Article by Archana Nayar
The legal profession has mental health problems, which needs to be addressed. To this effect, this article explores the mental health of legal professions, which is concerning for the upcoming law students; therefore this issue must be presented. “The legal profession in the UK has high pressure and expectations”, as Simon Davis, Law Society president describes. We must as a legal community help and support our colleagues and fellow law students.
First of all, law is an extremely competitive profession, even though it is one of the most rewarding jobs as you receive honourable recognition and have the opportunity to change other people’s lives. On the other hand, the pressure of billing clients by the hours you have worked, and the need to constantly go above and beyond client expectations, shows that this is how you receive the most praises in the office. Nonetheless, you would have client’s believing you are available at all hours, so they would try communicating with you by calling you and sending you emails on the weekends. This does not allow those in the legal profession to “relax” regularly, even on the weekends, with the urge to log on and to reply to client’s emails.
There is no wonder, therefore, how the extra long hours and very little time to relax can have an effect on your well-being and lifestyle.
The competitive atmosphere when first getting into the profession, can lead to a lot of negative emotion. The constant competitiveness with your peers and the fear of making mistakes when either solving a case for a client or simply answering an exam question, can sometimes make us forget the enjoyment of law itself.
So how should we solve the problem? How do we create a culture or a system to benefit those who are starting within the legal profession, which may be an upcoming placement or vacation scheme? Or barristers and solicitors that suffer in this nature of work?
1. Legal workplaces need to recognise that people are different, and some may have important and different levels of commitments. For instance, mothers who are also lawyers may have to look after their kids after school, as nanny fees are not cheap. Or law students after their placement/vacation scheme will have assessments or other personal activities to commit to.
2. The legal profession is organised by fundamental skills such as leadership. Therefore, directors must understand and modify flexibility within the office. For instance during the COVID-19 lockdown period, there was a wide acceptance and introduction of more remote working systems, which ultimately brought a change to the work culture. Working remotely should be more encouraged as this allows room for people’s lives and other caring responsibilities such as health issues. As lawyers or within the legal profession, the duty of care is to always solve client’s problems, but what about our own? There should no longer be a stigma for professionals to open up about their feelings. As the focus for many law firms is on fee earning, growth and productivity, and told to “get on with it” is emotionally stressful. Lawyers should have someone in the office to speak to about their mental health this can increase the impact on the service that they can provide.
Happy staff means happy clients.
3. Legal trauma can occur when client’s cases do not always go to plan. For example, when dealing with clients who are victims of torture, sexual violence, prohibited from seeing their children or any conflict inflicting danger, this can cause trauma. Some lawyers have mentioned some traumatic narratives can lead to lasting effects due to the distressing natural. It would be useful if lawyers, who are suffering as such, would have free professional counselling available to them.
4. About 41% of respondents have stated mental health problems and substance abuse is at crisis in the legal industry. The lack of sleep, repetitive client demands and billable hour requirements can cause a huge amount of pressure. It would be useful to dig down to the roots, and to provide more mental health resources at law firms such as benefit packages to support mental health and substance abuse treatment and recovery. An employer should include mental health coverage; this can cause a transformational change across the profession.
5. It would equally be beneficial if legal practices, could introduce online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) provision, such as well-being weeks and days, or well-being rooms such as yoga, spirituality. This can impact a generational shift in attitude and a more effective workforce, which is useful among lawyers.
The danger within the lack of care for lawyers mental health remains, however a genuine commitment to improve lawyers well-being to focus on their distress. As at the end of day, the law should be enjoyable to practice with support provided. A happy lawyer means more billable hours, which is beneficial for business.