It has been a busy three months since leaving my role at Latham & Watkins to set up my coaching business. In this time I have been part of some very interesting conversations: with Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare, about the vital work the charity is doing and her involvement in Solicitors Regulation Authority consultations; as a participant in a roundtable event led by a government taskforce on advancing socioeconomic diversity chaired by Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce; and as a speaker on a panel for Advancing Wellness in Law about how coaching can help lawyers, and the importance of emotional literacy in the legal sector. I have had multiple conversations with lawyers of all levels of PQE about the daily obstacles they are working to overcome. Even though the details differ, at the heart of all these discussions one thing is clear: the need to put our arms around a legal sector which is currently short of some TLC.


Laura Simpson

We are making progress as an industry but we need look at things more holistically. We are investing in wellbeing programmes for our lawyers – app subscriptions, external speakers, employee assistance programmes, onsite counsellors – but are we managing to create the psychological safety needed to encourage take-up without fear of career curtailment?

Are we consciously identifying skills gaps that the pandemic has highlighted and addressing those gaps?

We are hiring excellent diversity and inclusion practitioners to set and achieve targets for diverse hires, but are we spending adequate time upskilling employees on inclusive behaviours? These behaviours are needed at all levels to ensure that diverse hires are able to make meaningful contributions, be given and want to take advantage of opportunities to progress, and have positive everyday employment experiences. If not, the result is that they miss out and so do we.

We are spending a lot of time thinking about pushing forward, but are we spending enough on holding a mirror up to look at what we have already got? It is understandable that we consider the experience of our most recent hires with regard to onboarding – hybrid working can indeed pose challenges to productivity and engagement for new joiners. But are we also paying attention to our tenured employees? For many, even though jobs have stretched in terms of working hours since the start of the pandemic, perceptions of self-efficacy and access to stretch assignments and actionable feedback have shrunk.

So here’s how we create a ‘post-pandemic’ legal sector where everyone can thrive.

  • By clearly defining the behaviours that we reward, tolerate and punish, making those explicit and then ‘walking the talk’. By linking those behaviours to competency frameworks which are communicated openly and frequently to all employees, and to conversations about performance and progression.
  • By carefully considering the meaning of coded terms such as polish and professionalism, and understanding the potential effect their use has on those around us.
  • By making it acceptable for lawyers to step away from chargeable work for an hour to learn about and nourish their mental health.
  • By not viewing performance and wellbeing as two separate conversations when in fact sustained high performance just does not exist without a consistent focus on wellbeing.
  • By understanding that it is not only senior leadership who need to use story-telling and role-modelling to create psychological safety, but those in mid-leadership positions, who really carry the tone of the firm for most employees. You do not have to be the managing partner for your whisper to be a shout.
  • By asking supervisors to examine how their behaviours might have changed as a result of hybrid working. Are team or one-on-one meetings cancelled more frequently now, without being rescheduled? Do those working from home receive recognition for their contributions as regularly as those in the office? Are we consciously identifying skills gaps that the pandemic has highlighted and addressing those gaps?

If the current state of the legal sector demonstrates anything, it is the need to rethink. To be open-minded enough to look for reasons why we might be wrong in our current approach and revise our views based on new evidence. As organisational psychologist Adam Grant says: ‘Most of us take pride in our knowledge and expertise, and in staying true to our beliefs and opinions. That makes sense in a stable world, where we get rewarded for having conviction in our ideas. The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.’

Laura Simpson is the founder of Altura Coaching, and an EMCC-accredited executive coach