News

Improving junior lawyer wellbeing requires a cultural change, taskforce tells law firms

By on
39

Long hours and billing targets among biggest contributors to poor mental health

It will take changes in culture, leadership and operations to create more “mentally healthy” law firms and improve junior lawyer wellbeing, a legal profession taskforce has said.

The cross-profession group, which is made up of solicitors, barristers and industry experts, gathered at the London office of magic circle law firm Freshfields on Tuesday evening to discuss the barriers to wellbeing in the legal sector. Stress-inducing facets of a lawyer’s life cited by the panel included the incredibly long hours (see Legal Cheek’s new average arrive and leave the office time survey) and dreaded billing targets.

In order for positive changes to occur, the group agreed it was crucial that City law firm bigwigs take the mental health of junior lawyers seriously and that it becomes the responsibility of management to monitor and improve staff wellbeing.

John Blain, a partner in Freshfields’ disputes, litigation and arbitration team, told the group: “If you look after people, they will perform better. The job will always be demanding so we must strive for better relationships, better procedures and better communication to ensure that we remain motivated and able to perform at our best.”

The 2019 Firms Most List

Anna Robinson, a psychotherapist and senior solicitor, added:

“Millennials entering the legal profession now want to talk and be open, and they are asking firms at interview what wellbeing policies they have in place.”

The panel, set up in 2016 to promote and support good mental health across the legal community, also discussed holding lawyers to account for bullying or aggressive behaviour in the workplace, as well as the benefits of wellbeing workshops and open communication.

The taskforce’s comments come just weeks after a junior solicitor, who earlier this year was suspended from practice for forging legal documents, was struck off after the regulator successfully appealed the decision to the High Court. The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) appeal came despite an earlier tribunal case which heard how Sovani James’ employers had adopted a “sudden focus on financial return on employees” and an “aggressive implementation” of billing targets.

Struggling with stress? You can contact LawCare.

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek's careers events:

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub

39 Comments

Anonymous

We need to start naming and shaming partners who bully and brainwash 25 year olds into long hours

We need a “metoo” moment for law

We need a maximum hours culture, space for growth, chilling out and better job security

We need a wealth tax

And a supertax on city greed

VOTE CORBYN! FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW!!

Anonymous

This comment started off so well…

Anonymous

How will social solutions be implemented without Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister??

Anonymous

Get out

Anonymous

Time for OP to get out his Corbin scrap-book and have his afternoon wank to get it out of his system again.

Anonymous

All stakeholders should be able to vote on partner salaries. That includes trainees, associates and secretaries.

Trainees and associates should also be allocated 10% of the partnership’s earnings, but will only be able to receive a taxable £500 distribution annually; the rest will be payable to the Treasury.

That way we will be able to create a more equitable and just society.

Anonymous

Agreed.

Democracy in the workplace.

Anonymous

What a load of tripe.

Anonymous

Partners don’t have “salaries”. Partners take their share of the profits.

Partners have to put a lot of their own money into the firm, which they only get back when they retire or leave to go elsewhere.

Partners are financially exposed if the firm goes bust. Collectively, they are also responsible for the employment of hundreds, if not thousands, of employees.

Please try to understand the difference between the CEO of a company, who ultimately answers to the shareholders/board, and a partnership.

Anonymous

Partners (certainly at larger LLP firms) put none of their own money into the firm. They take partnership loans which are guaranteed by their firms and therefore never have to pay back themselves. Also, the LLP structure again limits any potential losses.

Your comment may be correct for smaller firms using a general partnership model, but certainly not the larger ones “responsible for the employment of hundreds, if not thousands, of employees”.

Anonymous

Needs a genuine change in workplace culture and support mechanisms which people can rely on to help achieve this. Needs to be a movement which everyone can put any differences aside and buy into.

Anonymous

Fairly simple fix going above the heads of the law firms: pressure MPs to remove the possibility of opting out of the working time directive.

Anonymous

Er….?

We are leaving the EU?

No more working time directive!!

Anonymous

Not so. It will be folded into domestic law before we leave. What we do after that is another matter. No doubt we’ll be sending 6 year olds up chimneys for 16 hours a day, but the WTD will still apply for the time being at least.

Tired

You have to sign the waiver anyway. I know they can’t make you sign it but the reality is that you do.

