TC applications, exams and volume of work among top sources of stress for law students

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By William Holmes on


Exclusive research: Profession’s wellbeing efforts branded ‘performative’ in Legal Cheek mental health survey

Findings from Legal Cheek‘s Student Wellbeing Survey suggests applying for roles at law firms and barristers’ chambers is the most common cause of stress among law students.

Almost 250 students, most of whom had undertaken some form of legal education, participated in the survey, with 87% saying they had struggled with their mental health or wellbeing at some point during university or their legal studies.

The most common cause of stress was completing applications for vacation schemes and training contracts at law firms or pupillage at chambers. This narrowly beat stress caused by exams and assignments and the volume of uni work generally. Imposter syndrome, financial difficulties and not getting enough sleep were also common causes of stress.

Over 80% of respondents thought admitting they had mental health issues would impact a law firm or chambers’ perception of them.

Wannabe solicitors said they were “very wary” of firms inviting use of mitigating circumstances, with one noting that “admitting to a long-term mental health condition before interview stage makes me feel likely to be passed over by someone else who has the same credentials without the ‘risk’ of mental health issues becoming apparent”.

Another remarked that they were “terrified” to disclose information about their mental health for fear of coming across as “a whinging baby”.

The 2023 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

Students also had a pretty dim view of the legal sector’s efforts on wellbeing, with fewer than 10% satisfied that law firms and chambers were doing enough on mental health. Almost half said the profession didn’t care enough.

The eye-catching research comes despite a raft of new initiatives that have come through in the wake of the pandemic, including the proliferation of flexible working policies and a trend of increasing financial support for future trainees in response to the cost of living crisis. Many participants characterised law firm’s efforts as “performative” and mere “lip-service”.

One respondent detailed: “I think the main issue is that law firms only care about supporting good mental health — they do not seem particularly compassionate towards those struggling with mental ill-health. Offering a subscription for a mindfulness app vs making reasonable accommodations for employees with an ongoing mental health disorder are two very different things. The sense one gets is that employers are only interested in delivering the former.”

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