further 93% of legal professionals in Alberta agree that Assist addresses the health and wellness needs of the profession, with 81% indicating they value a peer support program.

Providing lawyers with peer support will help sustain legal practices, and provide greater access to justice in these communities. Roughly 10% of lawyers in Alberta serve 50% of Albertans outside of Calgary and Edmonton. A larger proportion of lawyers in these areas are sole practitioners and are a higher than average age, without succession or transition plans.

A network of peer support will also encourage new lawyers to practice in these communities, increasing access to justice.

Members of the legal profession seeking help could also reduce stigma associated with mental health in the profession and broader community.