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Time for a mental health culture change in the legal profession

LawCare and the Law Society of England and Wales have today joined forces to call for a change of culture in the profession

LawCare and the Law Society of England and Wales have today joined forces to call for a change of culture in the profession, as they mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week.

LawCare’s 2021 Life in the Law report examined the culture and working practices in law and the impact of these on legal professionals’ wellbeing.

High levels of burnout were cited by participants and 69% of respondents had experienced mental-ill health in the 12 months before the survey.

Female participants averaged higher burnout compared with male counterparts.

The largest age group of participants (37%) were aged between 26 and 35 years old and they had the highest burnout scores, alongside having the highest work intensity, lowest autonomy and the lowest psychological safety.

The same year, the International Bar Association (IBA) published its Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession report, which surveyed 3,500 legal professionals and 180 legal organisations, confirming that legal professionals’ mental wellbeing is a global concern.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “The legal profession should use Mental Health Awareness Week to take stock of its culture. The onus is often on the individual to ‘fix’ their mental ill-health. In truth, we have a collective responsibility to make a positive work environment for everyone."

Mentally Healthy Workplace

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: "We need to start talking about how some working practices contribute to an increased risk of poor mental health and how we can work together to change things. Tackling excessive working hours and workloads, as well as ensuring better supervision and support, especially for younger lawyers, is essential. The IBA’s and LawCare’s research have shone a light on our working culture as we navigate changes following the COVID-19 pandemic.”

LawCare is an independent charity which was founded in 1997 and provides free, confidential, emotional and peer support to legal professionals working in the UK, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

I. Stephanie Boyce added: “LawCare is one of my presidential charities. They provide invaluable mental health advice and support to legal professionals throughout the UK.

“The Law Society was a principal founder of the charity and fully supports the work it does for legal professionals throughout their careers.

“Mental health and wellbeing are prominent themes in my presidential plan. During my term we have provided remote working guidance, launched our own mental health hub and published a range of careers resources.

“We must all take responsibility for our mental health and wellbeing and look to change our businesses so colleagues can have a rewarding career and a supportive workplace.

“The onus is on us all.”

Elizabeth Rimmer, chief executive of LawCare, said: “After 25 years of supporting legal professionals, we believe that the culture of law has to change to ensure the sustainability of the profession. It can seem overwhelming, but all of us can make small changes every day to make the law a healthier and happier place to work, such as acknowledging some of the challenges working in the law presents and treating each other with respect and civility."

Elizabeth Rimmer said "If we could encourage firms and workplaces to do one thing this Mental Health Awareness Week, it would be to work towards providing management training to all supervisors and managers, and free up some of their time so they can regularly catch up with their team members to check in on how they are doing.”

Suzanna Eames, chair of the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division, said: “Report after report has demonstrated that the overall culture in law is damaging to many junior lawyers, leading to mental health problems such as burnout, depression, anxiety and (in the worst cases) self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

“We have seen over the course of the pandemic that the culture of a firm has a very large impact on employees’ mental health, and that positive leadership can have a real impact and can ensure that the legal profession is both fulfilling and sustainable.

“On the contrary, employers that have left junior lawyers without support or supervision have seen staff burn out and choose to leave the firm or legal profession in order to protect their health.

“One positive of the pandemic has been the growing conversation around mental health, and an increasing recognition that lawyers’ wellbeing should be treated as a priority.

“It is vital that this conversation continues to develop, and does not lose traction now that firms settle into varying models of hybrid working.”

Notes to editors

Read about Mental Health Awareness Week

Read LawCare’s Life in the Law report

Read the IBA’s Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession: A Global Study report

Read the Law Society’s guidance on supporting wellbeing in the workplace

Read the Law Society’s reasonable adjustments guidance

Read the Law Society’s wellbeing guidance

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