The upside (if there is one) is that covid-19 has heightened the general awareness of the extent to which people are suffering.
The legal profession is far from immune from stress and mental health problems. Firms that are still in denial of this fact need to wake up.
The issue of mental wellbeing has been bubbling below the surface for some years now, but covid-19 has triggered a slow eruption. Though some lawyers have embraced the opportunity to work from home (some have even jumped ship for good and decided to set up their own remote firm or to join a virtual firm) the challenges for others are very real.
But working parents with young children and those with other caring responsibilities have not found the forced transition easy. Trainee solicitors and young lawyers will be under particular pressures with the switch to remote working, necessitated of course by the pandemic. They still need supervision, training, support, encouragement, open lines of communication with their supervisors and peers, and so on.
If firm leaders neglect their needs, the risk is a generation of lawyers suffering acute mental stress and burn out; with the result that the quality of their work will suffer. (No firm wants to face a negligence claim, or to be accused by a young lawyer appearing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal of failing in its duty of care towards them as an employee).
Firms and individuals solicitors are all encouraged to respond to a new online survey which has been created by LawCare, the mental health charity for the legal profession, to coincide with World Mental Health Day (which was on 10 October).
LawCare set up a committee last year – before the covid-19 era – to work on a research study to better understand life in the law. The survey is part of vital research into working culture and practices which the charity has launched, with the aim that its findings will benefit future generations of lawyers and drive cultural change within the profession.
The research study will focus on the impact of work culture and working practices on lawyers’ wellbeing, using three academic research scales for burn-out, psychological safety and autonomy. The results will form the basis of an academic paper to be announced next year.
The survey enquires about a range of issues impacting the survey respondee, from their current workload and any management responsibilities to any wellbeing support their firm currently offers.
LawCare’s CEO Elizabeth Rimmer says: “This is the biggest ever piece of academic research into wellbeing in the legal industry in the UK and Ireland and we hope it will give us a clear picture of how the culture and practice of law affects mental health. The results will help us to improve the support available to legal professionals and drive long lasting change in legal workplaces so that people working in the law can thrive. We would urge anyone working in the legal profession to take part.”
The survey is open to legal professionals in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
Written by Nicola Laver, a non-practicing solicitor and a qualified journalist. She is also editor of Solicitors Journal.