Interview with Kayleigh Leonie for Mental Health Awareness Week

Kayleigh Leonie - First hundred yearsKayleigh Leonie, employment law solicitor and Law Society Council member, shares her thoughts about her role on Council, the results of the Junior Lawyers Division's resilience and wellbeing survey 2019, and the importance of Mental Health Awareness Week (13 to 19 May).

How long have you been on the Law Society Council? What have been the highlights of being a Council member?

There are three Council seats for junior lawyers: two seats to represent those with zero- to five-years’ PQE and one to represent LPC student/trainees.

I was appointed as a Council member in July 2015 for a four-year term to represent solicitors with zero- to five-years’ PQE.

My highlight has to be the fantastic people I have met through all of the Law Society events and engagements I have attended.

In particular, my fellow Council members who are passionate about the work of the Law Society. It is great that the junior lawyers on Council have such great credibility.

How would you describe your experiences on the various Law Society committees you’ve been involved in? Would you encourage others across the profession to get more involved too?

I am a former executive committee member of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) and, in my capacity as a Council member, I sit as an ex officio member of the JLD committee.

I also sit on the Women Lawyers Division's committee and the Employment Law Committee.

The work of the Law Society’s committees is invaluable. They are doing the best work of the Law Society in terms of campaigning, responding to consultations and running events for members.

From a personal development perspective, it has given me fantastic opportunities to network, write articles, gain confidence in my public speaking and make an impact.

What does your role of trustee for LawCare entail? What made you want to get involved in the organisation?

I was appointed as a trustee for LawCare in January this year.

LawCare is doing brilliant work to support those in the legal profession and I am very pleased to take up an active role in the organisation, given my focus on mental ill-health in the profession.

LawCare is a charity that helps the legal community with personal or professional concerns that may affect their mental health and wellbeing.

The LawCare website is packed full of factsheets, personal stories and wellbeing resources.

What particular pressures do you think affect those at the junior end of the profession?

When starting your legal career, this may be your first time working in a professional environment.

As well as adjusting to working in the legal profession, trainee solicitors are under an increased amount of pressure to prove themselves to their employers, either to be awarded a much sought-after training position, or to be offered a newly-qualified position at the end of it.

Many junior lawyers feel unable to raise issues with their employers when they are struggling to cope with the pressures of their role.

It can be difficult to juggle your workload particularly in circumstances where, as a junior, you are accepting work from several different members of staff, more senior than you, in the department.

Do you think the stigma around openly discussing mental health and wellbeing is still prevalent in the legal sector?

It is clear from the results of the recent Junior Lawyers Division survey on resilience and wellbeing survey that junior lawyers are still not being open with their employers about their mental ill-health.

Of the 48% of junior lawyers who indicated that had experienced mental ill-health (whether formally diagnosed or not) in the month leading up to taking the survey, less than 20% of those junior lawyers had told their employer.

Despite attempts by employers to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health, there is still more to be done to give employees confidence to speak opening about the topic without the fear of reprisal. This is a key focus for the Law Society.

Do you have any suggestions for those that perhaps are struggling with poor mental health?

Be kind to yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your family, friends and colleagues.

Many lawyers have periods where they struggle with the demands and pressures the role entails, so it is important you take care of yourself so that you are best prepared to deal with these times.

Make sure you eat well, sleep well, remain active and make sure you take time to do something you enjoy away from the office (and your phone!).

If you do not feel comfortable speaking with someone you know, I would encourage you to speak to your GP or call LawCare’s 24/7 free confidential helpline on 0800 279 6888.

Why do you think dates like Mental Health Awareness Week are so important for people and organisations to mark?

Mental Health Awareness Week provides a helpful reminder to everyone about the importance of looking after your own mental health and the health of others.

It is a good way to encourage firms to hold events and get their employees’ talking about their own wellbeing.

To be genuinely committed to looking after employees, organisations should have their employees’ wellbeing at the top of their agendas as a key business asset - it should not just be something they think about once a year.

To embed good mental health into an organisation’s culture, it must be continually assessing its impact on employees’ wellbeing.

Do you think there has been any improvements in how mental health is addressed? What realistic change would you like to see happen?

Despite the positive efforts being made by some employers, it is clear that more considered action needs to be taken to support the wellbeing of lawyers in the profession.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Law Society, firms and other organisations across the legal profession need to work together to tackle these important issues.

It would be great to see all law firms putting their employees’ wellbeing and mental health on their board agendas and allocating budget to support initiatives internally to support lawyers in their roles.

Kayleigh Leonie is an award-winning Law Society Council member representing newly qualified lawyers with zero- to five-years’ PQE. She is extremely passionate about mental health and wellbeing, particularly in the case of junior lawyers.

She has been involved in various pieces of research, blog posts and articles, most recently of which was the Junior Lawyers Division report from the findings of the resilience and wellbeing survey 2019.

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