How is the awareness of mental health being improved within law firms?

James Franklin 26.04.2019

Awareness around mental health has significantly increased in recent years; on a global scale, societies are taking steps to reshape perceptions. This wider raised awareness is being mirrored in law firms across the world.

Law firms are making the effort to raise awareness

Recognising and offering support for mental health in the workplace is a priority for many organisations as they have identified how leaving these issues unattended can negatively affect productivity.

As a whole, the legal profession, specifically within law firms, has historically been renowned as synonymous with long hours, the necessity of being contactable 24/7 and high levels of stress. All of this combined takes its toll on lawyers and can result in them struggling with their mental health, ultimately leading to burn-out and the likelihood of developing a stress related illness - in 2017, the legal profession was ranked 4th in the list of most stressful jobs.

Findings from our ‘mental health at work’ survey

Morgan McKinley recently conducted an anonymous survey to gain an insight into the mental health of professionals working in various sectors and industries. 1,100 UK based professionals responded, and below are some key findings from those who work in the legal sector:

  • 29% have been formally diagnosed with an issue
  • Only 21% claim their employer offers formal mental health support and of that minority, 60% do not make use of the support on offer
  • When an individual who is struggling with their mental health is at work, productivity can be significantly reduced - 29% of lawyers believe those working with mental health illness only work at 21-40% capacity
  • 83% of lawyers think talking about mental health in the workplace is a good thing

Some key statistics from LawCare

LawCare is a registered charity that supports and promotes good mental health and wellbeing in the UK’s legal community. This is what they found over the course of 2018...

Why did people call the LawCare helpline?

Who called LawCare?

Already in 2019 there has been a 5% increase in callers when compared to the same period last year. More than anything, the statistics above display the breadth of the issue in this profession, which makes us ask the question: Why aren’t some firms doing more to offer help for those struggling with mental health at work?

What are firms doing to counter the mental health stigma?

It’s not all doom and gloom. Some law firms are excellent at managing the wellbeing of their staff - here are a few ways that organisations have been seen to offer mental health support to their workforce.

Train managers to identify early signs of stress or depression - Herbert Smith Freehills has launched an initiative where people can volunteer to be a mentor and advise others of ways to cope with workplace stress, mental health and improve their general wellbeing, as well as acting as ambassadors for other initiatives. This is just one small part of the firm’s significant drive for diversity and inclusion, ensuring that all unique differences within the workforce are valued.

CEO of Herbert Smith Freehills

Provide ‘promotion watch’ - Considered a particularly stressful time, Hogan Lovells has identified the period after promotion as a key stage when individuals may require additional support. This firm employs a third party organisation to provide a confidential help-line that gives resilience training and also runs numerous wellbeing events to employees of all levels and departments.

Reinforce support with new recruits - Those at the start of their career in the legal sector are particularly vulnerable to its pressures. Clifford Chance have launched a graduate scheme that raises the awareness of good mental health in the workplace.

Offer mental health workshops - Orrick, the US law firm, has implemented Mental Health Workshops across their London office. These meetups cover topics including CBT, Stress Management and Anxiety issues. The firm also have mental health first aiders on standby and offer weekly open forums for trainees to sit down with a member of the HR team and discuss whatever issues they have over a cup of tea.

Leading from the front on how to promote mental health and wellbeing in the workplace…

Travers Smith, one of the UK’s leading full service city law firms, has been exemplary on how to promote mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. In May 2019 they are dedicating the entire month to mental health, holding a number of events and seminars covering important topics including suicide prevention and the role nutrition plays in mental health. Additionally they are engaging with Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn who recently released the book: “The Stranger on the Bridge: My Journey from Suicidal Despair to Hope”, where Neil Laybourn prevented the suicide of Johnny Benjamin on Waterloo Bridge by talking him down from the edge. At the end of the month, they will be putting together a panel of staff, in which participants will all describe the mental health issues they have been through.

Encouraging this openness between colleagues has the aim of reducing the number of people feeling isolated as well as decreasing the negative stigma towards those with mental issues in the workplace.

Other initiatives are coming to light

The American Bar Association (ABA) has put forward the ‘Pledge on Well Being in the Legal Profession’ that they want law firms to commit to. There are seven key objectives in the pledge that are:

  • Provide enhanced and robust education.
  • Reduce the expectation of alcohol at firm events by seeking creative alternatives.
  • Partner with outside providers who are committed to reducing substance use disorders and mental health distress.
  • Provide confidential access to addiction and mental health experts and resources to all employees.
  • Develop proactive policies and protocols.
  • Show that the firm’s core values include taking care of yourself and getting help when needed.
  • Use this pledge, and the firm’s commitment to these principles, to attract and retain the best lawyers and staff.

“It is clear that firms are now offering much needed support to their workforces. Giving lawyers, who have so much on their plates, the opportunity or appropriate platform to open up about their issues is now a necessity for law firms in my opinion. I hope that this recent push to raise awareness will help to improve the mental health of lawyers across the globe.” - James Franklin, Head of UK Legal Recruitment

Help is out there...

Whilst there is definitely no set prescription cure to solve the issues, raising awareness and providing as much support as possible is an obvious step in the right direction.

If you work in the legal sector and you are struggling with your mental health, LawCare provides support that you may find useful. Most of the time, simply talking about your issues can make a world of difference.

James Franklin's picture
Head of Legal, UK
jfranklin@morganmckinley.co.uk