The legal profession is notorious for its high demands and long working hours – and the pandemic has only amplified these challenges. Many legal professionals have struggled to avoid burnout while managing client demands and personal responsibilities.
LawCare, a charity that supports and promotes mental health and wellbeing in the legal industry, aims to change that. The organization recently published the findings of its life in law research, which considered responses from more than 1,700 legal professionals about the impact of legal culture and working practices on them.
I asked Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare, to help me dissect the results.
“We have a mental wellness issue in the law and our research adds to a growing body of evidence on this,” Rimmer said. “Legal professionals know what to do to support their mental health and well-being, but the challenge is to prioritize it.”
A central part of the problem has to do with how the profession monitors and measures success – and how it pressures employees to achieve it. In the legal profession, we reward success and there is little room for failure.
“There is this real perception of the law that exacerbates or creates an environment that feeds into these feelings of burnout and work intensity. So how do we change this perception of the law? »
LawCare’s research measured how well legal professionals experience burnout, work autonomy, psychological safety, and work intensity. Among the main results:
- Respondents averaged a score of 42.2 on the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory, indicating a high risk of burnout; exhaustion-related exhaustion levels were particularly high
- Most respondents (69%) had experienced mental health problems (clinically or self-diagnosed) in the 12 months preceding the survey.
- Among those who had experienced mental health problems, only 56.5% said they had talked about the problem at work; the most common reasons for not doing so were fear of the stigma associated with it, potential career implications, and financial and reputational consequences
- Women surveyed on average exhibited higher burnout than their male counterparts and also reported having lower autonomy and psychological safety at work, which refers to how safe they were in expressing their ideas and concerns or acknowledging their concerns. errors.
- Respondents who identified as belonging to a minority ethnic group and respondents with a disability also reported higher levels of burnout, as well as lower mean scores for autonomy and psychological safety at work
- Although most respondents had not been laid off or laid off due to the pandemic, nearly half expressed concern about their job security and nearly 60% were concerned about their finances.
- Nearly 60% of respondents said they are most concerned about increased pressures related to work-life balance
- Respondents demonstrated awareness of self-care practices and also acknowledged that at work, having remedial or assessments helped them build confidence in self-development and reduce anxiety.
Paving the way for positive change
To help move the needle in favor of mental health and wellbeing, Rimmer urges organizations to approach the challenge in multiple directions. She suggests that law firms should find ways to reframe how they measure success.
Instead of encouraging metrics around hours worked and rankings earned, for example, companies may question whether they achieved an effective customer outcome and walk away from the experience thinking the relationship worked well. .
It also highlights the need for individuals, companies, customers, regulators and professional bodies to collectively take responsibility for well-being in the industry.
Senior leaders must show the importance of mental health, be open about their own struggles, and encourage the sharing of ideas and concerns without fear of reprisal. Individuals should follow their example, be willing to share ideas and speak up when they need help.
Finally, Rimmer encourages the use of training and support for managers to help them see beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to supporting employees. If they proactively consider the different characteristics of individuals and their impact on a person’s mental health and well-being, she says, they will be more effective at making employees feel heard and understood.
“It’s a wake-up call for the profession,” Rimmer said. “In order to perform at our best, we need to take care of our minds and our bodies. As we emerge from this pandemic, with the learnings we have all made personally and professionally, now is the time to move things forward in a positive way so that we don’t have the same conversations 10 years from now.
Taking positive action will not only make companies more attractive to top talent, it will also make them better insurance risks.
If you ensure that your employees work in an environment that allows them to perform at their best, you should also generate a better risk profile and fewer claims.
Law firms are increasingly recognizing the importance of mental well-being and are launching major initiatives to support good mental health. The LawCare report highlights our collective responsibility in protecting mental wellbeing – and I hope it inspires and empowers everyone to take positive action to change the perception of law of a profession in which poor mental health is accepted to a profession where this is the exception.