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Working in the law can be tough. Long hours, a heavy workload, high billing targets, difficult clients and colleagues can often drive people to breaking point. At LawCare we offer support to everyone working in the law who is having a tough time at work, at home, or often both. However we also want to encourage the legal profession to work together to change the culture in the law, to promote mentally healthy ways of working which will prevent staff from work related stress and burnout. Here are some things we think can make a real difference.
We believe that to really change the culture in an organisation, leaders have to be on board and drive the change. Leaders can demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to staff wellbeing through their actions – treating colleagues with respect, taking those lunch breaks, working healthy hours, talking freely about the stresses and strains of working in the law and having an open-door policy.
In order for mental health and wellbeing to be taken seriously it can’t be bolted on to an existing business strategy – it needs to be at the very heart of the strategy. It should be one of the key metrics that an organisation is measuring, how happy are the staff? What could be done to improve their wellbeing? What makes a difference to their lives? Happier staff perform better, are less likely to make mistakes, and are less likely to leave their job.
Most solicitors work in an organisation where the more hours they work, the better. This is not conducive to good wellbeing. People need time to relax, see friends and family, and sleep! Without these needs being met, wellbeing deteriorates very quickly and with it judgement, decision making and cognitive function. We would like to see legal organisations develop different metrics for measuring success. Moving to an overall project fee rather than billable hours model for example, or using client satisfaction as a benchmark.
Many clients are changing what they want from a law firm, and want to see that firms have considered the mental health and wellbeing of the lawyers working for them. A lot can be achieved through proper, honest conversations about deliverables and timelines- it’s not always possible but negotiating on these can make a real difference to the wellbeing of the lawyers working on the case.
Research suggests that the single biggest factor affecting people’s wellbeing at work is their boss. Many managers have had no training in how to look after their team, what signs of poor mental health to look out for, how to properly supervise and encourage employees. Good supervision is essential to wellbeing, and people thrive when they are fully supported at work.
Legal organisations need to adopt healthy working practices that support wellbeing. For example a firm wide policy on not sending work emails outside of core hours, monitoring which staff are not taking breaks or holidays or always staying late, allowing working from home or flexible working hours where possible and encouraging people to be respectful in the workplace can all help people’s wellbeing.
For more tips, or to find out more about what support we can offer your organisation visit www.lawcare.org.uk
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Elizabeth has been managing and developing charities in the mental health sector for over 20 years. She joined LawCare in 2014 from the Institute of Group Analysis, a membership and training organisation for group psychotherapists. Before that she headed up Alzheimer’s Disease International, a worldwide federation of Alzheimer Associations. Elizabeth started her working life as a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence, practicing at Leigh Day.
LawCare is an independent charity offering emotional support, information and training to the legal community in the UK and Ireland. We work to promote good mental health and wellbeing in legal workplaces and drive change in education, training and practice. If you need to talk call us on 0800 279 6888 or visit www.lawcare.org.uk
0330 161 1234