A recent report from the International Bar Association (IBA1) describes a “mental wellbeing crisis” in the profession (and that was before the emergence of the Omicron variant, which has necessitated a further change to working patterns).
Concerningly, the report describes the disproportionate impact of mental wellbeing on women, young people, ethnic minorities and the disabled. These findings reveal just how endemic and systemic these inequities remain across the global legal profession.
The report, amounting to a ‘call for action’, follows the first ever global surveys into lawyer mental wellbeing. 3,500 lawyers and 180+ organisations were surveyed, ranging from law societies and bar associations to law firms and inhouse legal departments.
Stigma is, according to the report, a major problem with 4 in 10 of those surveyed saying that would not talk to their employer about issues because of the fear of damaging their career. It is ironic that the surveys found that 82 per cent of institutions said they take mental wellbeing seriously – yet just 16% admitted providing appropriate training to senior managers.
The IBA sets out 10 principles for legal organisations and employers to help urgently address the crisis, including a commitment to change, adopting formal mental wellbeing policies and addressing systemic problems.
Law firms and senior staff are urged to deal with the issues consistently because of the consequences of not doing so – and not just harm caused to individuals. The IBA describes these consequences as “significant”: “… they can cause economic and reputational damage to firms, organisations, clients, the bench and academia, and the legal profession as a whole. More fundamentally, this affects the public’s perception of the rule of law.”
The Law Society of England and Wales has just issued further guidance on mental wellbeing, in response to growing concerns over the Omicron variant and government advice to work from home where possible. It reminds solicitors of the various resources available on protecting your mental health, as well as helplines for specific support.
President of the IBA Sternford Moyo highlights how the pandemic has “forced many to evaluate what is most important in life and how our careers contribute, or not, to our mental wellbeing and sense of purpose”,
But before taking stock of the IBA principles set out in the report; and how they can be implemented in your own practice; a proper Christmas break could well be the best first step you can take.
The charity LawCare provides helpful tips on how you can prepare for and achieve a positive break this Christmas – and how to manage a difficult return to work.
1The IBA report can be found here