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Over two-thirds of lawyers have suffered mental ill-health

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Lawyer wellbeing charity LawCare calls for profession-wide change in new report

Over two-thirds of lawyers have suffered mental ill-health, a major new report by a lawyer wellbeing charity has found.

LawCare today released the findings of its ‘Life in the Law‘ survey of over 1,700 legal professionals in the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The survey captured data between October 2020 and January 2021.

The majority of respondents (69%) said they had experienced mental ill-health, whether clinically or self-diagnosed, in the 12 months before completing the survey. The most common symptoms experienced often to all of the time, included anxiety (61%), low mood (48%), and depression (29%).

Some 29% said that they had experienced physical symptoms arising from work-related stress in the previous 12 months, with 22% feeling unable to cope and 6% reporting suicidal thoughts.

But only 57% of those who had experienced mental ill-health talked about it at work, mainly due to the fear of stigma and the resulting career implications, and financial and reputational consequences.

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Elsewhere, just over one in five legal professionals (22%) said they had experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination in the workplace in the 12 months before completing the survey.

The research also recorded the intensity of the work they experienced; almost two-thirds (65%) said they checked their emails outside of work hours to keep up with their workload, and 28% said their work required them to be available to clients 24/7.

The data suggested legal professionals are at a “high risk” of burnout, with those aged between 26 and 35 displaying the highest burnout scores, and also reporting the lowest autonomy, lowest psychological safety, and highest work intensity score. These four measurements formed the basis of LawCare’s research.

Female legal professionals, those from ethnic minorities, and those with a disability also scored higher than average for burnout and lower for autonomy and psychological safety at work.

The report found the most commonly provided workplace support measures were regular catch-ups or appraisals, mental health policies, mental health and wellbeing training, and signposting to external support. Of these, regular catch-ups or appraisals were reported to be the most helpful. Yet, fewer than half (48%) of managers or supervisors said they had received leadership, management, or supervisory training.

LawCare chief executive Elizabeth Rimmer said: “This research, the first of its kind in this country, provides robust evidence that the legal profession is stressed, tired, anxious, at high risk of burnout and that those working practices in the law that undermine mental health need to change.”

Rimmer continued:

“We want this research to be the catalyst for us to come together as a profession to create that change, to create a culture in law that puts the law’s greatest asset — it’s people — first. The experience of living and working through a global pandemic has had a profound effect on us all and presents an opportunity like no other to reimagine the future and make it happen.”

Feeling stressed? Contact LawCare.

15 Comments

NQ at small firm

…and believe me it isn’t any better at smaller firms. There is a lack of admin support, less people to bounce ideas off, and less resources. I’m working late into the night everyday and barely hitting my chargeable time because of all of the admin crap I’ve got to do.

(48)(3)

Wills

That is the called life. It is not a mental health issue.

(10)(54)

A

This is self-reporting self-defining nonsense. It means nothing.

(8)(70)

Anonymous

In the legal world , this is so called “resilience”

(3)(22)

The QC’s Only Fans Account

But OF COURSE we care about mental health!!

We tweet #Bekind and always, ALWAYS listen empathically when someone approaches us about harassment and bullying. That’s why no lawyer has EVER reported sexual harassment or bullying!

Just, you know….make sure you don’t mention your sectioning or diagnosis on your application form, yes? We can’t have potentially unstable people in front of clients! What would they say if they knew their lawyer had depression??? Can you imagine the scandal??!!!

But anyway, #bekind. Why can’t you #bekind?!!!!!

(39)(0)

Al

It’s amazing, and perhaps a little disconcerting, just how normalised the stress can be.

I was at some thing for wellbeing at the Bar. A very senior practitioner was recounting how he had recurring thoughts on the way to court that he would like to be hit by a bus

“Nothing too serious; just enough to put me in hospital for a few weeks. So I can have a break from cases.”

A few of us in attendance said “Yeah, but everyone feels that.”

At which point the speaker said “That’s the point!”

And this is just the Bar. Notwithstanding thoughts like that, I find the Bar lifestyle pretty chilled. The billable hours culture in the solicitors profession literally makes me shudder at the thought. Especially when we see articles here about the ‘benefits’ provided at some firms, like on site meal delivery. It’s like you’re expected to devote yourself to work literally 24/7.

I have friends who work at some of the top end firms, in the UK and abroad. I know that, no matter what time I call them, and whatever day, they’ll likely be in the office. Some of them have just put in enough years to buy a nice property and then shift to something they actually enjoy.

But I don’t know how people cope with living that life for their whole working career.

(42)(0)

Truth Seeker

I am not trying to belittle those with genuine mental health problems with this comment. However, it is easy to see why many lawyers suffer mental health issues. For a start, many, many young lawyers (especially in the city) go into law because they claim they NEED a ‘prestigious’ and ‘rewarding’ career to be happy, and then they are faced with the reality that the work is mostly mindless form filing, they aren’t as special as mummy and daddy told them they are, and everyone around them is just as empty, all creating a toxic cycle of misery. No one in the city cares if you’re a lawyer, and to lay people you’re just another mindless suit.

