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How are we overcoming Mental Health struggles in the legal industry?

Statista says that 79% of people in the UK have work-related stress. As for the legal industry, an Above the Law study, found that mental health struggles affect over two-thirds of lawyers, which has been exacerbated since the pandemic. 

Typically, lawyers work long hours to keep up with high caseloads and tight deadlines due to strict court dates or statutory time limits. In addition, the nature of the legal sector can sometimes take a toll on emotional well-being. For instance, some areas of law demand a lot of mental resilience such as handling personal injury claims where people have been severely injured or family law where vulnerable children are involved. Often, lawyers can become emotionally invested in their cases which can cause them to overthink matters outside of the workplace. Other areas of law are renowned for their high volumes of cases such as conveyancing or criminal law.

Poor mental health can lead to a lack of productivity, and motivation and potentially mistakes being made at work. So, it’s in the best interests of law firms to create a positive working culture and try to implement initiatives to promote employee well-being. 

What are the common signs of mental health struggles?

Feeling overwhelmed and stressed are common signs of mental health struggles. Other signs that you need to get extra help or support may include the following:

• Feeling constantly under pressure
• A lack of interest in work activities
• Feeling more irritable or short-tempered than usual 
• A change in appetite 
• Panic, dread, or anxiety
• Sleeping problems
• Sudden difficulty keeping up with your workload
• Sudden discomforts like headaches and chest pains

What support is available for lawyers?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, you’re not the only one. The first thing to do is to speak to a manager or supervisor. Depending on the cause, there might be something that can be done to alleviate the problem. Perhaps your workload can be managed by taking some tasks away and reallocating them to others, or maybe extra training could be provided to help you. 

Some organisations may have an allocated mental health support person who you can turn to if you are struggling. These are usually people outside of your own team who can talk through your issues and give you guidance from an independent perspective. Some organisations may receive help from Mental Health First Aid England which gives mental health training, consultancy, and courses to businesses to help raise awareness and sustain healthier workplaces. 

If you are feeling really stressed and run down and want to get help from an external place, some mental health charities offer support through their helpline services, like Mind, Anxiety UK, and Samaritans. An expert can listen to your concerns and advise you on what to do next. Maybe they give you techniques to manage stress or recommend that you go to a support group such as Mental Health UK which helps people who are feeling lonely or isolated. 

What should employers do to support mental health struggles?

A new mental health Acas guidance was published in April 2023 which says that employers now have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees who have emotional, psychological, and social struggles. The guidance highlights that employers must try and create a positive work culture that promotes mental health awareness. 

Reasonable adjustments can include things like adapting workplace policies, allowing people to have flexible working patterns, and providing services such as counseling sessions. It can also involve changing deadlines to help manage workloads, reducing responsibilities, breaking tasks down to make them more manageable, or moving someone into a different role.

How are UK law firms addressing mental health issues at work?

According to Deloitte, poor mental health costs UK employers up to £56 billion each year. So it’s a good idea for law firms to find the best solutions to address any mental health issues at work, not only for the well-being of their staff but also for the good of the business. 

Many companies around the country signed up for a 4-day week experiment where staff worked 80% of their hours but received 100% pay. The findings of the study concluded that productivity did not drop and overall, the change helped employees. The Law Society Gazette reported that no law firms took part in the pilot scheme and that it will potentially be a long time before lawyers take the plunge and work fewer days to avoid burnout.  

The good news is that many law firms have recognised that mental health challenges need to be addressed in the workplace in order to create a positive working culture. Many companies offer their own support programs such as CMS which provides counseling and mindfulness sessions for employees. 

Linklaters gives its staff access to in-house counseling services for remote workers and has mental health hotlines where employees can share their struggles and seek help discreetly. 

Allen & Overy has a network of mental health advocates. These advocates are responsible for communicating mental well-being initiatives across the firm. Allen & Overy also organises a mindful leadership program for partners and employees to attend online and has partnered with several mental health charities to support employee mental health and well-being. 

In addition, some of the UK's largest law firms and banks have collaborated to address workplace practices that cause mental health stress for employees in an initiative called The Mindful Business Charter. This was developed by Barclays, Addleshaw Goddard, and Pin-set Masons which set up a practical framework that encourages firms to be more thoughtful about the impact they have on others and encourages open and honest conversations about mental health in the workplace. 

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