Samantha Bray says the legal profession needs to start taking mental wellbeing seriously.
This week, LawCare (the mental health charity focused on the legal profession) published a major report into wellbeing at work.
Over two thirds of the 1,700 lawyers surveyed said that they have experienced mental ill-health in the past year. More than a fifth said they felt unable to cope.
The report also that junior lawyers are at an increased risk of burnout and almost half those affected do not talk about their problems at work, due to perceived career implications.
LawCare CEO Elizabeth Rimmer said the paper is “robust evidence that the legal profession is stressed, tired, anxious, at high risk of burnout and that those working practices in the law that undermine mental health need to change”.
She continued: “We want this research to be the catalyst for us to come together as a profession to create that change, to create a culture in law that puts the law’s greatest asset – it’s people – first.”
Wellbeing rising up the corporate agenda
‘Mental health’ and ‘Wellbeing’ – two phrases that have featured prominently in the news recently.
Simone Biles – a 24-year-old gymnast from USA – shocked the world by withdrawing from the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
Considered by many as being at the top of her game, Ms Biles was a very strong medal hope for both her individual and her team events. But she withdrew from the competition, citing her mental wellbeing as the reason.
Some couldn’t understand, but many praised her bravery and willingness to speak out that mental health comes first – that it must be a priority – and that being ‘healthy’ includes your mental health too.
Also this summer, we saw Emma Raducanu (at the time, a relatively unknown name in the tennis world), progress well in Wimbledon. No mean feat for an 18-year-old who had just sat her A’Levels weeks before!
But during her fourth round match, she retired with breathing difficulties.
Facing heavy criticism from some, whilst applauded by others for putting her health first, she came back strongly to win the US Open in straight sets, sending a clear message to those who criticised her for not being mentally strong enough.
She knew what her body needed, she took her time, and came back stronger – mentally and physically. She not only took the title, but is now 23 in the world rankings, and is the British number 1.
True – we are not all athletes.
True – we do not all perform our jobs on the world stage with the eyes of millions watching us.
True – we do not all have a team of coaches, doctors and physicians around us who are able to act immediately and put our wellbeing and health at the top of their priority list.
Most of us exist in smaller worlds. But that does not mean that we don’t experience mental health challenges.
Just because we may not be top-class athletes, our wellbeing and health is critically important. And access to support and help from our employers should be a priority.
In our recent live panel discussion entitled ‘Not Safe for Work’ (you can read the summary here https://www.jonathonbray.com/junior-lawyers-are-an-easy-target-for-the-sra-says-top-qc/, our expert panel talked about toxic workplace cultures and the impact upon ethical decision making.
LawCare featured heavily in the discussion – notably for the incredible support they offer when people become overwhelmed.
What is LawCare?
LawCare is a charity with the sole purpose of helping those in the legal profession with wellbeing and mental health support.
Their vision is simple:
“A legal community that values good mental health and wellbeing, where people thrive.”
LawCare is not just for solicitors. The organisation’s services are available to anyone in the legal community – paralegals, support staff, fee earners, managers, even concerned family members.
What does LawCare do?
Support – via a helpline if someone wants to talk, or a webchat. There is an abundance of resources on the website available for things such as stress, sleep, anxiety, sexual harassment, alcohol, abuse, depression, menopause, and so much more with lots of handy ‘Top Tips’ and information.
Prevention and Education – LawCare are keen educators with the belief that raising awareness and being properly informed about such issues will help in tackling stigma.
Research – LawCare are keen to develop an understanding of how the culture and the practice of law can impact on the wellbeing and mental health of an individual.
Create Change – by raising awareness and tackling misconceptions, they are keen to make a positive impact with lasting change.
How to access LawCare services
Helpline – 0800 279 6888 (Monday to Friday from 9am – 5:30pm)
Live chat on Wednesday from 9am – 5:30pm
General email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Support email – email@example.com
What should law firms do?
Creating a healthy and happy working environment is hard. It takes time, commitment and leadership – and that starts at the top!
It all comes down to that elusive concept of culture, which is the sole responsibility of the firm’s managers and the leaders. They must lead from the front.
If your staff are your most valuable resource – listen to them. What do they need? Are they okay? Is anyone showing tell-tale signs of burnout? Take the time to find out.
In order to give you their best, people need to feel supported. True – you may not be able to solve everything yourself but being able to signpost towards support services (like LawCare) is a good start.
Creating a supportive and caring culture will pay dividends.