Common reasons for contacting LawCare
At LawCare we speak to legal professionals and support staff every day about a range of issues, both personal and professional. Here’s some examples of common reasons for contacting us along with our responses.
I’m being investigated by my regulatory body
I made a stupid mistake and am being investigated by my regulatory body. It’s brutal. I am not sleeping properly, am waking up in the middle of the night, and keep thinking I am going to lose everything.
Most lawyers fear being the subject of an investigation by their regulator and it’s understandable that you’re distressed. You’re a diligent professional who wants to do a great job for your clients, and that feeling of failure weighs heavily alongside a concern about the possible outcome. However given the complexity of the role it’s not unexpected for a legal practitioner to make a mistake of some sort at some point in their career however diligent they are.
Regulators have a job to do, they take it very seriously, and can come across as unsympathetic in their assiduousness.
Be prepared for it to take a long time and be mentally draining and difficult. Now is a good time to put in place around you all the personal support you’ll need – family, friends, self-care practices and hobbies, and faith resources if you have them. We’d also recommend you visit your GP and let them know that you are facing what might be a prolonged period of pressure. Symptoms which crop up in the coming weeks and months—mental and physical—could be related to what is happening in your life, so it helps if your GP is at least aware of the situation. You could also mention that you are having problems sleeping and see what medical or therapeutic help is available.
It may help you to write a detailed account of exactly what happened and the circumstances around the mistake. Include all relevant background information – what you were thinking, who else was involved, dates and times – and gather all your evidence, such as emails, documents, notes, phone records. Even if you never need these it is important to get the material facts clear in your mind, and setting it all down can be cathartic.
You mention that you keep thinking you are “going to lose everything”. Many lawyers in this situation immediately imagine the worst-case scenario of being struck off, but try to keep perspective and recognise that there are many other possible outcomes and this doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your career.
It might be wise to seek specialist independent legal advice about the likely outcome. Depending on the jurisdiction you practice in there may be a limited amount of pro bono advice available to you, for example from the Solicitors Assistance Scheme in England and Wales. To make the most of whatever time you have make sure you have a summary of all the facts to hand, and take notes during the call.
You might like to consider confiding in colleagues or managers at work. You may find they are more supportive than you expect, and at least you won’t have to worry about them finding out some other way.
On LawCare’s website you can find more information about what to do when you are facing disciplinary proceedings, as well as advice on sleep which may help you. Finally, you might think about whether peer support and speaking to someone else who understands the stress of being the subject of an investigation or disciplinary proceedings could be helpful for you.
I don’t know if law is for me
I’m in the third seat of my training contract and don’t know if law is for me, but my parents are so thrilled that I’m going to be a lawyer and I have invested so much time and money into this career – I don’t want to waste that. At work I’m given very little support or supervision and often feel I’m floundering and don’t really know what I’m doing but everyone is too busy to help me.
It feels good to make our parents proud, but when you are the one putting in the effort it’s equally important that you find value in the role. With so little time to go before you qualify though it could make sense to continue and qualify if you can. Once you are admitted as a solicitor that will always be an achievement you and your parents can be proud of, even if you choose to go into another career.
LawCare hears often from people who have gone into law expecting it to be immediately fulfilling and rewarding when the reality is often rather different from the expectation. In some cases it may be that the area of law they have chosen to specialise in isn’t one that excites them or that the environment isn’t a good fit but sometimes they reach the conclusion that they need to choose a different career. It’s important to remember that your study, time and effort are not “wasted”. The knowledge and experience you have gained will be valuable in other areas. Take a look at our moving on from the law information for a list of other careers related to the law and requiring minimal additional training.
Having said that, it sounds as though you aren’t getting the appropriate training and supervision in your current seat and having more support may help you to feel better about a future in law. Many firms have great confidence in their trainees which is good, but there remains a duty to train and supervise. You might find it useful to refer to the relevant training regulations. At the end of your contract both you and your firm have to attest that you have been adequately trained as a solicitor. If you would be in any way hesitant about this then speak to your training principal about areas you feel you would benefit from experiencing during the remainder of your traineeship.
Once you do qualify you might look at changing to a different firm or environment. For example you might prefer working in-house– even if your current employers have offered to keep you on – where you will be more supported as a newly qualified solicitor.
You may like to get in touch with the relevant group for trainees and young lawyers in your jurisdiction for further support, and perhaps attend their events to meet with other trainees. These are the Junior Lawyers Division in England and Wales SYLA and TANQ in Scotland, and NIYSA in Northern Ireland.
