What is being done about mental health in the legal profession?
The Conversation around Mental Health in Law Firms
The conversation around mental health in the legal profession is finally happening.
Every year, our CEO, Michael Burne attends a conference where some of the largest issues in the legal industry are discussed. Whilst in previous years, the conversation has been centred around the rise in AI technology, this year was different. This year, the subject had shifted to focus on mental health in law firms and what could be done to help struggling lawyers.
However, whilst the discussion indicated that there were significant changes being made to better support the mental health of lawyers, we want to know what these changes are and if they’re really enough.
The Legal Industry Response
Following the conference, it appeared as though the following steps were the primary changes being made by firms, with a number of mental health initiatives leading the way.
In an attempt to address stigma in the legal industry, firms have been trying to encourage those that are struggling to speak up, whether that be to a friend, family member, colleague or manager. Starting the conversation around mental health in the legal profession is the first big step that firms are taking, on their journey towards normalising mental health issues in lawyers.
Implement flexible working
Whilst triggered by the pandemic, flexible working has become the new ‘norm’ for the majority of law firms and has since been viewed as a solution to the mental health crisis in the legal profession. After all, working from home should allow lawyers to have more freedom over their working environment, hours and practices, relieving them of the pressures that come with working in a law firm office.
Hold webinars and events
As recommended by a number of mental health initiatives, firms have started to hold regular webinars, events and activities for lawyers. With yoga classes, coffee breaks and talks from mental health professionals, firms are using these methods to provide lawyers with the reassurance they need to take a break.
The Legal Industry Reality
Despite firms clearly trying to better support their lawyers, is it enough for those suffering the long-term impacts of the profession?
Whilst efforts are being made by firms to reassure their teams of the normality of mental health, the stigma isn’t going to disappear overnight. In an industry that has always encouraged perfectionism, mental health issues are often seen as a flaw. Nick Bloy, a former lawyer and founder of Wellbeing Republic recognises that “lawyers have a tendency to take perfectionism and apply it in a maladaptive way”. It’s this expectation of perfectionism that urgently needs addressing across the entire industry.
Whilst flexible working has allowed lawyers to escape the physical office, there’s been no escape from the expectations of their firms. Even when working from home, lawyers have still been expected to complete long working hours to reach their billable targets. Some would argue this has been made even worse since the start of the pandemic, as lawyers are now expected to be permanently available to clients, encouraging presenteeism and burnout.
Limited free time
It’s well known that the legal industry demands long-working hours from lawyers, leaving them with little free time. This has meant that for many lawyers, they have been unable to attend the mental health events being held by their firms. A trainee lawyer from an elite UK firm commented, “We have mental health training sessions and HR do make an effort to make it accessible, but when you’re busy there’s no time to think about mental health or do these things.”
The Solution that Lawyers Need
Whilst the response of law firms has been a positive step in the right direction, more needs to be done if current and future lawyers are to have a better experience. The changes that have been made offer short-term help, where lawyers need long-term support. However, for this to happen, law firms need to take a closer look at what they expect from their lawyers, in terms of their availability, workload, targets and hours. Only then will lawyers be able to balance their profession with their mental health.
At Bamboo, we enable lawyers to make their mental health a priority again. As a law firm operating system, we provide lawyers with everything you need to start your own law firm, so that all you have to focus on is establishing your brand, developing your practices and choosing your hours. And, don’t worry! We won’t ever tell you how to handle your clients or what your working hours are.
If you’re a lawyer who’s tired of putting your profession before your wellbeing, join the Bamboo Platform. We can help you put that right!