At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as the Rio+20 Conference, held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, a process was spearheaded to build on the existing Millennium Development Goals as a part of the Post-2015 Development Agenda; consequently, a 30-member Open Working Group was established by the United Nations General Assembly on January 22, 2013, to create a proposal for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with India as one of the members within the Asia-Pacific Grouping. 17 SDGs with 169 targets were adopted along with its vision of Agenda 2030 at the United Nations Conference in 2015 to provide a set of common, achievable goals to build a sustainable planet that is not only safe but also more prosperous for all humanity in three indivisible domains: economic, social and environment. One of the SDGs is SDG-3: Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Well-Being For All At All Ages, wherein the member states to the United Nations have resolved to achieve the following by 2030:
- Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of intoxicants like alcohol, wherein the global numbers of deaths attributed to drug use stood at 180,000 in 2019 while 500,000 deaths were attributed to illicit drug use, such that, 35 million individuals suffer from drug abuse ailments.
- By 2020, reduce the number of deaths and injuries owing to road traffic accidents globally by half, wherein 1.35 million individuals died in road accidents around the world in 2016 where it is the eighth leading cause of death across the world.
Advocates and SDG
An advocate/ counsel/ attorney is a professional licensed to advise and represent others in legal matters, either inside a courtroom or outside one. The main sources of law in India are i) The Constitution of India, the supreme law of the land, ii) Legislative Statutes passed by the Union Parliament and the State Legislative Assembly, iii) Customary laws and traditions, and iv) Judicial interpretations and decisions of the courts of law. The legal landscape in India is hierarchical in nature with the following modalities:
- The Supreme Court at the apex. It acts as the guardian of the Constitution of India. It is presided over by the Chief Justice of India, an office currently held by Justice N. V. Ramana.
- Each state in India ideally has its own High Court; however, certain High Courts have their jurisdiction spread across multiple states and union territories akin to the High Court of Guwahati that exercises its jurisdiction over the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland and Mizoram. There are 24 High Courts in India.
- Each administrative district within the union territory of India is presided by a District Court with original jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters, barring a few districts.
- Quasi-Judicial bodies like the Central Administrative Tribunal, the National Human Rights Commission, the State Human Rights Commission, the National Company Law Tribunal, the Consumers’ Disputes Forum to adjudicate on matters arising from specific legislative statutes.
The standards of professional conduct of the 1.4 million legal practitioners in India are regulated by the Advocates Act, 1961 through individual State Bar Councils and their apex Bar Council of India whose Disciplinary Committee initiates disciplinary proceedings against advocates for violating the rules of the Bar Council of India.
The Bar Council of India ensures professional etiquette is followed not only between advocates and their clients but also among fellow advocates. It is worth understanding that every individual who has completed the requisite education in law is called an advocate, including fresh graduates in law degrees recognized by the Bar Council of India; consequently, the advocate becomes a licensed advocate if and only if the advocate manages to clear the All India Bar Examination conducted by the Bar Council of India. An advocate faces a multitude of problems, some of which are illustrated below:
- In most situations, the legal problems faced by a client, ranging from a divorce to an arrest, is life-altering for them; this predicament is associated with heavy emotional and negative stress, which gets shouldered by the advocate. The emotional burden of the client impels the advocate, physically and mentally since the advocate-client communications create a channel for such sharing of stress. At times, the client is involved in cases with significant emotional trauma like homicide, battery assault, etcetera; this places immediate stress on the advocates who spend a significant portion of their time talking to such clients.
- Majority of the advocates work beyond their billable hours to perform non-billable duties like conversing with the clients, bookkeeping and tax preparation, recording and summarizing legal entries, networking with potential clients, building a network of referrals, administrative duties, managing and updating the internet platforms associated with the advocate because most of the advocates perceive them working long hours as a basic necessity of the legal profession to get ahead in their legal pursuits and practice; this leads to a lesser effective pay for a day’s worth of work. The extra hours of work add to the stress of the advocate.
- The legal landscape changes constantly, wherein emerging trends and technologies like data protection, blockchain, cybercrime spearhead the law-making bodies to legislate regarding the same; consequently, the advocate must be competently well-versed with not only the existing laws but also the new laws. The pressure of knowing the recent trends in law keeps the advocate occupied outside of the standard business hours. The bleak competition within the field of law from other advocates mandates the advocate to push beyond the bare minimum expectations, wherein the advocate is mandated to engage in client management and business development activities to create their legal prospects. The competition exists from non-human sources as well, wherein the progress in technology has opened the floodgates to self-help legal webpages, which divert the attention of prospective clients from the expertise and knowledge of a trained advocate to the webpages whose reputations and results are objectionably non-reputable.
- Litigation advocates continue to fare poorly in India in terms of their monthly salary, wherein advocates earn between Rs. 2,000 and 5,000 per month within the first two years of practising in a High Court after passing from law school, wherein the rise in the salary of the advocate with the increase in the years of experience is not proportionate since an advocate’s salary hovers near the Rs. 80,000 range for 10 years of experience with a High Court in India. The rules of the Bar Council of India bar advocates from advertising their services to potential clients; this limits the scope to increase the income of the advocate.
High stress due to a multitude of reasons, including a heavily skewed work-life balance manifests itself physically and mentally, wherein the human body’s natural response to stress is the release of a hormone called cortisol. In normal circumstances, the cortisol is dissipated when followed by the physical action of the human body; however, chronic stress of advocates builds the levels of cortisol within the body without being dissipated in the light of no physical activity. The heightened levels of cortisol produce the following effects:
- The body’s appetite increase in response to stress; the increased uptake of food leads to weight gain and obesity.
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Severe headaches accompanied by chronic fatigue and weakness.
- Heightened irritability, anxiety and depression.
