More than two-thirds of lawyers (69%) have experienced mental ill health in the last year, according to a new snapshot of wellbeing in the profession.
The survey of around 1,700 legal professionals by legal charity LawCare also found that just 56% of those suffering had discussed their problems at work. Respondents in this group said they had not disclosed their condition for fear of the stigma that would attach, the resulting career implications and the financial and reputational consequences.
The study also suggested that legal professionals are at a high risk of burnout, with those aged between 26 and 35 most likely to be affected and most likely to report the lowest autonomy and highest work intensity. Female legal professionals and those from ethnic minorities also scored higher than average for burnout.
In terms of working demands, 28% agreed or strongly agreed that their work required them to be available to clients 24/7, while 65% said they checked emails outside of work hours to keep up with their workload.
Many legal professionals are also getting less sleep than the recommended seven to nine hours a night: 35% estimated they had slept between six to seven hours a night over the two weeks before completing the survey, 25% averaged five to six hours, and 12% indicating they had less than five hours a night.
Just over a fifth of respondents (22%) said they had experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination in the workplace over the previous year. Almost half also expressed concern about their job security, while 58% had been more concerned about their finances during Covid-19 and a similar proportion were more worried about increased pressures around work-life balance.
Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare said: ‘This research, the first of its kind in this country, provides robust evidence that the legal profession is stressed, tired, anxious, at high risk of burnout and that those working practices in the law that undermine mental health need to change.
‘We want this research to be the catalyst for us to come together as a profession to create that change, to create a culture in law that puts the law’s greatest asset – it’s people – first. The experience of living and working through a global pandemic has had a profound effect on us all and presents an opportunity like no other to reimagine the future and make it happen.’
LawCare says the most commonly provided workplace support measures are regular catch-ups or appraisals, mental health policies, mental health and wellbeing training, and signposting to external support. Of these, regular catch-ups or appraisals were reported to be the most helpful.
Having these in place helped to bolster confidence in personal development and reduce anxiety. Despite this only 48% of those in a position of management or supervisory capacity had received leadership, management, or supervisory training.
In response to the report, the Law Society said now is a pivotal moment to change the way we talk about wellbeing and mental health in the profession, as the landscape has altered so much due to the pandemic and new hybrid home working models.
Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: ‘In order to tackle these issues, we encourage our member firms and organisations to ensure they are providing regular catch-ups, training for managers, mental health and wellbeing education, mental health policies and signposting sources of support. That way we can begin to work towards a psychologically safe, healthy and supportive workplace.
‘Improving mental wellbeing is everyone’s responsibility. The culture and practice of law must change, and now is the time to do it.’
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