It has been reported on countless occasions that the legal profession, and those working within it, are stressed and that the legal profession has been a little slower than some, to respond to the ever-evolving landscape of mental health and wellbeing.
The long-standing view externally is that a “good lawyer” is someone who responds well to large caseloads, is always on call, answering emails at ridiculous hours of the night, and enjoys the pressure that comes with the time recording targets. “Good lawyers”, especially at the more junior end, are expected to take on all requests from Partners and clients, whilst they learn their trade and gain experience in the area of law that they want to specialise in.
But with 63% (*) of lawyers reporting being stressed on a daily basis, and nearly 75% (**) suggesting that their mental health and wellbeing needs are not being met at work, whilst this view and practice might well aid in building a level of resilience that most lawyers cite as a key skill, are the longer term consequences of working at this level too often ignored? And are lawyers more prone to experiencing “burn out” as a result?
Concerns have been expressed by those in the legal community that sometimes there is too much emphasis placed on the individuals themselves to do something about their own wellbeing – we talk about managing expectations of clients and colleagues, setting boundaries, and making space for “downtime”, but as a junior lawyer are you really going to have the confidence to say “No” to a Partner asking you to draft a document at 8pm on a Tuesday night? Probably not. Is this mindset also placing the responsibility at the individual's door, instead of trying to tackle the structures, cultures, practices, and systems right at the top?
What’s being done about wellbeing in the legal sector?
Thankfully there has, especially within the past few years, been a shift. Law firms are encouraging “wellbeing weeks”, and days, introducing activities like yoga at lunchtime, or mindfulness sessions, as well as encouraging “digital detox” where you cannot answer emails after a certain time. But are the introduction of these solutions just a sticking plastic to cover what is a wider systemic issue with the profession?
The significance of this debate and raising awareness about these topics opens a lot of discussion. There is a clear need to work in a safer way, and with generational shifts in attitudes and more of an openness to discuss these topics, there has never been a better time to implement policies. Not having a policy is no longer acceptable.
Recruitment and retention are still prominent in the legal profession. Recent research suggests that Gen Z (16-23) will only stay in a role they are unhappy with for 4 months, millennials will stick it out for just under a year (11.2 months) and this is compared to Gen X (43-54) and baby boomers who wait for nearly 18 months. (***)
Against the background of the evolving global market, how law firms deal with the wellbeing of their employees and prospective employees is at the forefront of the candidate's search for a new role. With 27% of people citing “stress” as a reason for leaving a previous role, employees need to be upfront with their thoughts and practices around mental health and wellbeing. (****)
Other examples of what law firms are doing include, having wellbeing champions, trained mental health first aiders (MHFA), and using “wellbeing portals” and apps. There are also charities like LawCare dedicated to supporting those within the legal community. This is on top of introducing core working hours giving employees flexibility outside of these, and “protected” lunch hours to ensure a break during the day.
If you would like a more detailed idea of what law firms are doing to combat the issue around mental health and support employees wellbeing, please contact one of the team to discuss.
* - https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/lawyers-are-second-most-stressed-professionals-research-claims/5069915.article
** - https://www.thelegists.co.uk/90-percent-of-lawyers-have-suffered-stress-and-burn-out
*** - https://www.legalcheek.com/2022/10/pay-stress-and-poor-work-life-balance-among-top-reasons-why-lawyers-are-quitting/
**** - https://www.legalcheek.com/2022/10/pay-stress-and-poor-work-life-balance-among-top-reasons-why-lawyers-are-quitting/