Resilience and wellbeing survey report — Junior Lawyers Division: April 2017

“There was an exhausted woodcutter who kept wasting time and energy chopping wood with a blunt axe because he did not have the time, he said, to stop and sharpen the blade.” ― Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight

I’ve just read the JLD survey report.

OMG! — and that’s an understatement (I’ve avoided profanity for now, but it makes for depressing reading).

A few highlights for you:

  • 50% of respondents didn’t know where to turn to externally for help;
  • 50% of respondents said their firms (91% of the respondents were from private practice) “could do more to provide help/guidance/support to employees in relation to mental health at work”;
  • 68% of respondents experienced “problems with family life or relationships” in the last month (which I take to mean were related to stress at work);
  • 24% of employers were aware that the respondents were suffering from a mental health problem (meaning 76% didn’t know!);
  • 53% of respondents “nearly made a mistake that would not have happened otherwise”;
  • 65% of respondents said that high workload was the cause of stress; the next most significant factor was ineffective management (50%);
  • 25% of LPC respondents suffered severe stress; 11% of the same group extreme stress;
  • 69% of LPC respondents felt stressed “defined as being under too much emotional or mental pressure” in the last month; and
  • 28% of LPC respondents were regularly unable to cope as a result of stress.

I’m not sure the circulation of the report within those firms that employ lawyers in the stated categories — I would imagine it covers the majority of private practice firms — but I hope those with any compassion take note and act.

Of course, there will be the die hard cohort who brush this off as another bout of navel-gazing and expect everyone to put up or shut up (“We all had to endure the same regime”); but that would only reinforce the available evidence which suggests that legal practice is an unenviable place to work if you want to come out the other end emotionally and mentally unscathed.

For me, as coach and consultant, what stands out is the fact that the group who chose to respond (it was less that 1% which only reinforces the ‘keep everything to ourselves’ approach to mental health) were practically pleading for help with:

  • training (with an outcomes focus I hope);
  • yoga, meditation, counselling and courses on coping with stress;
  • better management from partners “too busy to supervise”;
  • reducing their workload — forget the 5/6 multiple of income;
  • more regular checks on employee wellbeing; and
  • the appointment of ‘wellbeing champions’.

I’d love to think that firms will adopt some of these suggestions. Sure, there might be a small cost, but it pales in comparison to the disengaged nature of the lawyers, the likely absences, the effect on the lawyers which might give rise to a DDA claim, and, most especially of all (for everyone concerned), the reputational harm. But let’s be honest, we shouldn’t need these types of surveys — as well-meaning as they are — to tell us something that any employer worth their salt should know.

I could end by saying that this report is more grist to my ‘get better’ message but I’d much rather have read a report that showed the profession understanding of the nature of its self-induced demands and the need to support and understand mental health. My sense is that firms might be operating on the principle, ‘Hear no evil, see no evil’.

One final note: the report throws into stark relief the partnership model. I mean, can it really say it’s fit for purpose with these numbers? To put things less prosaically, if partnerships only exists to provide significant PEP, the people cost is enormous. And let’s be honest, even if you thought yourself capable of putting up with long hours, high workloads and the possibility of high earnings, would you really want to enter a profession knowing these numbers? I know for one thing, if it were my children I was advising, I’d invite them to look elsewhere before throwing their hat in the legal ring.

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