A few weeks ago, I was part of my son’s school careers fair to raise awareness about working in the third sector, but as my bio mentioned I was a solicitor, I had a steady stream of young people come and talk to me about a legal career. There were a range of reasons offered as to why the law was a potential path; top of the list – ‘I want to help people’, expressing a strong interest in human rights/international issues/crime; second - ‘I loved Legally Blonde or Suits’, and coming in third - ‘I want to earn lots of money, I’ve heard that lawyers earn more than bankers’. 

Elizabeth Rimmer 2022 photo

Elizabeth Rimmer

I had a few questions I wasn’t expecting, from parents who knew that law has a reputation for being a highly pressured environment and were concerned about the impact of this on the wellbeing of their son or daughter. Despite my familiarity with the pressures of a career in the law, I was upbeat, highlighting the wide range of practice areas and environments in which you can work and the reward that comes from helping people/organisations with their legal issues and getting your head around complex problems.

On the drive home, I reflected on my experience of talking about working in the legal sector with people who don’t know much about it. As I am often immersed in a narrative around law that mainly focuses on the problems and challenges in our sector, it was inspiring that most of the young people I spoke to were attracted to the law because they wanted to help people, drawn from their personal interests and values. A reflection perhaps of the times we live in and the growing trend that the younger generation are seeking purposeful work that contributes to social good. But I expect many people in our profession, when they first thought about a career in the law, were drawn to it for similar reasons.

Over the last few months, there has been significant amplified discussion around mental health and the accepted working practices in law that can undermine it. Although there may be more print and airtime around these concerns, they have been around a long time; the first study on burnout in the legal sector was in 1987 and LawCare was set up ten years later.

There is a steady stream of evidence from the UK and further afield confirming that lawyers are experiencing poor mental health and are at risk of burnout. We have become adept at describing the problems; we know what’s in the box of broken toys. The challenge we face as a sector is do we want to continue to diagnose the problems or take decisive action to implement solutions?

There will always be voices that say ‘it can’t be done; the mountain of change is too big’ but I sense a shift. We are in a place now where we can grow the power of people and organisations to shape a better future, to nurture the pull for innovation in working differently, in creating those workplaces where people come first.

The legal sector has a reputation for being risk adverse and fearful of making mistakes, which stifles creativity; where we sit and watch change happen somewhere else, rather than lead it. The knowledge about the risks to mental health in the legal workplace, what can be done to mitigate them, how to foster psychological safety and the value of good people management are here. The solutions aren’t the challenge, adoption is the big gap.

In this Mental Health Awareness Week, where the focus is on movement, LawCare is calling on everyone in the sector to take one step to support their mental health. I would like to use this theme to mobilise a movement for change by building a collective responsibility across legal education, regulation and practice to end the debate on how we got to where are now, and to start a new debate on the transformational positive benefits of a healthy working culture in law and how we can achieve this.

The opportunity for how we change is here, all we need is the courage to seize it.


Elizabeth Rimmer is chief executive at LawCare