Author – Toby Sewell, Divisional Marketing Manager, Access Legal
Original article found here – https://www.theaccessgroup.com/en-gb/blog/mental-health-and-well-being-in-the-legal-industry-a-podcast/
Following mental health awareness week 2022, we look at how mental health and well-being in the legal industry continues to develop – driven by the post pandemic landscape, a candidate driven market and an impetus for change from the SRA and the industry as a whole.
The following is an extract from the podcast, recorded 11th May 2022, on mental health and well-being in law, featuring Sian Riley, former lawyer and wellbeing champion at Access Legal, and Leah Steele, also a former lawyer, founder of Searching for Serenity and a specialist burnout and resilience mentor and coach.
You can listen to the podcast recording on the following platforms:
- Anchor – https://anchor.fm/access-legal
- Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/show/4DChhyNYYG7VmCNQ2yv8H9
Why is there a greater focus on mental health in the legal industry?
Mental health and well-being has quite rightly been a strong focus for the legal industry, and wider society, over the last 18 months or so, why has this cultural change occurred?
The environment we have found ourselves in over the last 18-24 months has been unprecedented. Remote working, social distancing and the break away from traditional working practices has forced a spotlight on the wellbeing of employees. This spotlight has come to rest on law firms in particular in part because it has developed an understanding that their products are not the wills, conveyancing or litigation services, but the people providing those services. It’s almost a shame that it took a pandemic to start this cultural shift to a more people focused mindset and there is still a long way to go.
The pandemic sharpened the focus on our own mental health and a developing need to feel connected. Home working has blurred the lines, especially when we think about working in law, where clients are quite often making a “distressed purchase” meaning that the work itself comes with a fair amount of stressors. Taking these into people’s homes means that there’s a real need for boundaries and more open conversations about wellbeing and balance.
Do you think getting this right could have an impact on talent attraction and retention which is another challenge in the sector?
Recruiting and retaining talent is very much an issue for a large majority of legal services providers. A candidate led market, particularly the millennials amongst them, are driving the focus towards mental health and wellbeing and an emphasis on work-life balance. Potential recruits are looking beyond the technical expertise of a firm (in many ways this is simply a given) to find a culture which aligns with their own values and ethos.
It used to be that working in law meant that many of the avenues (working flexibly, remotely, etc.) were not available as an option – now they’ve become a normal part of the conversation as firms realise that a focus on customer service doesn’t mean that fee earners need to be in an office nine to five.
What is the SRA doing to support mental health and well-being for the legal sector?
The SRA has produced a guidance note on wellbeing within law firms, with the consultation process still ongoing (May 2022). Although the extent of this guidance and its practical implications are not yet known, it is certainly a move towards a more proactive approach to wellbeing and the SRA are getting on board with being a force for change.
Over the last 10 years there has been an increasing number of high-profile cases, including junior lawyers being struck off for dishonesty and more recently, a managing partner pursuing a disability claim due to chronic burnout. As a result, the SRA is now responding – in a recent SRA webinar the culture of an “active bystander” is promoted, wherein individuals are empowered to speak out and challenge bullying or inappropriate behaviour. It remains to be seen just how this will work in practice, but the intentions are positive.
Finally, what take away would you give to listeners in terms of ideas they may wish to take on board to improve their own mental health and/or the mental health of those around them?
The theme of mental health awareness week was loneliness – and this can affect anyone at any time. We need to work on building meaningful social connections who can support us in both our work and personal life – people are fallible and importantly, people need people.
To engender a feeling of psychological safety we need to be honest. The more open we are about how we feel and our struggles, the more our teams will feel safe to have those open conversations.
You might also be interested in:
Our article on ‘Mental health and wellbeing in Law Firms – the story behind the new policy’ covers a bit more background behind the upcoming policy.
Check out our dedicated ‘Mental Health for Lawyers’ digital learning course, which you can find within our e-learning brochure.