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Lawyers at risk of ‘burnout, breakdown, or leaving profession’

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More than 7 out of 10 legal workers claim their job negatively impacts mental health, new research finds

More than seven out of ten people working in the legal sector claim their job has had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

The Legal Sector Workers United (LSWU) survey reported that 71% of respondents agreed that their role had a negative impact on their mental health. Just 14% said it had a positive effect.

Nearly six out of ten legal workers (59%) revealed that work was the single greatest threat to their mental health.

More than half of respondents (55%) had been diagnosed with a specific condition and almost seven out of ten (69%) described themselves as suffering from poor mental health.

The LSWU surveyed approximately 300 workers, including paralegals, solicitors, barristers, clerks, caseworkers and admin staff. Almost two thirds of respondents (64%) worked in the legal aid sector and nearly a quarter (24%) worked in private practice.

According to the LSWU, the main cause of this work-related deterioration in mental health seems to be material conditions in the workplace. Some 219 people reported struggling to cope with long hours and overwork, 122 cited pay as a key issue, and 113 felt that the relentless pressure to bill and meet targets was a factor.

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The respondents were asked to discuss the effects of adverse mental health on the ability to do their job. Common answers given included: an inability to focus or “brain fog”; a lack of productivity and working longer hours as tasks take longer; and putting off tasks that involve speaking to others due to “phone phobia” or social anxiety.

The LSWU point out that one in four law firms had no mental health support on offer for staff and more than seven out of ten respondents (72%) saying that they would not feel comfortable asking for time off for mental health reasons and over half (54%) saying that disclosing mental health concerns would impede career progression.

Commenting on the findings, Isaac Ricca-Richardson, LSWU communications secretary, said:

“While we expected that the results wouldn’t be pretty, we were shocked by the extent and severity of the mental health crisis facing the legal sector. Unless bosses take real action, and soon, their staff will be at risk of burnout, breakdown, or leaving the sector altogether.”

The respondents to the trade union’s mental health survey backed an improvement to working conditions such as better hours and more realistic targets; counselling/therapy; efforts to reduce the “stigma” associated with mental health problems; and ‘no reason necessary’ mental health days.

In separate research on a similar theme, legal tech firm Exizent found that more than a third of legal professionals (37%) have considered quitting their jobs due to poor mental health.

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