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

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.