Mental Health Awareness Week
This week marked Mental Health Awareness Wee and concerns around the wellbeing of people that work in the legal industry have highlighted the continuing problems with wellbeing and mental health in the industry.
Barristers attending courts in unsafe environments, paralegals being promised training contracts and firms not honoring their promise, trainees working even longer hours in isolation or in unsafe conditions, and senior lawyer under increasing pressure to hit increasing targets, bring in more clients and ensure the supervision of the future generation of lawyers.
Some will say that this is part and parcel of working in the legal industry, but I disagree. We have allowed the industry to evolve like this, making excuses along the way rather than focusing on changes.
Is it really worth your mental health to work for an employer that doesn’t put your wellbeing first?
That’s why being emotionally resilient has never been more important. The ability to look at a stressful situation objectively, process it, and focus on the best way to respond is imperative.
With this in mind, the pandemic has given the legal industry the opportunity to reinvent itself as well as other industries:
Rethinking of attitudes to flexible and home working — mass remote working has become the norm for so many; a development with psychological benefits for many and wider implications for society, for gender equality, the environment, sustainability, and quality of life.
More openness about emotion and awareness of anxieties — a shift that may, in time, change the culture around mental health; using Zoom and Teams for example changes how we present ourselves, and, the meaning of ‘professionalism’.
Imagine a lawyer working on a case and they suffer from health problems. the face increasing demands, they don’t take regular breaks and then they make mistakes.
The firm then starts a disciplinary process which leads to the lawyer going off on long-term sick, as a combination of a mental health condition and another diagnosis. Eventually, the lawyer feels unable to return to work at all and ends up suing the firm claiming more support should have been provided.
If firms/companies are not responsive at this time this shows the resilience of those firms/companies. Is it essential to go back to old ways, even if it were possible? some believe that the traditional ways of working need to be overhauled to better reflect the flexible and agile way that people using the courts live their lives.
Whether or not we go back to pre-covid ways of working, what is clear is the need to support a better work/life balance continues to be a priority for the sector. To build a sustainable business for the future, law firms need a robust, healthy, and adaptable workforce.