As a Barristers’ chambers, Kings Chambers are committed to support the health and wellbeing of barristers, pupils and staff. We recognise that responsibility for health and wellbeing rests with us all. We also appreciate that in anyone’s life there will be times when there is stress from work and life events. We have therefore devised and implemented a Health and Wellbeing Policy. We have been guided by the Bar Council “Wellbeing at the Bar” initiative. We have also been helped by other Chambers who have been generous enough to share their resources and research with us.
Our starting point in devising our policy was attending training by the Bar Council and exploring the resources on the website. We then engaged the services of a counsellor who was able to give us advice on our policy which we adapted to our needs. She also advised as to resources and how to present them, considering our organisation. We have been able to assemble a list of outside agencies that can be reached.
Our Chambers’ policy is a living document that will change to reflect the needs of our Chambers. It sets out that wellbeing is central to Chambers and that all Chambers’ decisions shall take into account wellbeing. We have also produced an implementation document that sets out how we apply our wellbeing policy. We work on the basis that the first step is recognising if someone has a problem; only then can we assist.
Our implementation plan sets out the people who we hope will be in a position to realise that there might be an issue. For barristers, the first port of call is usually the clerks who can monitor a barrister’s work and usually see the warning signs. We also have heads of department, heads of wellbeing and mentors who are in regular touch with members and are there for anyone to turn to. The plan also recognises that we should all keep a look out for one another. If your usually mild-mannered room-mate suddenly starts shouting at his laptop, this should be a warning sign that all is not well.
Equally we have set out safeguards for members of staff, relying on the Chambers director, heads of wellbeing and a member with particular responsibility for staff. We also have a mentoring scheme for members of staff.
The purpose is two-fold; the individual knows who can be approached and there are sufficient numbers of people available so that the person requiring help should feel comfortable speaking to one of them. The second is that the people with responsibility take a proactive approach to wellbeing.
Once a problem is recognised there are a number of approaches. We publicise details of bodies that can assist. We have secured the services of an outside provider Health Assured who provides intervention in the event of a member of Chambers or staff having difficulties with stress. There is an annual fee which Chambers pays. This service is known to all members of Chambers and staff and can be accessed as needed.
We also publicise LawCare, which has been supporting lawyers for 20 years and recognises the particular stresses of the occupation. We are happy to support this valuable organisation.
We also work with Breathworks, an organisation that promotes mindfulness, which helps with anxiety, depression and pain. I am honoured to have been asked to sit on the advisory board and work with them to promote greater wellbeing. Based in Manchester they have many practitioners over the country for mindfulness courses. There is also an online course.
We were accredited with a Wellbeing Certificate of Recognition from the Bar Council in 2018, which we display proudly in our reception. This helps remind us that wellbeing is important and is at the heart of our Chambers.
No policy is ever perfect, but since its implementation, we have helped a number of people and made things a little easier. Some have benefited from outside intervention and sometimes a sympathetic ear has been all that was needed. We are fortunate in that members and staff alike recognise how valuable such resources are. We are not saying that the scheme is a magic wand, but if it assists our members of Chambers and staff when the inevitable difficulties in life arise, then we believe that this is a positive thing and is worthwhile.
Barrister Fiona Ashworth is Head of Personal Injury & Clinical Negligence and Head of Wellbeing at Kings Chambers.
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