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One in 15 junior solicitors is suicidal, research finds

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Rise in rookies experiencing mental ill-health

Over 6% of junior lawyers have experienced suicidal thoughts within the past month, new research has revealed.

The survey, part of the Junior Lawyers Division’s (JLD) ‘Resilience and Wellbeing Survey Report’, found that almost half of respondents (48%) experienced mental ill-health, whether formally diagnosed or not, within the last month — up from 38% on the year before. However, just 19% of junior solicitors who said they were struggling with mental ill-health had reported it to their employer.

Elsewhere, 93.5% of the 1,803 respondents had experienced work-related stress within the last month, with almost a quarter describing the level as “severe/extreme”.

One-fifth (19%) of respondents admitted to regularly feeling unable to cope, while 33% reported ‘occasionally’ feeling unable to cope within the past month. Breaking the results down by gender, 21% of women said they regularly felt unable to cope as a result of stress, compared to 13% of men.

The top triggers for stress cited by respondents were high-workloads and client demands, although the report notes that the proportion of junior lawyers giving these responses is down on 2018 figures.

The most commonly cited experiences of work-related stress were disrupted sleep and negative impact on mental health including anxiety, emotional upset and fatigue. Worryingly, more than 100 junior lawyers (6.4%) admitted experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Over three-quarters (78%) of respondents believed their employer could be doing more to support their wellbeing, while 38% did not know of any organisations that were there to help if they wanted to discuss stress or mental ill-health at work.

Struggling with stress? You can contact LawCare by calling 0800 279 6888 in the UK or 1800 991 801 in Ireland.

38 Comments

Anonymous

According to a 2008 study, just over 9% of people around the world regularly think about suicide. I can understand why you’re focusing on lawyers as this is a legal website, but I think it would be more interesting to take a comparative view by profession, age, etc. And not just ‘lawyers are stressed’, because every job carries its own stresses.

Having said all that, I’m pretty sceptical about these types of studies anyway. I think there are too many variables for them to have much meaning.

Anonymous

Hold on.

9% of people ‘around the world’ includes a whole host of horrible situations, if the study has been done correctly. It includes people living in poverty or horrendous countries or with life altering diseases or in warzones.

It is definitely remarkable that 12% of junior solicitors – a job which is ostensibly ‘good’ and highly paid – are suicidal. That’s fucking crazy, in fact. And that fits with all the studies they’ve done finding that lawyers are amongst the most miserable professions.

It’s disingenuous to suggest that lawyers are basically as miserable as everyone else. It’s very clear that the intensity of this shit job is having its effects.

Anonymous

I’m a credit hire solicitor working in a disused coal mine near Wakefield. I’m not sure I see your point.

Anonymous

Except that it is 6% who are suicidal not 12%.

Anonymous

1 in 50 NQ Solicitors wet the bed.

Anonymous

People who are ill in the UK both need a receive treatment from the NHS, or if they chose, private health providers.

I can see no benefit to the people who may be ill, to start peddling a ‘law specific’ alternative.

Bob

The suicidal thoughts are bad but it was the homicidal ones that bothered me when I was a junior solicitor.

Anonymous

I blame the partners

Greedy khunts

They have had it coming for years

I hope they all have heart attacks on their negative equity £3 million London house after Brexit

Anonymous

Don’t really think comments should be open on this apart from to say – things will get better, no job is worth your physical or mental health x

Goggins

Stay hard.

Anonymous

‘21% of women said they regularly felt unable to cope as a result of stress, compared to 13% of men’ That’s a heck of a imbalance, yet any attempts to explain it will invariably focus upon alleged sexism rather than considering whether the average man might be somewhat more resilient than the average woman

Anonymous

If men are more “resilient” than woman, why they do higher numbers of men commit suicide?

Anonymous

Because they have an inherent expectation to succeed, and to support a family unit. That’s literally the purpose of a man. Their stresses are more existential than those of women.

Anonymous

Males lawyers generally aren’t expected to care for children and advance quickly in their career, nor do they have biological clocks.

Anonymous

Because men tend to opt for methods of suicide which have higher rates of fatality; when considering suicide attempts, men and women are almost equal.

Anonymous

The percentages stressed may be equal as well and nothing to do with sexism. Men may be less likley to admit they are stressed than woman but may in fact be equally stressed.

Anonymous

I remember from uni examns, the women bottled it if there were more there were two exams on consecutive days. They called it discrimination, when all it was was not being able to handle pressure as well.

Anonymous

It must be noted that not all who attempt suicide intend for it to be fatal. Suicide attempts are often cries for help. In certain cases, suicide attempts can be the result of certain personality disorders (e.g BPD for attention- 75% of those diagnosed are women). In general, more men chose fatal means because they intend to die.

Anonymous

There’s plenty of scientific evidence that explains why women are more susceptible to stress than men based on fundamental brain chemistry. It’s the elephant in the room when it comes to explaining the ‘mysterious’ lack of women in managerial positions despite there being no shortage of women entering the industry.

Anonymous

Exactly. I’m sick of this percentages and gender pay gap nonsense. It means better male candidates are being passed over in favour of less effective women.

Anonymous

This is so sad.

Anonymous

Part of it is the direct stress you feel when a client/partner shouts at you or calls you at 3am. The other part is when you start to feel guilty for not answering their requests, so you start adopting the same workaholic attitude.

It’s bad when the way people treat you makes you feel shit, but it’s worse when you make yourself feel like shit because you can’t see your way out. You start to internalise it and wear it like a badge of honour, even if you know it can’t really last.

