Black History Month: life in the law

LawCare has released the findings of its research study, Life in the Law. This research, the first of its kind, looked at mental health and wellbeing in the legal profession.
Statute of Lady Justice holding scales and sword. Life in the Law 2020/21, LawCare.

Over 1,700 professionals from the UK, Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey, and Isle of Man took part.

The study questioned legal professionals on a range of areas, including:

  • work intensity (workload and working hours)
  • burnout (disengagement and exhaustion) using the three recognised scales
  • autonomy (ability to control what, where, how, and with whom, work is done)
  • psychological safety (ability to speak up with ideas and questions, and raise concerns or admit mistakes)

The results

The findings clearly demonstrate that mental wellbeing is an issue for many in the profession and confirm what we hear about at LawCare every day through our support channels.

Legal professionals across the board scored high on the scale for burnout.

69% of those responding to the survey had experienced mental ill-health including stress, anxiety and depression in the 12 months before completing the survey.

Of those experiencing mental ill-health, only 56.5% had talked about it at work – the most common reason for this was fear of stigma.

Our research showed that many legal professionals are working long hours, not getting enough sleep, and one in five said they were bullied, harassed, or discriminated against.

One striking aspect of the report is the different experiences of specific groups within the legal profession.

The report’s findings demonstrate that individual characteristics have an influence on mental wellbeing.

Ethnic minority groups and wellbeing

Respondents who identified as belonging to an ethnic minority group (11.5%) reported higher levels of burnout compared to white participants.

Ethnic minority participants also displayed lower average scores in terms of autonomy and psychological safety at work.

Similar findings were identified amongst participants with a disability, females and younger professionals aged 26 to 35.

Our data shows that multiple factors shape the experience of wellbeing.

Respondents who had experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination at work within the preceding 12 months also demonstrated a higher level of burnout and lower levels of autonomy and psychological support. They experienced higher levels of work intensity as well.

Individuals of an ethnic minority, alongside female and disabled individuals, were disproportionately represented amongst respondents who had experienced bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Stigma and fear prevent legal professionals from speaking up about their mental health at work or about inappropriate workplace behaviour towards them from colleagues, worried that in doing so, this may compromise their career progression or they will be judged negatively.

To safeguard the mental wellbeing of ethnic minority legal professionals who are more negatively impacted by working practices in the law, legal employers need to prioritise fostering psychologically safe workplaces, where people feel able to speak up about concerns, ideas, questions or mistakes – knowing they will be listened to, and appropriate action will be taken.

Positive social behaviours need to be embedded in the culture of law, with colleagues acting with respect and civility towards each other every day.

Decision making around career development needs to be consistent, transparent and fair and value growth and development.

No one solution

The findings of Life in the Law demonstrate that there is no single ‘one size fits all’ solution to the issues which exist around mental wellbeing in the legal profession.

This may require different strategies, initiatives and support for different groups of legal professionals.

But of course, it’s important to remember that no individual or group can be simply defined by one single characteristic: there will be numerous intersectionalities between individual characteristics and experiences.

What our research shows is that there is a need for a nuanced and reflective discussion around mental wellbeing to ensure all voices are heard and acknowledged, and that everyone has an equal chance to reach their potential.

Read the full Life in the Law report

Find out more about LawCare

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