Mental health and wellbeing in law

Mental health and wellbeing in law

The April edition of the Junior Lawyers Virtual lunch, in partnership with Flex Legal and Crafty Counsel, focused on the topic of ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing in Law’. We’ve been really keen to put on an event themed around mental health for quite a while, as it’s always frequently requested as a theme by Virtual Lunch attendees.

World Health Day seemed like the perfect occasion to finally address this big topic. Accordingly, we invited the fantastic Gemma FarinaLawcare champion and in-house commercial contracts lawyer at Capital One, to discuss the mental health strain placed on those in the industry, and what LawCare can do to help. Here’s a breakdown of the big takeaways:

Good health is about more than just physical health

Let’s start by taking a step back. What does good health look like? The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. This serves as an important reminder that all too often we equate “health” exclusively with physical health, when in reality mental health is just as important. After all, we each have both physical and mental health, and both need looking after.

The importance of maintaining good mental health should be especially important in the legal industry, where many of the exciting legal workplace norms can also contribute to declining mental health. Fast paced environments can lead to overwhelming workloads. High achieving surroundings can lead to presenteeism. Constant learning cultures can lead to imposter syndrome. Working in law is a great career path, but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that it can undoubtedly put serious strain on the mental health of those working in it.

Why mental health matters in law

An unfortunate truth of many roles within the legal industry is that mental health is sadly often an afterthought, and it shows in the statistics. A report published in 2019 by the Junior Lawyers Division found that 40% of junior lawyers had wanted to take time off for mental health, but did not. This is, in no uncertain terms, incredibly problematic. Good mental health is crucial for legal professionals to perform at their best. If legal professionals are not seeking assistance for mental health problems they know to be having, then something is culturally wrong.

Law requires clarity of mind, and critical gaze, and a high level of focus. These are all impacted heavily by poor mental health. Qualified lawyers are expected to meet ethical standards of integrity and honesty, and the same rule should ideally be upheld regarding mental wellbeing. We all have a responsibility to look after our own mental health – not just for ourselves but for those we interact with. Poor mental health affects conduct, which in turn impacts work. Poor mental health costs UK employers a combined £45 billion per year.

When our mental health suffers, it impacts our lives and our work. The work conducted in the legal industry is incredibly important for wider society and for our employers, but most importantly for ourselves. As laid out in the WHO health definition earlier, we each have a right to good mental wellbeing. Legal work is important, and our careers are important, but neither should come at a detriment to our wellbeing. You have a responsibility, to yourself, look after yourself.

What Lawcare offers to legal professionals

Looking after our mental health is, of course, easier said than done. However, things can be made much easier to handle with some outside assistance. LawCare are a charity aimed at supporting good mental health in the legal profession, and can offer support to those that need it. Since it was set up in the late 90’s by a group of lawyers, LawCare has since supported thousands of legal professionals struggling with the pressures of working in the industry.

LawCare offers free and accessible support, information, and training to legal professionals. This includes:

A free and confidential helpline for listening and emotional support.

A confidential peer support programme for one-on-one support from others in the industry.

A huge online repository of educational materials and information on heaps of mental health topics.

Mental health training for legal workplaces and organisations.

‘The Legal Mind’ podcast, which offers free legal industry-specific mental health information in an accessible podcast format.

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About the author:

Sophie is Head of Learning & Development at F-LEX Legal - an award winning legal tech startup helping law firms and organisations manage a flexible work force and supporting lawyers to make smarter life/work choices. 

As part of her portfolio career Sophie runs various learning and development and networking forums for in-house lawyers and mentors junior lawyers.  These include Flying Solo for small and solo legal teams and Aspire for junior in-house lawyers which she runs for LexisNexis UK.  She also works with schools and organisations to promote social mobility within the legal profession, working with The Social Mobility Business Partnership and Aspiring Solicitors. 

She trained as a lawyer in the City and worked as an in-house lawyer for 10 years including as Head of Legal for Virgin Radio and Ginger Media Group.  

Outside of work she is happily married with three sons and enjoys morning walks along the beach with her two dogs.