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‘How are you, really?’ City firms and chambers on board as leading wellbeing charity gears up for mental health week

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Lawyers met last night to discuss pressures facing students and juniors

A leading mental health charity has launched a campaign with 25 top law firms and barristers’ chambers to raise awareness of mental health issues affecting lawyers.

LawCare has distributed “leaflets, posters and digital collateral” to firms including Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, DLA Piper and Hogan Lovells in a bid to reach more lawyers ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week, which starts on Monday. From the bar, Wilberforce Chambers, Pump Court Chambers, Matrix Chambers and Garden Court Chambers are among a number of sets to lend their support.

Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare said: “Life in the law can be challenging and sometimes things can get on top of you. This Mental Health Awareness Week we are asking ‘How are you, really?’ We want to help as many people as we can in the legal profession who are feeling stressed or depressed or have any other issue.”

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LawCare brought together a group of solicitors, barristers and industry bigwigs yesterday evening to discuss wellbeing in the legal profession. The group, known as The Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce, explored, among other things, the mental health issues facing junior lawyers and law students.

Reflecting on the sink-or-swim culture of legal practice, one City lawyer said:

“Trainees are trying to prove themselves and show they’re an asset to the firm. You are almost taught on a professional level to keep your emotions inside. You’re entering a traditional, rigid, hierarchical business, many trainees are reluctant to tell colleagues they’re struggling.”

Work-related pressures can develop from “day one of law school”, one barrister said, “due to high course fees and unrealistic expectations”. They continued: “You’re chasing that dream on a treadmill, and failing to secure pupillage or tenancy can have a catastrophic impact.”

The candid comments follow research published by the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) that suggests the percentage of rookie solicitors experiencing mental health issues had more than doubled. From a sample of 332 trainees, 39% reported experiencing a mental health problem, up from 19% last year.

You can contact LawCare by calling 0800 279 6888.

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23 Comments

Septuple Entendre

First, I think we can all agree that it is essential to look after your mental health in all aspects of your life. It is not sensible to continue with something you hate just because it you feel an obligation to do so. If you feel like you can’t talk to your employer or colleagues there are still plenty of people you can reach out to, do not quietly endure.

That said, can you really blame chambers or firms for operating in the way that they do? It continues to make them money, and it allows them to grow, diversify and whatever else they want to do – so on what basis can we expect them to stop? Client expectations are only ever increasing, and the fact is that becoming and then being a lawyer is difficult and its only going to get worse in this respect. As for unrealistic expectations, assuming that these are the expectations placed upon students rather than the expectations of the students themselves, surely this is a wide exaggeration? Expectations are so high because the degree of competition is so high, and this is without factoring in nepotism etc. It’s difficult, and (unless you’re very fortunate) nobody is going to hold your hand.

It all comes down to the choices you make. Those choices may be good or bad, informed or uninformed, rooted in theory or in emotion. If you choose to wander into law thinking that you’ll breeze through, there’s a chance you may be right (especially if daddy is a QC) but there’s a (bigger) chance you’re going to spend the next two years slowly losing it. Just remember that it’s your choice to study law, your choice to become a lawyer and your choice to keep doing it.

I don’t disagree with this article, but I feel like it talks to the symptoms as opposed to the cause of this alleged increase in mental health issues for trainees. I favour providing students with frank and honest advice at the UCAS stage, I wouldn’t trust them to have done their research.

Also, if you tell me that the TV show “Suits” in any way impacted your choice to study or practice law, be aware that your name has been added to the “Impending Breakdown” sweepstakes competition which I have been running in my head since 2015. Good day, and good luck to you all.

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Anthony

Very good. Very empathetic. Trouble is Law is in fashion now – one assumes because of the money. And getting onto an LLB course has never been easier. Law school does not, and never has, prepared graduates properly for the demanding realities of law practice.

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Anonymous

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

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Anonymous

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

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Anonymous

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

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Anonymous

I’m fine, thanks.

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Septuple Entendre

How’s your mum?

