The mental health of junior lawyers

On World Mental Health Day 2019, we joined with our American friends, the American Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division, to compare the issues junior lawyers are facing on both sides of the Atlantic in relation to mental health and resilience.

 

Logan Murphy is the Chair of the American Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division and Charlotte Parkinson is the Vice Chair of the JLD.

England and Wales United States of America
93% of junior lawyers reported feeling stressed in the month before they took the JLD’s Resilience and Wellbeing 2019 survey 28% of young lawyers deal with depression
One-fifth of respondents reported regularly feeling unable to cope 19% of young lawyers face severe anxiety
One in 15 experienced suicidal thoughts The suicide rate is three to five times high than in other professions

 

This is clearly a common issue, not least because of the culture junior (and also senior) lawyers can find themselves working in and not helped by the 24/7, on demand world that we now work and live in. This culture and need to be available at all times risks creating unmanageable expectations that mean statistics such as the above are only likely to worsen.

Causes

The main causes of stress identified in the JLD's 2019 survey were:

  • high workload
  • client expectations
  • lack of support in the workplace

Impact

The most commonly cited impacts of work related stress were: disrupted sleep (66%) and a negative impact on mental health, which includes:

  • anxiety
  • emotional upset
  • emotional fatigue
  • negative thoughts
  • self-harm

Change

Whilst 49% of respondents the JLD 2019 survey reported that their organisation provided help, guidance and support to employees in relation to mental ill-health at work, over three-quarters of respondents thought that their employer could be doing more.

So how do we change a culture? The first thing to tackle is the stigma surrounding mental ill-health within the profession. Many junior lawyers still feel unable to talk to their employers if they are suffering mental ill-health and this needs to change. Support should be available from all levels of an organisation and individuals should know who they can seek support from.

Further, everyone should know and believe that speaking out and asking for help will not negatively impact their position or opportunities for future development within the organisation. Individuals who have previously suffered with mental ill-health may also consider speaking to others within the profession to encourage them that it really is ok to seek support if needed.

Promotion of organisations such as LawCare should also be increased so that individuals know that they can also speak to someone who is completely independent of their organisation.

Education and training of individuals at all levels of the business in relation to mental ill-health and stress at work should also be encouraged in order to raise awareness. The resilience and wellbeing of employees in the workplace should be a collective responsibility.

For World Mental Health Day, the Law Society of England and Wales has produced best practice guidance for safeguarding and promoting the resilience and wellbeing of employees in the workplace. The guidance has been designed for solicitors, managers, learning and development, diversity and inclusion and HR professionals. It applies to lawyers at any stage of their career, as well as business services support staff. The guidance is also transferable across other industry sectors.

So take on this collective responsibility and promote this guidance to all who will listen, to encourage further education and training and let's start pushing to change the culture.