The conversation around mental health issues in adults has rapidly increased in the last 5 years or so. Mental health Statistics show that almost 1 in 25 adults suffer from a mental health problem and just over 10 million people over the age of 18 have more than 1 disorder. The urgency to have proactive conversations around this topic has increased worldwide, including in the legal professional work environment.
A report from the Evening Standard, in 2017, revealed that the legal profession was the 4th ranked most stressful industry to work within(after teaching, nursing and welfare). Lawyers face long working hours and feel pressured by law’s culture to be available every hour of the day.
What can law firms do to improve wellbeing?
Following a report by the Legal mental health charity – LawCare, they commented that “It’s time for legal workplaces to accept that long hours, heavy workloads, poor work-life balance and the lack of effective supervision is undermining wellbeing,”
The high levels of stress caused from the work life in the legal profession has contributed to the rise in mental and physical illnesses of many in the legal industry, so what can be done?
Awareness & Training
The first step to attacking this issue in the profession is firstly having an open conversation to build awareness. Managers and firm partners need to make it a requirement to have an open internal helpline department that lawyers can communicate how their mental health is doing. Not every person in the firm needs to be a qualified mental health first aider; but, having a department that can do this is a simple step in the right direction.
As well as this, managers should be provided with appropriate training in the form of workshops and courses so that poor mental health in staff can be spotted and treated a lot earlier. Depression, stress and anxiety were some of the top metal health problems lawyers suffered with, so focusing on training management on how to identify signs and symptoms creates an environment where people can look out for each other and combat the problem head on.
Mental Health in Law Firms: Do we need to change law’s culture?
The legal industry is one which is very demanding, with many feeling pressure to live up to high expectations. The Life in the Law survey highlighted just how intense the work within the legal industry can be. Over 60% of participants within the survey felt the need to check emails outside of work hours to keep up with their heavy workload. 28% of participants stated that their roles required them to be available to assist clients 24/7.
Due to the pressures placed on law firm staff, many are feeling the stressful impacts, with some experiencing burnout as well as depression and anxiety.
The key to reducing these issues may to change the culture of the legal industry completely and to promote more work/life balance within the sector.
To have top perfoming legal professionals, firms must look after their staff and improve their physical and mental wellbeing.
How has the pandemic impacted mental health in law firms?
The Covid-19 Pandemic has impacted the way that the legal work environment operates- for better or for worse. It has given legal professionals the opportunity to reimagine the working environment to create new schemes and systems that put those struggling with mental illness at the forefront.
Lawcare staed the following regarding the impact of the pandemic on mental health in law firms:-
“The digital transformation that most legal workplaces have gone through during the pandemic provides a foundation for the human transformation that is now needed.”
Mental Health in Law Firms: Final thoughts
Further reports and studies show that not only does the work life of a lawyer contribute to mental health issues, but it’s also a huge contributing factor to burn out, especially around periods after promotions. With the increased responsibility and workload, a special eye should be kept on legal staff who have received promotions or are undergoing a review.
The Life in Law survey concluded:-
“The emerging theme in the findings from this study is the need to change the organisational culture of law. To change the culture in law we need to start with changing our working practices.”
Thankfully, mental health in the workplace- especially the legal profession- is becoming a growing conversation worldwide. Because of this, there are now active steps that law firms should consider taking so that the wellbeing of their lawyers will stay a top priority.