When I decided to become a lawyer, I was excited by the prospect of intellectually challenging work, helping interesting clients, being given the opportunity to problem solve and having the scope to think creatively (and after having spent 4 years doing a law and French law degree – becoming a lawyer seemed like the most appropriate thing to do)…
and when I started my career, I did enjoy the challenging work, the learning, the problem solving and working with lots of interesting clients (and the financial rewards of working in an American law firm in the city were not something I could complain about either). What I was not quite prepared for, however, were the incredibly long working hours, just HOW challenging it was to do great work when I was extremely tired and the amount of pressure that I had to deal with day-to-day in my role.
The legal profession is a great one but the challenging nature of the work, the lack of control over workflow and the 24/7 service that lawyers are often expected to provide, can mean that lawyers are often not in optimum mental or physical health.
Recent research confirms that many lawyers are dealing with poor mental health:
- The Junior Lawyers Division resilience and wellbeing survey report published in April of this year found that more than 25% of respondents had experienced a mental health problem in the last month. The report also found that 90% of respondents had experienced stress in their role and 26% of individuals had dealt with extreme levels of stress. More than 50% of respondents said that their employer could do more on mental health at work.
- The Law Society’s 2014 health and wellbeing survey found that 96% of practising certificate holders reported having negative stress in their working lives.
- Research by the University of Queensland indicated that private practice lawyers experience the lowest levels of psychological and psychosomatic health and wellbeing among all professionals. They also have the highest levels of alcohol and nicotine use and abuse.
- A lawyers happiness survey conducted by Keystone law found that almost 70% of the lawyers questioned thought that their job was more stressful than other professions.
- American research has demonstrated that lawyers are more likely to develop problems with substance abuse compared to those in other professions.
Whist lawyers’ poor mental health may not always be due to the work environment (factors in an individual’s personal life of course play a key role too) – it is an unavoidable fact that many people in the legal profession are not in optimum mental health and it is something that we should certainly be doing something about. How can we equip individuals with the tools to better manage their own mental health? How can we remove the stigma attached to conversations about mental health in the workplace? How can we start changing working practices so the working environment allows lawyers to manage their stress more effectively and to deliver the best quality work that they are able to?
Byrne dean has set up a law firm forum which allows law firms to come together to share ideas on how we can improve mental in the legal sector. The forum meets quarterly and is free to join. We currently have 18 member firms. Please get in touch with me if you are an HR professional (at a law firm) or lawyer that is interested in becoming a member at email@example.com.
When I started my career in law, I didn’t quite realise what I was signing up to – but with the right support, openness and tools to manage my mental health …maybe I would have been better able to cope with the stress and better able to really enjoy my role.