Anonymous

It should be the responsibility of senior management at the law firm to ensure young lawyers, particularly trainees who are more vulnerable, are not overworked.
It is not an acceptable answer to say the clients demand more so, as a service, law firms must deliver more work to stricter deadlines.
All firms need to work towards the same goal in regard to the mental health of their employees. It is their duty to get rid of a culture where partners take pride in one-upmanship over whose trainees are pulling the most gruelling hours.
There is no point taking on more work if your junior lawyers are running out the door …. when law firms state they are looking for ‘resilience’ in TC candidates if they think that’s pulling off an 80 hour week they have shown themselves up as having an unsustainable system that isn’t worth applying to.
Finally, firms should enforce an environment (a genuine one – not just holding an event on meditation whilst sending 12 am emails to get back to the office) where employees feel they can be transparent about their anxiety/depression/insomnia – whether it is calling out unreasonable partners or just feeling they can communicate their issues.
The smart thing to do is address mental health head on.

Anonymous

The Law Society should be doing a lot more.

This is a massive priority.

Anonymous

I’m 2PQE and recently turned down a job because they spoke, at length, about a need for “resilience” during an interview. I took it as code for an awful place to work.

Partner

I’ve given this some thought and concluded:

1) I had to sacrifice anything pleasant in my life during my twenties to get where I am, so current juniors should too; and

2) I do care about the mental health of juniors, but I care about increasing PEP more.

So we’ll stick with beasting, and I’ll keep convincing myself my existence is worthwhile.

Anonymous

You will reap the whirlwind.

Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn, 2019

Ultravox

*wild wind

Anonymous

Ass wind

Anonymous

You sound like the typical sort of pretentious little tit that erodes the integrity of the legal profession.

Anonymous

We need to implement proper management in law firms, such as Toyota production system techniques, which empower associates and allow workers themselves to improve job tasks.

Disempower the partners.

They own nothing but the labour of the associates.

Anonymous

Not sure that Japanese firms are a model for staff wellbeing though.

Anonymous

Simple solutions are best

Unionisation

Solidarity amongst associates

Go-slows and walk outs

“Stop at six” should be mandatory

Anonymous

First we need to remove the idea that if you’re not working until midnight you’re not pulling your weight. If a person successfully completes the work handed to them in a reasonable time frame then that should be enough.

Anonymous

It’s about breaking the cycle. How many partners and senior managers have the attitude of “well, that’s what I had to do to get here” and “when I was at your level, I was working X number of hours a week”. I have seen very few at the top who are willing to change because, as they see it, they’ve been there and done that and so earned the right to dump on the juniors now.

Anonymous

What he said. People who worked hard to the top and made large sacrifices are unlikely to allow younger versions of themselves have a perceived shortcut to the top.

Anonymous

Do you not recognise that those difficult experiences made those people who they are? Riding out the tough spots made them stronger. They might have been unpleasant at the time but it made them the lawyers they are today.

Anonymous

Being beasted made them demand beatings on the or associates once they made partner. It’s like the abused becoming the abusers.

Anonymous

It may have made them the lawyers they are today but are they truly BETTER lawyers for it?! That’s the real question. Is it only by doing repeated long hours, sacrificing the work/life balance that you can become a good quality lawyer?

Anonymous

They may see it that way but most associates won’t become partners and then the behaviour becomes more difficult to justify.

Anonymous

That may explain why some firms have issues with people stepping up and instead seeing their associates turning to in-house roles.

2y PQE

To maximise efficiency in the office I can recommend Pro Plus and Tena Pants.

Anonymous

The law firms’ biggest scam is that you can “work your way up”. In fact, they are basically run nineteenth-century factory style, with a few ugly fat old moneybags who own and control the operation, and a larger worker-bee caste doing the desk-monkey-work. It’s all really rather Dickensian. I’ve seen borderline incompetents made managing partners at international law firms, presumably as a result of some kind of nepotism or networking.

Anonymous

This career is incompatible with ‘wellbeing’. If you can’t hack it you should leave. Take control of your destiny and stop being a victim. Take some damn responsibility.

Anonymous

Maybe in London sweatshops but it can be quite decent for hours elsewhere

Anonymous

There should be a requirement to give all fee earners at least 5 hours sleep each night. Anything less becomes unsustainable and leads to health issues. All work and no play is fine if you know what you’re getting yourself into, but rest and sleep is where they need to focus

Join the conversation

Related Stories