Don’t forget about mental health in the diversity debate

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LawCare speaks to junior lawyers struggling with stress, depression and drink problems on a daily basis. CEO Elizabeth Rimmer says the legal profession is due a culture change — and that this will have a positive impact on diversity

Last week, I had a meeting at 2pm at the Royal Courts of Justice.

There was quite a crowd of people lining up to get in for afternoon court sessions. There are four or five steps up to the doors, and when I got to top of these, I saw a sign. It said: if you need wheelchair access, please speak to a security guard. I had a look around — there were no security guards outside the doors, they were all inside, doing their best to move the queue along.

So how would you get in if you couldn’t manage the steps? That’s if you could actually read the sign, as you have to get to the top of the steps to see it.

You could ask someone to squeeze past the people in front of you to get a security guard, or a helpful person may tell you that there is street-level access around the corner and you could head for that. But, either way, it would be hassle, stressful and, no doubt, you would be late if you were heading in for court at 2pm.

The Royal Courts of Justice is one of the most iconic symbols of the law in this country — a familiar scene on our TV screens. But as I saw last week, just getting through the door into a building that represents the system that is technically open to us all can be a challenge. And, it’s getting through the law’s door in a more metaphorical sense that is of concern to many students.

There is no doubt that there is a growing understanding and recognition of the real value of diversity in the legal profession, and an increasing commitment from organisations across the sector to take action. But we have a long way to go. The regulatory framework is important, but we need more than this: we need a culture change.

I work for LawCare, a charity that promotes and supports mental health and wellbeing in the legal community. Every day we listen to lawyers who tell us their stories about the challenges they face in not only getting through the door but in staying in the building.

There’s the young female trainee who is being sexually harassed by a senior male partner, and too frightened to tell anyone. The barrister at the criminal bar feeling burnt out and wondering if this is a sustainable career. The woman returning to work after her first baby, unable to cope with the long hours expected of her, and worried she won’t have a future at the firm.

The young barrister, the first in his family to go to university, navigating an unfamiliar work culture. The experienced partner waking up at night worried about a mistake he has made. The lawyer returning to work after time off for stress, convinced the firm want to get rid of him. The legal executive not able to tell her line manager she has been diagnosed with depression.

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The single parent doing the LPC part-time and juggling work, unable to get a training contract. The judge worried he may have a drink problem. These are sorts of calls we receive every day on our helpline.

What is perhaps overlooked in the diversity debate is how mental health and wellbeing fits with inclusion.

People who feel connected and have a sense of belonging, who have control and autonomy in their working lives, are happier — happier lawyers are more productive and more effective.

There is little published peer-reviewed data on the mental health of British lawyers. But studies from the United States show that lawyers have higher rates of stress, anxiety and depression when compared to the general population, and we know from recent data from the Health and Safety Executive that lawyers place third in the most stressed occupations (only behind ‘welfare professionals’ and nurses).

Why is this? I don’t think it’s that lawyers are genetically pre-disposed to poorer wellbeing; there is something about the culture and practice of law that is having an impact.

The long working hours, the perfectionist mentality, the stigma of admitting you are feeling overwhelmed or have a mental health issue, managing the expectations of clients, working with vulnerable people, the intensive and expensive study, the lack of support for management responsibilities, the forced cultural norms that can lead to exclusion, no vocabulary to talk about emotions and how our work affects us — these are some of the factors that can have an effect.

The good news is these are things we can do something about. We can make the education of our law students about how to manage under pressure mandatory. We can provide better support for our junior lawyers. We can encourage our profession to talk about mental health. We can promote the value of effective staff management. We can stop expecting people to work long hours and weekends. We can challenge poor behaviour such as bullying and harassment.

We each need the support of others to be at our best. Lawyers are problem-solvers and I believe there is real opportunity now when these issues are under the spotlight to work together across professions and organisations to improve our workplace culture so that not only can anyone get through the door, they can stay in the building, and thrive.

Elizabeth Rimmer is the CEO of LawCare, whose free, independent and confidential helpline provides a space for you to talk about anything that may be worrying you. Contact LawCare here.

This article is based on a speech given by Elizabeth Rimmer at a recent Westminster Legal Policy Forum event on diversity and inclusion. You can read Legal Cheek‘s coverage of the conference here.



This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Not Amused

The last time we had a story from LawCare they released stats (they have not done that this time I note). What we saw from those stats was that they really talk to very few people indeed as a proportion of the legal population.

It would seem irresponsible to base any policy decisions upon such an unsound footing.