Anonymous

If you are that thin skinned why not go and stack shelves in Tesco?

Anonymous

Try chasing pupillage for five years, then talk to me about suicidal thoughts.

Anonymous

Seriously, if you can’t get pupillage you are never going to make it. 5 years? Take a hint buddy, you are not up to it.

Anonymous

Neuberger completed three separate pupillages before someone took him on as a tenant. The time taken to qualify is not a perfect reflection of one’s abilities.

Anonymous

He got pupillage straight away and qualified straight away. He hadn’t failed to obtain pupillage after 5 years of trying. Doing third sixs before being offered a tenancy was the norm even 20 years ago, never mind in Neuberger’s time.

This was mainly because 20 years ago the number of people at Bar School and the number of pupillages being offered was about the same, so virtually everyone got pupillage. The bottle-neck was in getting tenancy rather than pupillage.

Today, the number of pupillages offered is about the same as the number of tenancies offered each year. It used to be easy to get pupillage and very difficult to get tenancy. Now it is very hard to get pupillage, but if you do get pupillage you will almost certainly get tenancy. Doesn’t mean its was any easier to get into practice 20 years ago. Of my tutorial group, all of us got pupillage but 3 years later only 2 of us were still in practice as people just got sick of doing endless third sixs and not getting tenancy and dropped out at that stage.

Don’t mean to discorage the OP and you shouldn’t feel bad about not obtaining pupillage as it is bloody difficult and the numbers mean most people won’t. But if you haven’t got one in five years of trying, just as in the old days people hanging on as squatters and endless third sixers had to re-evaluate things and decide to do something else, it may not be realistic to keep trying and you may be a lot happier just doing something else.

Anonymous

Then is not now.

Anonymous

I’m so sorry. This isn’t talked about enough and you aren’t the first to feel like that.

I walked away to start a business. Struggled so much at the start, but paid off all my loans for the course. I have also traveled to 40 countries since I stopped making applications. I only wish I started sooner.

Don’t let those at Bar define your self worth. Go on Twitter – look at how so many of them seek attention and validation from others. Where do they find the time to tweet dozens of times a day?? It’s a hive of sexual harassment, racism, alcoholism, snobbery and highly-pressurised misery. Some of my friends who got pupillage are having years worth of treatment for depression, with additional health problems from the drink/weight gain. I don’t envy their lives for a second.

There’s absolutely no shame in putting yourself first and walking away. The world really is a wonderful place – go out there and see it for yourself.

Anonymous

Thanks for the interesting perspective – it encourages a pause for reflection.

Anonymous

I’m not so sure it’s a problem with law so much, as people defining themselves by their job. I’m 57 and about to retire. When I was a young man, being a barrister was everything to me. It was all I thought about and all I wanted to be. I did my degree and Bar School. I enjoyed doing my degree and I enjoyed Bar School. I was one of the lucky ones. I got pupillage, developed a decent practice, did a lot of interesting cases, made a reasonably good income, made some lifelong friends at the Bar and (generally speaking) had an interesting job. But it’s just a job.

The things that have actually made me happy in my life are my children, friends and family. I do remember how important work seemed to me as a 21 year old. But it’s really not. I could have had just as happy and interesting life if I’d failed to qualify as a barrister and spent my working life doing something else. You’re not your job. Was Albert Einstein a failed clerk in a patent office or did he have an interesting time solving general relativity for fun when he was meant to be getting on with stamping patents? Was Albert Camus a philosopher or a goalkeeper?

We are here for a good time, not a long time. Nobody ever lay on their death bed and said “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” You might qualify as a barrister or you might not and you’ll do something else. But don’t waste your youth worrying about it, because whatever you end up doing for a living, work is never every worth considering ending your life for.

Anon

Einstein published his theory of Special Relativity while working as a patent clerk. General Relativity came about 10 years later, by which time he was very well known and no longer clerking.

Anonymous

Ok fair point. I’m old and foget these things. But Special Relativity was the real work of genius that he pulled off whilst goofing off work. True that made him famous and he pulled off general relativity when he was no longer clerking. But if he hadn’t been goofing off work in the first place he’d never had formuated General Relativity or fucked Marlin Munro!

Anonymous

It is when the pupillage door is slamming on you at the final round every year, and in the meantime all you can find are poorly paid paralegal jobs.

Anonymous

If its any comfort (and I know its not), if you’d qualifed 30 years ago, you would have got pupillage, but you’d then have found the tennacy door slaming shut on you and even if it didn’t, all a tenancy is is the obligation to pay rent to chambers, when all you can find is poorly paid briefs which do not cover your rent. The majority of people who try to make a living as barristers do not get to make a living as barristers. It’s always been like that. It’s still not a reason to consider ending your life.

Anon

Many of the comments here illustrate why we have an issue in this profession – experiencing issues of poor mental health is subjective and it is not a competition.

Many of the comments question the validity of the responses, and there is a distinct feel along the lines of “these people can’t possibly really be unwell, because look how tough I had it and how super resilient I am, and I got through it”.

Yes the law is tough, but unless we encourage members to feel secure in identifying when they need help, and then feeling supported when they do, the profession will continue to lose good lawyers.

I am refreshingly surprised by the amount of university students I meet who ask questions about the mental health support provision at my firm. For the generation coming through, this is a normal conversation, and if we don’t do something about it then the talented potential lawyers of the future will look elsewhere.

Andon

“One in 15 Junior Solicitors is Suicidal”. And 8 out of 10 of the junior barristers they brief hope they put their thoughts into action.

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Bit harsh.

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