Small firms

Mental health of lawyers and COVID-19

Amy Simpson discusses the LexisNexis Bellwether Report 2020, which revealed that COVID-19 has had a serious impact on the morale and wellbeing of lawyers.

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The LexisNexis Bellwether Report 2020 has revealed that COVID-19 has had a serious impact on the morale and wellbeing of lawyers, which has got worse as the pandemic has dragged on.

Around three quarters of law firm staff who switched to homeworking are experiencing feelings of:

  • isolation
  • lack of motivation
  • issues around communication

How has homeworking affected the morale of staff in firms?

Staff morale and wellbeing is currently the most acute concern for practice managers and it has grown since the early days of lockdown.

58% of firms cited it as their top concern six months into the pandemic, compared to only 26% in the first couple of months after the first lockdown.

Although around half the lawyers questioned for the report agreed that flexible hours had improved as a result of working from home, around a third reported that the number of hours worked had actually gone up.

Worryingly, stress levels had also increased for 45% of lawyers, with a similar proportion complaining of worsening work morale and wellbeing.

We’re not all in this together

COVID-19 has affected certain groups of society a lot more than others.

In the context of law firms, an important observation is that junior lawyers seem to be suffering from the ill effects of homeworking a lot more than established practitioners at partner level.

This may be partly a result of less suitable accommodation (such as the lack of a home office), and also because of the greater importance of socialising and mentoring opportunities for those on the first rung of their career ladder.

But despite many of the reported downsides of homeworking, 65% of lawyers still want to work from home beyond the pandemic, ideally on a part-time basis.

Around a third have experienced an improved work/life balance as a result of homeworking, and almost one in five lawyers have seen their stress levels decrease.

What can firms do to improve the wellbeing of lawyers working from home?

Clearly the ‘human effect’ of COVID-19 is a major worry for law firms.

The situation only seems to be getting worse, so it’s important to put in place any measures which may serve to improve staff wellbeing and reduce stress levels.

Some options to consider include:

  • awareness: conduct regular surveys to assess stress and wellbeing – this will show whether any new policies introduced are having an effect
  • activities: this could be a matter of encouraging employees to ensure they take regular breaks and get some exercise each day – or there may be social activities which can be arranged online to get the whole firm involved and help build camaraderie
  • mental health officer: some firms have a mental health officer, similar to a fire safety officer, who is there for any staff who need help and can direct them to the best resource
  • apps: there are various apps designed to help with stress (for example Headspace) which can be signposted on the intranet
  • counselling: some firms may have the resources to bring in a counsellor on a regular basis to help any staff

Some firms have already put in place various measures to help their staff who are working from home.

Victoria Hills is the global transactions partner and sponsor for mental health at Freshfields. In a Financial Times (FT) article on the impact of flexible working she says the firm “offered webinars hosted by external speakers, with topics ranging from wellbeing to staying positive under pressure.”

Related resources

We have put together a list of wellbeing and mental health resources for lawyers struggling with the impact of COVID-19.

This includes an article looking at the challenges of homeworking by Coral Hill, associate professor at The University of Law, as well as resources from LawCare.

Read Coral Hill's article about the challenges of homeworking

Read our list of wellbeing and mental health resources

Access the LexisNexis stress and wellbeing toolkit

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