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Jones Day Senior Associate

Hold my Cognac

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Succulent nubile JD trainee

I see no “cognac”… no wait… there it is!

It’s a very small “cognac”, isn’t it?

*Teehee*

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Jenny

Every night to de-stress from my high-powered city job I put on a nappy and drink lots of wine.

Am I the only one?

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Junior criminal barrister

To de-stress from my high-powered life at the criminal bar I put a nappy on a Silk and spank him repeatedly while drinking lots of wine.

Am I the only one?

(3)(3)

what

To de-stress from my high-powered life replying to comments on Legal Cheek all day I put a nappy on my head and defecate off the sides of tall buildings

(6)(1)

Jenny

No, seriously, the above is my de-stressing regimen.

Should I seek help?

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CrimBo

At the criminal bar, it looks (from a distance) that I am wearing a Batman cape and a nappy on my head!

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Former DLA Piper

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

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Sensible

I asked my trainee for a pegging

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Curious George

What’s a pegging?

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2.5 PQE

I am really crap. My job means I have no energy and it sucks the life out of me. So long as there is an expectation to bill 1600-1700 hours at my firm it’ll always be that way. The sad thing is if I could do a more healthy 1200 hours a year and take a 30-40% pay cut it would still allow me to earn a good living and I’d enjoy my job. I can’t enjoy my job as it is because it is just too much. It is affecting my health. Like many I am burning out. I’m just waiting for the right time to get out, but I inevitably keep getting strung along.

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Anonymous

I’m with you. Don’t fall into the trap. Lower targets do not guarantee a better experience. The whole dynamic between firm, client, partner, and law firm is always going to be the same. I have been at two very, very different law firms and I shall not be experimenting that theory with a third.

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Anonymous

Depression is born in the gap between theory and ‘reality’. Why, when there is so much information written about the challenges of practice, is it a surprise for trainees and solicitors? When the contract (real or psycholgically) says the expectation is 1600 billable hours is it a surprise?

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Anonymous

The target says nothing about the way the profession works. If you have the right set up, you could bill 2,000 hours a year working 9-7, taking all your holidays and never working a single weekend. Under different circumstances, you could bill 1,500 hours with barely an evening or a weekend to yourself.

Either way, there is a fundamental flaw with judging the worth of a junior by their billable hours – something you can only realistically empathise with once you have worked in the profession.

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Anonymous

Depression and anxiety are often associated with a lack of self worth.

Forget billable hour targets, unrealistic deadlines or the impact of blackberries and remote access. Consider for a moment the long lasting mental effect that training your brain to behave like a junior has on you. Your views are neither asked for, nor valued. Your training is hardly ever needed and your brain is rarely required. Your direct value is attributed more to resilience and willingness to do menial tasks at 2am on a Saturday than your talent or ability.

The most frequently repeated advice I hear from Partners to juniors is “find a way to say yes”. That means, if you want to impress, put sleep, health, diet, exercise, family, friends, hobbies, holidays – whatever it might be – second to the law firm. Anything else you might care about must come second and if you can’t do it, or you get burnt out, you are a fungible resource.

After minimum 4 years of academia and 2 years of full-on training, that is such a slap in the face. There is a fundamental flaw with the way that law firms are set up and operate. It is not conducive to good mental health and it will not change unless the industry as a whole does.

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Anonymous

Ensuring mental well-being within the confines of the operating model, and culture, of large city firms is simply not possible as it stands. What is required is a seismic shift in both culture and business model.

The rigid hierarchy, the presenteeism, the tolerance of bullying partners all render such initiatives as mere lip service to the crippling issue of mental ill health in city law firms. How can the expectation to work 80+ hours co-exist with an understanding of the human value of the lawyer, their family commitments, or psychological well-being? How can the existence of bullying partners, who are laughed of as eccentrics, be conducive to a healthy working environment? To my mind the pitiful and intractable hierarchy of these places just cannot produce a culture in which associates and trainees can thrive.

This initiative will not change anything, sadly.

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