- Recurrent digestive issues.
- Recurrent mood swings.
- Reduced sex drive.
The stress faced by advocates makes them 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than any other profession, wherein the stresses of dismal client prospects and a highly competitive legal market drives the melancholy among advocates to high rates of suicide, substance abuse and relationship issues with their spouses and relatives. A study by the Law Society Junior Lawyers Division reveals that 1 in every 15 lawyers have had suicidal thoughts due to work-related stress while 48% of the respondents reveal experiencing mental ill-health. The most stress-related ailment mentioned by lawyers in the aforementioned study is disrupted and incomplete sleep, followed by negative, anxious and depressed thoughts. A study by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Centre shows the following statistics:
- 1 in 5 lawyers has a drinking problem.
- 1 in 4 lawyers suffers from some kind of depression.
- 1 in 5 lawyers suffers from mild to chronic anxiety.
- 5% of lawyers have thought of ending their life at some point in their career.
It is evident that the SDG-3 falls apart in the legal profession where the high stress, substance abuse and lack of sleep can materialize in the advocate either driving negligently or walking through traffic without much alertness, both instances add to the statistics of road traffic accidents. The advent of technology and the higher use of mobile phones has resulted in a situation where an advocate is expected to be available for their clients at all times; consequently, the ringing of the mobile phone may distract the advocate and reduce their reaction time to dangerous situations on the road (ex: dampened reaction time to stopping the vehicle when the traffic light turns red, not noticing the vehicle behind the advocate while crossing the road, etcetera); this increases the likelihood of the advocate meeting with a road accident. Drinking and substance abuse are prevalent within the legal profession to cope with the stress of the job, wherein driving under the influence of alcohol can increase the chances of the advocate meeting with a road accident. Road injury is one of the top five causes of death in India for the age group 15-45 years.
The link between substance abuse and road accidents is symbiotic, wherein the rise in substance abuse leads to an increase in the chances of an individual meeting with a road accident; consequently, advocates are at a higher risk of both due to their higher prevalence of occupation-induced substance abuse to cope with mental health issues that are exasperated by occupational duties and activities. The vicious cycle of substance dependence strengthens the mental health problem without any solution to the underlying problem. It is prudent for advocates to address the underlying causes of their stress; additionally, advocates are advised to get professional help to cope with their mental health problems. It is important for advocates to understand that unchecked stress can impair their overall judgement regarding their legal practice that may result in wrongful decisions made not in the best legal and non-legal interests of their clients.
It is worth understanding for advocates to understand the realities of road accidents, which are often the result of negligent and distracted thinking on part of the advocates; hence, the advocate must take steps to not become one of the ‘road traffic statistic.’
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- What is a advocate? AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION. (Sep. 10, 2019), https://www.americanbar.org/groups/ public_education/resources/public-information/what-is-a-advocate.
- Ashish Bhan & Mohit Rohatgi, Legal Systems in India: Overview (Mar. 01, 2021), https://uk.practicallaw.thomsonreuters.com/w-017-5278?transitionType=Default&contextData=(sc. Default)&firstPage=true.
- Justice NV Ramana takes oath as new Chief Justice of India, THE ECONOMIC TIMES. (Apr. 24, 2021), https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/justice-nv-ramana-takes-oath-as-new-chief-justice-of-india/videoshow/ 82230670.cms.
- Bhan & Rohatgi, supra note 7.
- Amal K. Ganguli, Overview of the Legal Profession in India, UIA (Apr. 27, 2018), https://www.uianet.org/en/actions/ overview-legal-profession-india.
- Sharon Miki, Why Being a advocate Is Stressful & 7 Tips to Manage advocate Stress, CLIO (n.d.), https://www.clio.com /blog/advocate-stress (last visited Jul. 13, 2021).
- CLIO, LEGAL TRENDS REPORT 2018 15 (2018), https://www.clio.com/wp-content/uploads/2018 /10/Legal-Trends-Report-2018.pdf.
- Id, at 14.
- Id, at 16.
- Sally Kane, The 10 Challenges About a Career As a advocate, THE BALANCE CAREERS (Nov. 20, 2019), https://www.thebalancecareers.com/advocate-career-drawbacks-2164594.
- PRASHANT REDDY ET AL., A SURVEY OF ADVOCATES PRACTICING BEFORE THE HIGH COURTS 28-29 (Vidhi: Centre For Legal Policy ed., 2020), https://vidhilegalpolicy.in/research /a-survey-of-advocates-practicing-before-the-high-courts.
- Id, at 24.
- Miki, supra note 14.
- James G. Robinson, How lawyers can manage stress and cortisol levels during the COVID-19 crisis, ABA JOURNAL (Apr. 22, 2020), https://www.abajournal.com/voice/article/why-lawyers-need-to-know-about-cortisol.
- Stress, AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION. (Jan. 13, 2021), https://www.americanbar.org/groups/ lawyer_assistance/ resources/stress.
- Robinson, supra note 23.
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- Max Walters, Lawyers are second most stressed professionals, research claims, THE LAW SOCIETY GAZETTE (Apr. 08, 2019), https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/lawyers-are-second-most-stressed-professionals-research-claims/5069915.article.
- Max Walters, One in 15 junior lawyers has had suicidal thoughts, research shows, THE LAW SOCIETY GAZETTE (Apr. 08, 2019), https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/one-in-15-junior-lawyers-has-had-suicidal-thoughts-research-shows/5069907.article.
- Midyear 2018: Panel to examine lawyer substance abuse, mental health – and solutions, AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION (Feb. 01, 2018), https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2018/02/midyear_2018_panel.
- Road Traffic Injuries, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION. (n.d.), https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/road-traffic-injuries (last visited Jul. 14, 2021).
- WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION, supra note 5.