I’m being bullied
I am 15 years’ pqe and am highly thought of by clients and experienced in my field. However, a new supervisor insists on micro-managing me, wants to see all my letters, asks that I log my calls, and if anything isn’t the way he wants it he screams at me and berates me in front of everyone. I’ve come to dread going to work.
Bullying takes many forms, can be extremely destructive, and sadly isn’t confined to the school playground. The lack of trust and respect being shown to you by your supervisor is undermining you and creating a toxic and unpleasant work environment.
It may be more about your supervisor’s own issues than your work but that does not excuse such behaviour. Bullies may be insecure in their own abilities, or reacting to circumstances outside the workplace. It’s also possible that your supervisor is a competent lawyer but hasn’t had any training in managing people or running a team. That said, knowing the reason for the behaviour is less important than dealing with it.
Is it only you your supervisor treats this way? If others in the office are also affected by this behaviour then you might consider getting together to discuss a plan of action. In any event you may wish to discuss matters with a trusted colleague and raise it with HR if the firm has an HR department.
Healthy workplaces create an environment where bullying is not tolerated. It is in the firm’s interests to ensure that work is a place where people feel respected because allowing bullying to go unchecked is the fastest way to lose valuable and capable fee-earners and staff. If there is no HR department then choose a trusted partner or manager to approach. It can help if you keep notes of incidents, witnesses, emails, etc. and make it clear that the behaviour is unacceptable, and you expect it to be dealt with. It can also help if you suggest a solution, such as sending the supervisor for management training or moving him to a different department.
Although you recognise that you are highly thought of and experienced it’s possible that this behaviour has impacted your confidence in your own abilities. You might even have opened with that statement as a way of reassuring yourself that you are a good solicitor because your supervisor so often states the opposite that you are now doubting yourself. Erosion of self-confidence is one of the insidious effects of bullying and it’s important that you remind yourself regularly that you are a capable and competent lawyer. Whenever you complete a matter successfully or receive a compliment or thank-you note from a client take time to congratulate yourself and acknowledge your worth. You might even keep a written or mental list of your achievements. But remember too that perfection is neither expected nor possible.
You can find more information and suggestions on the topic of bullying and other related issues, such as stress and sleep, on LawCare’s website. Ensuring you have the support of your friends and family, as well as your GP, is also helpful. Taking some time off to get away from the unpleasant environment can also help give you perspective and regain your self-confidence and strength, but if you find yourself still struggling you may consider counselling. While the support of a professional counsellor can’t change the bully’s behaviour any more than the support of friends and colleagues can, it can help you build up the resilience and determination you need to deal with it.
I’m feeling worn down, tired and negative
I'm feeling very worn down, tired and negative. I can’t focus fully on my work these days and often think I’m not really cut out for this, that I’m just not good enough to be a lawyer. I’ve been qualified over 20 years so it’s too late to do anything else, but some days the temptation is just to jack it all in. I have lost my spark and drag myself out of bed every day. The world seems very grey and I cannot find joy in anything anymore.
It’s interesting that you say, “these days” and “anymore”. After 20 years in practice, what has changed to make you suddenly not comfortable or happy in your work? Some of the symptoms you mention are commonly reported by those suffering from depression so the first step might be to make an appointment with your GP for an honest discussion about how you are feeling and the merits of various options for you to consider such as counselling and medication. If you’re female you might also ask whether your symptoms and feelings could be linked to menopause.
The GP may suggest short-term medication. There have been significant improvements in medication for depression and you may want to discuss its suitability for you. Your medication should be reviewed regularly.
Of course, there are other things you can do to help yourself including relaxation and self-help techniques, exercise which you enjoy, spending time with supportive family and friends with whom you can talk safely about your feelings, and being outside, especially in nature. Counselling can also be very beneficial and you can find out more about this, and about depression, on our website.
Be guided by your GP about whether you are fit to be at work, and consider being open with your work colleagues about your diagnosis. While we would generally advise against making big life-changing decisions while suffering from a mental illness, it may be that once the grey fog starts to lift you still feel you need a change from law. Twenty years in practice is a positive achievement and many LawCare helpline callers have found that their legal experience is valued and useful in other fields. Take a look at our moving on from the law resources and don’t dismiss sideways steps, such as in-house or consultancy work. But it may also be the case that when you find your spark and energy again you also rediscover your love for law.
Real stories of people in the legal community who have experienced stress, depression, anxiety and more.