Since our last Bellwether Report in 2019 on stress within law firms, a lot has changed. Despite numerous challenges facing the legal industry before the pandemic, the majority of solicitors working in independent law firms were satisfied with their jobs and confident about their futures. However, this has now all been turned on its head with millions of people now working from home for the first time. Even when a vaccine is successfully rolled out, many people may never go back to the office full time.

Embedded within lawyers jobs is the issue of stress, which is now compounded with the need to spin many plates and deal with a range of other issues whilst working from home. While many simply consider stress to be part of their job description, over three-quarters of the solicitors think that stress and mental wellbeing are significant issues for the industry right now.

Quite often stress is caused by financial targets, having to handle poor quality enquiries on top of fee-earning, unsupportive colleagues and a lack of team work ethos, the feeling of not being listened to, poor management communication, lack of information, lack of training, technical problems and reduced or non existent administrative support.

Due to new remote working arrangements a lot of these issues are now being compounded and we can also add other causes of stress into the mix including, the work/home life balance, childcare, isolation, loneliness, moral due lack of face to face interactions and even worse communication potentially than before.

Solicitors’ are also working increasingly longer hours to keep up with client demand and finding new ways of dealing with issues remotely and are sometimes struggling to say no, leading to burnouts. The ability to leave work at work is no more.

The warning signs of how the pandemic has affected people’s mental health are starting to appear. Many people think mental health, stress and resilience support, is a added benefit, rather than realising how vital it is. It is so important that solicitors are helped to make sure that they are strong, healthy and safe, after all a happy work force leads to happy clients.

Ben Trott is the Founder and Managing Director at Marketing Lawyers, a full-service marketing agency and consultancy to Law Firms gives his top tips on how law firms can help manage and reduce stress and keep us happier at home:

The home office environment is vitally important. Sitting at kitchen tables, desks or sofa working for months does nothing for people’s productivity and headspace. Top tips include faciliating a dedicated desk space where there is natural sunlight, no noise distractions, no clutter and doing regular exercise. Every hour you should take a screen break and regularly take a break for a walk outside wherever possible.

Notice when staff are putting in long hours or exceeding their targets. Flags should be raised then to check if they are burning out and to thank them for the work. Ask if they need more support or if you need to recruit.

Staff may need additional mental health support during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly if they already have mental health problems. This should include time off work and reasonable adjustments.

You should be understanding towards the concerns and needs of your staff while they work in new and unexpected ways. For example, managing childcare while working or booking time off to look after somebody else.

When talking about difficult matters, for example, placing staff on furlough, you should deal with matters sensitively and communicate clearly and calmly in order to reduce the amount of anxiety or stress caused.

You should be accessible, personable and encourage staff to talk to you if they’re having any problems.

You should regularly keep in contact with your team to check how they’re coping with the extra pressures and new ways of working. Potential use an intranet or regular email newsletters.

For furloughed staff, you should ask them if they would like to keep in touch while they’re on furlough. Keeping this contact can help employees still feel connected with their workplace.

Be vigilant about spotting early signs of a mental health problem. This can be much harder with home working but It is important to regularly ask your staff how they’re feeling and create an environment where they feel comfortable in being open and honest.

If you are the owner of the firm or manager of the team, you may find that you need advice and support yourself from the added pressure of supporting your team. You should talk things through with your manager, a counsellor or someone else at work. Fresh eyes can help put things in perspective.

Don’t just value financial performance, reward good team players, taking on other responsibility and extra circular activity such as marketing etc. Make that part of promotion criteria.

In the future, when we return to more normality, enable continued flexibility via remote working, cloud-based systems and laptops.

Enable the tracking of administrative time to see if there are ways of reducing that burden.

Refine processes and workflows so it’s easier to complete simple tasks from home.

Communication needs to be better than ever with remote working. Let the staff know about how the firm is doing so they aren’t worried about their position. Having a Zoom call update is best or use an intranet or email newsletter.

Have a ‘buddy’ scheme to reduce stress.

replay with person on laptop screen/vid call
Start a monthly/weekly Zoom social event to help with team bonding and connections.

Have a mental health first aider.

Not just having a once a year review but regular check-ups just to check everything is okay throughout the year.

Offer a half-day a month to put towards volunteering or team bonding.

Make sure fee earners know their billing and hours stats monthly or ‘on-demand’.

In the future, when we return to more normality, enable continued flexibility via remote working, cloud-based systems and laptops.

Make holidays purely for relaxing and if people work through them, pay overtime or refund the holiday days or hours.

Offer training on all software via online means.

Send good quality cameras out to people, so they are more confident about going on Zoom calls.

Handle enquiries properly before sending them to fee earners, sort out a structure which helps fee earner convert leads and filters out poor quality enquiries.

Make promotions policies transparent and clear. Seek colleague feedback not just management opinion.

Offer non-financial perks such as parking, gym, restaurant vouchers, cinema tickets and mobile phone contracts.

Provide an anonymous feedback system to management.

Regularly do staff feedback reviews and get real data as to how staff are feeling. Implement any changes on reading the results and see how you can improve your culture.

Pay staff fairly and not just on who ‘shouts the loudest’.

Whilst everyone is working from home you should invest and constantly improve IT networks and cloud-based systems so as to reduce any technical issues which can cause stress.

Review your need for office space, consult with staff and finances before making long term decisions. Reducing your overheads and office space may help cashflow as well leading to less pressure and stress for various teams as a knock on effect.

Do regular video socials and buy tickets to online events which are of interest to staff either as perks or as part of their role.

Ben Trott is the Founder and Managing Director at Marketing Lawyers, a full-service marketing agency and consultancy to Law Firms.

Ben is a Law Firm Marketing & Management Consultant, Speaker and Writer. He was previously one of the youngest Directors of a Law Firm in the UK. Sitting on the senior management board for a national law firm, Ben specialises in Law Firm management, marketing, business development and lead generation. Over 36 months he transformed a legal website from bringing in £250k pa in fees to over £2m pa.

Ben has worked for both national corporate and high street law firms as well as a Barristers Chambers. He has a degree in Law and Business and has experience in running an online travel business.

Ben’s expertise includes team management/mentoring as well as advising on all central service strategies in running a law firm, online marketing/digital marketing, blogging, headhunting, PR, events, website development/creation, social media, google analytics, customer journey refinement, SEO, CRO, sales & conversion skills, training, explainer videos, Legal 500 / Chambers & Partners submissions and PPC.