Handle with care
LawCare has been providing emotional support to legal professionals for over 20 years through our free, confidential support service.
We've visited hundreds of workplaces and listened to thousands of people in the legal community tell us about the stress, anxiety and depression they are experiencing, which is often caused or exacerbated by a difficult working environment.
In-house lawyers and wellbeing
Many presume that working in-house is less stressful than working in private practice, but we often speak to in-house lawyers about the challenges they are facing.
The long hours culture and pressure to meet deadlines is a universal issue, and there is a widespread attitude of doing whatever it takes to get the job done, regardless of personal wellbeing.
There are challenges around managing expectations and often misunderstandings between senior management and lawyers about the legal function and what is achievable.
Many in-house legal lawyers feel isolated, under-resourced, overworked and under-supported. There are problems around technology and always being ‘on’. As one lawyer told us: “My boss emails and texts, often does so out of hours, which included sending a text at 1am which she then berated me for not replying to immediately.”
In addition to this, law by its very nature is adversarial and reactive; you are required to look for the worse-case scenario, which means your brain is used to overthinking and defaults to pessimism.
The type of person that often goes into the law often has traits which can hamper wellbeing.
They usually have high expectations of themselves and what they want to achieve in life and are often perfectionists, which means they find it hard to say no to people and any bump in the road is hard for them to manage. They find it difficult to ask for help, believing they should be self-sufficient; this can be compounded by difficult relationships at work.
Over the past six months, we’ve had around 165 legal professionals contact us for support with issues around COVID-19, which makes up around 27% of all our contacts, and some common themes have emerged.
Many legal professionals enjoy working at home – the opportunity to work flexibly, no commute, a bit of distance from difficult colleagues or boss, and saving money on travel and childcare has contributed to an improvement in their wellbeing.
Others find it isolating – they miss the office environment, have struggled to carve out a quiet space or a time to work, and find the lack of clear management or supervision difficult.
For some lawyers, spending more time at home has been very challenging, especially when there are relationship or other problems at home, or they have an existing mental health condition. For those people, the office was often an escape or a refuge, and provided a chance to switch gears and focus on work.
Managing staff remotely can be very difficult and many lawyers have contacted us feeling disconnected from work, their teams and their manager.
We’ve all lost the opportunity to grab someone and ask a quick question – we can’t pop our head into someone’s office to see how they are doing or pick up on those non-verbal cues that let us know how someone is.
How to tell there is a problem
Sometimes it can be hard to tell that there is a problem.
Stress tends to build incrementally and you may have got so used to working at a certain pace or feeling a certain way that you don’t realise you need help. Many lawyers are existing in a near-constant state of chronic stress, which can lead to burn-out.
Here are some things to watch out for:
- lethargy / sleep problems
- panic attacks
- aches and pains
- concentration, memory and motivation
- withdrawal – cancelling plans, loss of interest etc.
- deterioration in relationships
- feeling overwhelmed
- inability to switch off
Support from LawCare
If you’re struggling, the most important thing is to talk about how you are feeling – you’d be surprised how much better you will feel from just offloading. A lawyer recently told us: “I was feeling very bad and you helped me. LawCare has already made me feel less alone."
Our free and confidential support service offers a safe place to talk without judgement, with calls, webchats and emails answered by trained staff and volunteers who have first-hand experience of working in the law. Last year, we provided support to nearly 700 people.
We also offer one-to-one peer support through our network of peer supporters, people who work in the legal profession who may have been through difficult times themselves and can offer one-to-one support, friendship and mentoring.
We have a free course on managing and understanding emotions and stress and developing healthy working practices. It takes under four hours in total to complete in small chunks and includes videos from legal professionals discussing wellbeing issues, as well as a range of interactive activities.
LawCare also offers training remotely and in person for legal workplaces and organisations on mental health and wellbeing.
Life in the Law
Tell us more about your Life in the Law as part of our ground-breaking research into how legal practice and workplace culture affect wellbeing.
Anyone working in the legal industry, including support staff, can complete the anonymous and confidential online questionnaire across the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man until 31 December. The results will form the basis of an academic paper and will be announced next year.
The data will help LawCare to improve the support available to legal professionals and drive long-lasting change in legal workplaces so that people working in the law can thrive.
Visit lifeinthelaw.org.uk and make your voice heard.