There are 17 people at Wards Lawyers in Lindsay and those numbers will soon swell to well over 20. It’s a growing staff, in what is already the second largest law firm in central Ontario. With so many people working in one of the top five most stressful occupations, Jason Ward knew they wanted to be leaders when it came to mental health supports in the workplace.
He and Karissa – who is both his wife and his business partner – created a full time position that is part administration but also Mental Health/First Aid Officer, a certified position through the Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit.
Maria Francis has held the position since April and has already been active in the mental health and wellness aspect of her job.
“It’s a high-stress field with so many deadlines,” she tells the Advocate. “This really helps bring us together.”
Jason Ward agrees. “I don’t know of any other lawyers or businesses that do this in our area,” he says, but it’s certainly needed.
“We have a big appreciation for mental health wellness,” he adds.
Francis says much of her job is facilitating, ensuring she connects the employees who come to see her with the right resources in the community.
“It’s completely confidential. Sometimes it’s just lending an ear to hear about someone’s day and sometimes it’s more serious,” she says, given all the pressures lawyers and their staff often face.
Ward notes that one in five lawyers deal with anxiety or addiction issues. That’s why he has been busy talking up the position that Francis holds to other lawyers in town, hoping they, too, will create similar positions within their firms.
“Sometimes this is seen as a soft issue for some,” admits Ward.
But he thinks if more firms did this it would create a larger resource for collective sharing of best practices and information sharing.
In addition to creating Francis’ position to demonstrate their wellness focus, Wards Lawyers is also involved in several community initiatives.
This includes working with the local Boys and Girls Club, and hosting an inclusive road hockey tournament in the spring in downtown Lindsay that supports Youth Mental Health.