Doctors, lawyers need peer support

People holding landing strip

Doctors and lawyers share many similarities in the way they work, the stresses they face and the high standards they are expected to maintain.

So in an Australian first, the Queensland Law Society is holding an inaugural, guided, peer-to-peer support network presentation, featuring prominent members of the legal profession.

The objective is to use the learnings to establish a lawyer-led, peer support network. Such a pilot was established by the Law Society of Ireland in 2021 as a part of its Law Society Professional Wellbeing Project.

Focusing on case material and the client relationship, the QLS presentation will explore issues through detailed discussion, with the goal of learning how to handle difficult cases more effectively and develop a deeper understanding of professional relationships, vicarious trauma and conflict.

It will be held on Thursday, 23 May 2024 in person at Law Society House and online.

One of the presenters is Dr Jamie Nuttall, the Deputy Clinical Director at Inala Primary Care, which is a not-for-profit medical centre.  In addition to his Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery, Jamie has completed special training in psychological health. 


“I have participated in peer-led support groups for medical professionals in both a hospital and private practice environment, and have seen and experienced first hand the enormous benefits that they provide,” Jamie said. 

“Also – I’m married to a criminal defence lawyer so I well understand the professional challenges experienced by lawyers in private practice.

“There is growing recognition that in order to respond properly to the growing issue of poor mental health in the professions, there needs to be both strong personal and institutional support mechanisms.” 

Jamie Nuttall

And he can see how this support mechanism in the medical profession can translate to the legal one.

“The legal and medical professions have many overlapping features.  Both fields are governed by strict ethical standards and professional codes of conduct.  Discretion, confidentiality and trust are at the heart of doctor-patient and lawyer-client relationships,” Jamie said.

“Both professions significantly impact lives, and lawyers and doctors often act as intermediaries between the patient/client and complex systems, such as the courts and healthcare systems.


“The high responsibility and impact of these roles, however, also means that stress, burnout, depression and other mental health challenges present at higher rates in doctors and lawyers.  This is then further complicated by the uneasy relationship between a professional’s mental health and their professional obligations.”

Jamie said there was now “good evidence in the medical profession” that establishing small peer groups who meet regularly for support and knowledge sharing had a “positive effect on doctor’s mental health”. 

“Importantly, these groups are structured, often with a designated leader, and take place in a confidential setting.  The content of what is discussed varies – sometimes the focus may be more on clinicians collaboratively reviewing professional practices; other times it may be where practitioners reflect on an ethically or emotionally difficult case, with an explicit focus on the psychological dimensions of the case study. 

“Collaborative learning and support is very much a well-recognised practice in the medical profession, because it has been proven that sharing professional knowledge and support improves doctors’ mental health and therefore patient safety and outcomes.”

And Jamie is hopeful the inaugural presentation will improve health outcomes for lawyers.

“I hope that, by observing very senior members of the criminal defence profession engage in the concept of peer-to-peer support, that it will empower other lawyers to explore this as a way of improving and hopefully thriving both personally and professionally,” he said.


“Open, nuanced dialogue about the challenges of professional practice and the psychological toll is critical if we are going to develop a lasting structural response to wellbeing.”

The guided peer-to-peer support network presentation is a complimentary, member-only event. Registrations close at 5pm on Friday, 17 May unless capacity is reached before then.

Share this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Search by keyword