The verdict's out - mental health for lawyers needs attention

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Rising Crisis

The UK legal industry is facing many challenges as mental health becomes a bigger concern every year. Long hours, tough material to work with, and cuts in legal aid are just a few of many factors hyping up the stress levels of those in the profession.

The nature of the job and competition within the field means young barristers are often overloaded with work. ‘All-nighters’ pulled off at least a couple of nights a week are now understood to be the norm. On top of that, increased cuts on legal aid continue to contribute to stress levels. The challenges of the job can lead to personal financial mismanagement, bullying and harassment, alcohol and drug dependency, as well as career development and relationship issues. Because of stunted understanding of the topic, the stigma of mental health is still widespread, and the taboo of mental illness is only very recently starting to be addressed.

Repercussions to law firms

One charity found that workplace stress (27%) and depression (17%) were main problem areas for solicitors and barristers. Stress is compounded by the added fear of making mistakes on the job because so much is at stake. Still, a recent survey has found that one in four lawyers in the UK say that ‘severe stress’ has caused them to make mistakes because of overwork.

Hesitation to seek help, lack of proper company guidance, and perceived stigma of mental issues all contribute to this rising crisis, and financial repercussions are hitting law firms too.

The UK Government conducted a Thriving at Work review which reveals that poor mental health costs the UK economy up to £99bn a year, of which £42bn is a ‘direct cost to employers, lost through sickness absence, presenteeism and staff turnover’.

Like many other professions, lawyers desire guidance and support from employers, with 83% stating they thought their employer could do more to provide help. In light of such support being unavailable at most workplaces, more and more are looking to switch careers entirely. The crisis of mental health in the legal industry, if unresolved, will continue to drain young talent as students and trainees are a particularly susceptible group. Fresh graduates will increasingly be apprehensive about the transition process into the profession.

The beginning of a new era

In the last couple of years, more attention is being given to mental health in the legal industry. Among these include increased levels of awareness of the topic, with discussion being encouraged amongst peers pertaining to mental health issues. Initiatives in the UK include “Time to Change” and “This is Me in the City”, which serve as awareness programs battling the stigma behind mental illness, and some workplaces are even initiating mentorship programs to help bridge the gap between employer-employee misunderstandings.

Bright leaders are starting to understand that young and even more experienced lawyers require a mentor or someone to offer guidance every once in a while, as even the smallest opportunity to voice a concern can make a big difference when it comes to alleviating stress.

However, leaders and even appointed mentors will not be able to devote an excess of time or resources to every employee. That’s where a more digital solution like Rungway can simultaneously maximize employer time and resources, whilst giving a platform to young and experienced barristers alike.

The great draw of the Rungway app means added privacy and anonymity to the lawyer who may still feel uncomfortable discussing personal issues and mental stress, yet realizing he or she desperately needs help.

The ability to be able to simply post a question anonymously, and have a huge network of like-minded professionals be able to respond with their own experiences or solutions, is a feature that more and more leaders across multiple industries are looking into. They realize that many issues that employees are facing today are new, and all too many law firms are realizing that their HR department or upper level officers are completely untrained to tackle these issues in the magnitude required. Rungway offers the option of scaling this platform to as small or large a firm as is needed, and all that’s required beforehand for the average employee is to download the app on their phone, and then register. Being plugged into the network means that even the most junior of lawyers can receive advice from thousands of professionals in the field, being able to tap into years of experience in mere minutes - a feature that simply is not available in traditional business models.

The legal industry is facing a crisis that is familiar to many other sectors, but this field in particular is one where the stakes are so high, the competition so rigid, and resources so limited, that best-performing law firms will inevitably be the ones that quickly and effectively seek revolutionary and unconventional solutions to tackle the crisis of mental health head-on.

 
Julie Chakraverty