As a family lawyer of some 34 years’ standing, I am acutely aware of the emotional and psychological impact incumbent in the role – whether this results from increased workloads, the demands of clients, or simply getting caught up in the emotional turmoil which is experienced by those we represent. In Mental Health Awareness week (14-20 May), I am reminded of the psychological challenges involved in practising family law and the toll it can take on our health.
Recent statistics published by LawCare reveal a worrying trend. Nearly half of those lawyers who telephoned the helpline cited depression (17%) and unacceptable levels of workplace stress (27%) as the reason for their call. Research by the Law Society Junior Lawyers Division similarly produced statistics which demonstrate a growing need to pay more attention to the wellbeing of junior lawyers. With 90% of survey participants stating that they have experienced stress at work, 26% of whom referred to severe levels of stress, this is a statistic which cannot be ignored.
My firm, Family Law in Partnership in London’s Covent Garden, addressed this concern some years ago by the introduction of a supervision offering for members of our professional staff. A psychotherapist comes to the office two days a month to discuss issues of concern for our staff on an individual and confidential basis. Speaking personally, this has made a significant, positive difference to our coping strategies but also to the way we assist and advise our clients.
In 2017 I, together with two colleagues, set up FLiP Faculty to offer training intended to help family lawyers understand what is going on for their clients and themselves when dealing with the crisis of divorce and separation. From September, practitioners will also be able to train for a diploma in family law supervision, believed to be the first of its kind in the UK – the idea being to increase the pool of supervisors able to provide this help to other practitioners. I consider supervision of family lawyers a necessary step in improving the health of the profession and consequently, the practice of family law. For more information on the diploma, please see tinyurl.com/y7qnut6a.
Gillian Bishop, director, Family Law in Partnership Ltd