(13)(2)

Blahblahblah

If people cannot handle the job, other jobs are available and there is always the provinces too.

(2)(14)

Anon

True. If you can’t hack it in the City, head to Bristol/Cayman/BVI like all the other failures.

(7)(7)

Hackaforte

Only two-thirds? Cause for optimism!

(4)(0)

JH

Just reading some of the comments here is disheartening. Some comments show exactly why many people with mental ill-health are afraid of saying anything, for fear of the ‘man-up’ reaction. Not at all surprised it is two-thirds. Over strict regulation, the constant fear of having to always do everything exactly right and ‘can’t make a mistake mentality’, worrying where the next win is coming from so you can pay the bills, excessive work for peanuts, never missing a court deadline, on top of keeping your client happy……that is NOT ‘that’s life’ or ‘that’s the legal profession, deal with it’ as some might suggest. Mental health policies in the workplace are fine but something needs to change and it’s the mentality of the regulator, government and the courts that need change.

(8)(0)

Australian barrister

I would add that if you don’t enjoy problem solving and the stress it entails, and dealing with difficult people (clients, judges, colleagues) and competition, don’t go into law just because your parents want you to or you got high enough marks. You will be miserable. After 31 years in law, second half as a barrister, I still love my job. It’s interesting and well paid. Everyone has days where they groan, “do I have to?”, but if that’s every day you are in the wrong profession.

(3)(1)

SourLemon

I am genuinely sad to read some of these comments… I mean, it’s clear that Legal Cheek brings all the trolls to the yard, but there must be some topics where a genuine discussion would be a lot better than just mindless provocation.
In any case, these LawCare surveys are pointless because nothing ever changes. The legal profession has been going downhill for the past decade, if not more, and nothing gets done about it. We get a report with some horrible results, everyone’s outraged for about a minute and that’s it – back to your papers.
The SRA’s treatment of solicitors (juniors especially) like total dirt, clients generally thinking they can talk to you as if you’re the person who just called them with a “hello, I’m calling from Carphone Warehouse…” and firms not wanting to hear anything about easing off the billable hour targets or pressuring employees into working as much unpaid overtime as (in)humanly possible! Recently, absolutely everything is “super urgent” and business needs are such that people should work till late o’clock for absolutely nothing in return – can anyone really be surprised that so many are close to a complete mental and physical exhaustion?
The situation has gotten so bad now that I’m hearing clients making threats to complain if their solicitor takes a holiday without “closing the deal” for them, or reporting them to X Y Z because they haven’t responded to their 5 page email sent at midnight and not even 8 hours ago. When and at what point does the profession, the regulators, and the professionals themselves say enough is enough? I genuinely believe that there should be a push from the government to abolish billable hours across all professions that rely on it – that’s the number one stressor in 99% of these cases. No point in hiding it.. 7 hours of daily billable time is IMPOSSIBLE without working overtime and that’s the minimum requirement firms set… No wonder so many are finally quitting and finding other areas that don’t have these arbitrary, toxic, and harmful policies. For any juniors out there, searching for law firms – if you see one of those “we work hard but we play hard/ we put the client needs above all else” slogans – run, cause you will not like working for them.

(13)(0)

Nick

There is a vicious cycle of sorts in some firms, particulary those that deal with high numbers of cases. Case handlers are given too many cases, some will work hours over and above to stay afloat, this then becomes the norm, or the expected work output. Theyll begin to resent the job but will need to maintain the number of hours they work for fear of missing deadlines and being tarred with the negligence brush. If they appear to be coping, theyll be given more cases. Those that don’t replicate the top performers risk being placed on some kind of performance monitoring. No wonder the legal profession has a mental health problem.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

All sorts professions in Australia claim very high rates of depression, suicide etc. Medical, nursing, dentistry, schoolteaching etc. I think that when it comes to lawyers, much of the public thinks “those rats deserve what’s coming to them“. In the lay community, perception of lawyers is dreadful, and if you were also educated at a private school, the conversation at a dinner party went dead. Having said that, when I started articles in 1973 and a small provincial firm, I was told not to worry about earnings for at least two years and just enjoy the job and the law and do your best. But the job is ever more relentless, one year to the next. some clients can be bastards, creating a sort of terror of all clients, paying the bills, let alone getting some money yourself was a weekly and monthly curse. By the time 2000 came along, all three of we partners had had “nervous breakdowns” (clinical depression) requiring a short stay in hospital and one over three months in a major hospital and who never practiced again. I stuck it out for forty years, overall enjoyed the legal job, did ( I trust) much good work, never had complaints and retired poor. I will go back now I have had 2 years off, hopefully to earn some pocket money. My colleagues who started law school with me all say “don’t worry Krill, were all in the same boat”, and we agree not to look back.

(0)(0)

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