Episode 1 - Raminder Hayre (Harper Grey LLP)

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Raminder Hayre is a litigation associate at Harper Grey LLP with a focus on insurance defence. Prior to law school, Raminder obtained an MBA from Bond University and a B.A. in Sociology from the University of British Columbia. Raminder is a Director of the South Asian Bar Association of BC. 

In your opinion, does anxiety exist in the legal profession?

Definitely. It starts with the procedure of getting into law school, and permeates perpetually into your legal career. It is such a norm that it really is a lifestyle that you adapt to early on in your legal career. 

Coming back from law school abroad, I wasn’t certain about whether or not I was going to get regular articles in Vancouver. Later on I was having difficulties with the PLTC (Professional Legal Training Course). After articles the question became where am I going to get a first year position. It challenges keep on coming but you don’t realize that you are anxious about these things.

The anxiousness is more prevalent in some lawyers or students that are more aware or sensitive to what they are feeling. These are the people that are dealing with anxiety, as opposed to people who are not aware. The unaware people don’t cruise through - the anxiety adds up.  It becomes more difficult to deal with the more you put the issue on the back burner.

What is an incident where you personally experienced anxiety?

I dealt with anxiety a lot. From a young age, I was easily anxious, and I came to realize its impact on me when I started first year undergrad. When I went abroad for law school, it was a hard transition. I did not have the support system that I had in Canada nor was I close to home. Having to rebuild the support system was difficult. I wanted to fully engage in the law school environment, but not knowing how to deal with the anxiety associated with new types of assignments, different ways to study, and the intense exams etc. posed a big issue. 

Close to exam time, I didn’t feel prepared. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, and I didn’t want to ask for help. I knew I needed an extension, so I asked for one. I was told “too bad, everyone else is having the exam at the same time.” I was prepared to take the fail. After that instance, I became more anxious. I looked for people I could talk to to get my point across. It was an exercise to shift the conversation with the dean and my professors. To educate them on what is anxiety and why in my instance it’s affecting me. When you see a physical impairment or disability it is easier to comprehend. But you can’t visualize something like anxiety. To verbalise anxiety is difficult, and made me even more anxious and hesitant. I had to justify my mental health and why I was anxious. It's hesitation that a lot of students have right now, especially where you are new to dealing with this issue. Having to open up that dialogue for themselves, and explore those emotions at the same time while trying to overcome them. That’s where it becomes difficult.

Us as lawyers are all alpha and driven. When we are dealing with these issues later in life, we don’t necessarily know how to deal with it, how to ask for help. This creates a vicious cycle that we become stuck in. We just put the issue on the back burner.

Has anything changed now that you have become a lawyer?

Anxiety has gotten a lot better. First, the conversation is shifting in the legal profession, and the issue is on the table for firms big and small. PLTC for example is trying to incorporate more wellness into the curriculum. My firm’s culture is great in its openness. 

When it comes to day to day practice, I feel that there should be more (anxiety) support for older lawyers. For articled students and junior associates, not having the feedback is the major source of anxiety. It’s normally silence after an assignment. This creates anxiety. Am I going in the right direction? Did I do an okay job? We juniors tend to take no news as bad news instead of good news. This leads to a spiral of emotions that can turn for the worse. I had to teach myself that no news is good news. I think what can change is to give some positive feedback (where applicable) when a job gets done to reduce the anxiety that could be prevented - especially for junior lawyers.

Who would you talk to when you are having an anxiety moment?

In a professional capacity, I talk to my lawyer friends who are perhaps at a different firm. My current firm has a good system in place such that HR and the COO are available to discuss these issues. I must emphasize, however, that “fit” is the best way to avoid anxiety. Without the right fit, you are always thinking about the next step - “where can I go after this?” “What I can do to change my circumstances?” etc. The right fit minimizes those questions, and help remove the anxiety coming from being at a workplace you don’t want to be - this is the anxiety that you can prevent.

In a personal capacity, it is difficult for people who have not gone through the process to understand what I have gone through (i.e. dealing with mental health, addressing it etc.). Most often, the response I get is “it’ll be fine”, “you’re overreacting”, and “it’ll go away”. These responses made me even more anxious. You said it would be fine, but it’s not going away. What do I do?

Unlike a physical disability or injury, it is hard to see someone mentally breaking down. Trying to be resilient in those circumstances is a lot more difficult. You need to have the right kind of relationship with your friends, partner, principal etc. to address it the right way. I find more push back of the issue coming from my personal side than that coming from my professional circle. 

Establish mentors, having a mentor that you can relate to that you can have open dialogues with. The more you talk to people the more you realize you are not alone. Hopefully the rolling over of the conversation does not distort the message of course. This is why more and more senior lawyers are more comfortable talking about unconscious bias, mental health etc. Our younger generation of lawyers are more open about these issues.

If you were to take yourself back to those moments, what is one thing that you would say to yourself?

Actually, I wrote a letter last year to myself this year. I wrote it during my most depressing period, and am looking forward to reading it later this year. I was purposely not taking an opportunity in front of me, and it left me uncertain of where to go next.

“I know you’re feeling this way - depressed and anxious - but I’m proud of you. I know in a year, your life is going to be completely different…” 

The one thing I would say to myself is “be resilient”. Because the only way to resolve it is by not taking no for an answer. When you’re met with hostility its so easy to take a step back and say “okay, there’s no other option”, or “no is the only thing I’m getting out of it.” Challenge that. Set your own precedent with the deans, peers, principals etc. Putting aside that pride to say to your doctors, friends or family to say that you are struggling is okay. It’s the only way to help you get better. I asked for help to get here. If i hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have made it through undergrad. Go beyond what you think you can achieve. Talk to your dean, your professors, your peers, anybody that you think would be able to help you. Your actions show that you want this, you want to take this lawyer path. Those are the moments that helped me get here today.

Steven Ngo