I disagree, Not Amused. Those are problems that GPs, employment lawyers and friends will recognise. It is obvious to anyone who is not trolling this article that the case studies that the CEO raises will have a deeper echo than the narrow bandwith that her data set would reveal, if she published it.

Experienced players know that you force the lawyer returning from stress out of his job because he is not going to make enough money without causing problems, and you get advice from your HR team or your employment lawyer on how to minimise the risk of having to pay compensation for doing so. You manage the year long litigation process and estimate the cost of award. Often you will know that a compromise agreement will be the likely outcome as soon as he returns to work, if they are brave and solvent enough to take legal advice against you. So you try and influence things so that he doesn’t.

Similar familiarity is that of the Head of Chambers or clerk who says “give this naive Muppet a run at paying for chambers upkeep. He may hit a lucrative vein of work in the two or three years that his debt quota will sustain him, and if he doesn’t- well , we allowed him to live his stupid dream – and he can make way for younger reinforcements who similarly know next to nothing”

The alcoholic judge will be looked at in the same way. We need someone to process all these criminals and their impoverished lawyers. We need someone to process all these couples whose attachment has been ruined by the suffocating system of work and money. We need someone to sign off and pad out skeleton arguments which support the economy, private equity or pension funds, regardless of the merits of the case. We pay them enough to self medicate effectively and we give them a middle class status which should ensure their robustness. Some of them won’t cope. They may turn to drink or domestic violence but we shall just have to become better with our selection tests to improve the percentage failing year on year.

Creating and preying on people’s mental health problems is part of the game. Society has been sick for a long time, say clever ethical people like d h Lawrence, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. Individuals carry the insanity through with them year on year because the mould is refilled, rather than moth balled or broken.

My beef with charities, trade unions, employment lawyers, helpful doctors and all the rest of it is that they just carve a middle class niche amidst it all.

It is a case of a change of nothing short of absolutely everything will ever be enough. A middle class niche like a stress charity or Doughty street chambers will always fall short.

The Christian church looked like a potential runner for change and a psychological solution, but was it pope pius 12 who decreed that it was verboten to use politics to achieve a policy of Christianity ? I think it was and he rendered its new covenant impotent with a stroke of the pen.

For me, if we are bothered about mental health we need to dream up and action the working detail of a social revolution. That is a voice in the wilderness.

Others probably don’t go to a stress charity, not because they don’t suffer stress, as you infer, but because they prefer a different middle class niche.

So the judge a doctor, return from stress leave, a solicitor, disabled with poor access to the RCJ, a councillor or mp.

That said, I am sure it is nice to talk to someone at the charity who can convince you – from real calls they have taken – that you are not alone.


You make some interesting points but it’s hard to find them.


You’ve enjoyed that insult haven’t you ! And you’ve done well at 5 – 0.

6 up votes to 3 isn’t bad when Not Amused against me is on 12 to 2, (with one of the 2 being me , i have to say.) She is doing so well that I feel sorry for the CEO.

And to be fair I don’t usually up vote myself, but i helped it on today with a vote to cheer up my mental health 😁

When you have as much experience as I have, and you are busy , but you take the time to comment on your smart phone one letter at a time with your thumb, that’s the output you get, I’m afraid.

Big Dolla

Is this you De Montford?


Hello comrade. I’ve not seen your name for a while. Yes it is. Are you surviving?


Spot on. The whole system is ludicrous and filled with absolute cretins, I’m embarrassed to even tell people I’m a barrister (15 years’ call commercial, independent practice).


The reality is most lawyers are mediocre at best and within their own practice areas pretty interchangeable. Gone are the days when being a barrister or solicitor meant something. Those who ‘make it’ in the system usually have a vindictive and nasty streak and a penchant for trampling over others and for self aggrandizement,as genuine, likeable people they are usually sorely lacking.



Though to be fair that is true of the bourgeoisie generally.

Marx’s observation that the bourgeoisie would run out of people with the necessary morals to fill the required positions, while true when he said It, was outmanoevred as a prophecy.


Each day I lose a chunk more of my sanity.


So do we

For the Legal Cheek Team

I wanted to comment on the most recent LC article, but the comments had already been closed. As much as I love the hilarious comments under most of the articles, some of them are just spiteful. A lot of them are aimed towards the LC team, and some of them are pretty personal (as well as uncalled for), and I think that’s just disgusting. I just want the team to know that some of what you produced on here actually helped me and I secured a Magic Circle training contract offer this year, so thank you. 🙂

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