European law firm Fieldfisher recently joined forces with LawCare, the mental wellbeing charity for the legal community, for a roundtable discussion of the pressures negatively affecting the wellbeing of both private practice and in-house lawyers.
The event, entitled "Wellbeing in the law" was the first in a series of events Fieldfisher plans to run with LawCare to better understand the state of wellbeing in the legal profession, devise ways of improving happiness and mental health, and monitor progress towards achieving these goals.
Fieldfisher partners Sam Jardine and Ramatu Banga were joined at Fieldfisher's office at Riverbank House in London by Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare, and a group of senior in house counsel from a number of household name companies.
Sam Jardine Ramatu Banga
Attendees all expressed concerns about work-related stress affecting in-house counsel and private practice lawyers, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic when many lawyers reportedly suffered burnout from working even longer hours, often in isolation.
The group discussed the findings of LawCare's 'Life in the Law' report, which was published in September 2021 and is the largest ever survey of wellbeing in the legal profession.
The report found the majority of respondents (69%) had experienced mental ill health in the 12 months before completing the survey, with the most common symptoms experienced reported to be anxiety (61%), low mood (48%), and depression (29%).
However, the report also found that only 57% of those who had experienced mental ill health talked about it at work, mainly due to the stigma attached to mental illness and fears this would negatively affect their careers.
Following a discussion of these findings, the roundtable attendees focused on three key questions:
- What can senior lawyers and GCs do to improve their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of their teams?
- How do/should lawyers measure 'success' in terms of a career in law?
- What, if anything, needs to change in the practice of law?
- The introduction of "firebreaks" i.e., sensible recovery downtime between deals, similar to professional athletes' rest days;
- Red, amber and green days, similar to firebreaks, where teams acknowledge that some days will be busy, some steady, and some slow (and that a healthy mix is ok);
- Making regular time for individual catch-ups;
- Honest conversations;
- Awareness and the introduction of measures to support psychological safety (similar to the way physical health and safety is monitored in workplaces);
- Time blocks in diaries for no calls and 50-minute calls to ensure breaks and avoid 'Teams fatigue';
- Authenticity i.e., not simply paying lip service to wellbeing initiatives, but embedding this into the fabric and culture of an organisation;
- Setting realistic deadlines;
- Exploring how clients and law firms can work together collaboratively to avoid relationship pressures; and
- Setting 'healthy' workplace challenges that encourage staff to make time for activities and interests away from work.
The group hopes to reconvene later in the year, to keep the conversation going, report on progress and share best practice.
Commenting on the initiative, Sam Jardine, Technology, Outsourcing and Privacy partner at Fieldfisher said:
"This event provided an honest and sobering insight into the wellbeing issues our profession faces.
"It was a privilege to listen to Elizabeth's insights and to share the experiences of a number of GCs, which showed that the risk of poor work-related mental health is pervasive across the legal profession.
"With the widely publicised 'war for talent' in the legal industry and reports of people leaving the profession for wellbeing-related reasons, there is a clear business as well as a moral case for shedding light on this aspect of law and working for change."
Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare, said:
"Our 'Life in the Law' report and the evidence we heard at this roundtable make it clear that these issues need to be addressed and not simply swept under the carpet if the legal profession hopes to remain a healthy environment for people to work in and to continue to attract the best talent.
"Being a lawyer is a career many people aspire to and it is important to ensure this appeal and reputation, and the quality of legal advice that society expects from our legal profession, is not undermined by poor mental health."
LawCare is the mental wellbeing charity for the legal profession. We offer free, confidential, emotional support, peer support, and resources to those working in the law in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. We promote mental health and wellbeing best practice in legal workplaces and drive culture change in education, training and practice.
We’ve been supporting legal professionals for over 25 years and we understand life in the law.
We are here to help all branches of the legal profession: solicitors, barristers, judges, Chartered Legal Executives, paralegals, trademark attorneys, patent attorneys, costs lawyers, notaries, licensed conveyancers, support staff and concerned family members.
Our support spans the legal life from student to retirement.
If you need support contact our helpline on 0800 279 6888, email email@example.com or access online chat and other resources at www.lawcare.org.uk.
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