60% of stressed solicitors say volume of work is the problem; 42% cite client expectations.
A survey by the Law Society has found that workload and client expectations are by far the biggest causes of stress for lawyers. 60% of solicitors suffering from “negative stress” — a condition which affects the vast majority of the profession — said the amount of work they had to do was the cause of their troubles, while 42% blamed demanding clients.
The next biggest triggers among the 2,226 solicitors surveyed — who were selected randomly from practising certificate holders — were “number of hours” (18%), “lack of support/resources” (13%), “managing the business” (13%) and “relationships with colleagues” (9%).
Interestingly, the much-talked about changes to the legal market, which include the legal aid cuts and the rise of Alternative Business Structures (ABS), only accounted for stress among 8% of practising certificate holders. The full breakdown of reasons can be viewed in the graph below.
The endemic nature of stress in the legal profession was underlined with the finding that 95% of those surveyed reported experiencing “negative stress” in their working lives due to one reason or another. However, only 16% said they suffered from “severe” or “extreme” levels of stress at work. According to Bupa, stress affects just one in five people of the overall working population.
Interestingly, levels of stress generally rose with age, with those in the 41-50 bracket worst affected. 21% in that group experienced extreme stress, as opposed to just 13% in the under 40 bracket.
According to the survey, these high stress levels have translated into above-average absences from work. Solicitors took six days sick leave over the past 12 months, more than the 4.4 days taken by employees in the UK generally in 2013. The figure would have been even higher if there wasn’t such a strong culture of presenteeism in law, with 45% of those surveyed reporting having gone in to work when sick leave should have been taken.
Stress was predominately viewed as a medical problem, rather than a social or environmental one. Two-fifths of those surveyed indicated that they would seek help with stress from their doctor rather than people at work, such as their boss or their organisation’s HR department.
There are several Law Society-funded initiatives that help lawyers with stress. They can be contacted on the numbers below.
Law Society Pastoral Care Helpline — 020 7320 5795
Solicitors Benevolent Association — 020 8675 6440
Solicitors Assistance Scheme — 020 7117 8811
LawCare — 0800 279 6888
The full report can be viewed here.