The Junior Lawyers Division of The Law Society (JLD) recently undertook a survey of members to gain an insight into the levels of stress that junior lawyers – who are all too aware of the pressures of a job in the law – experience in their day-to-day lives. As a committee we had all encountered stress in our roles as junior lawyers, and we wanted to know more about our colleagues’ experiences so that we can provide them with support and guidance.
Some stress is positive: pressure makes many people more productive, and can increase the quality of the work they produce. But there is a fine line between positive stress, and stress that causes consequential problems like sleep deprivation, alcohol dependency, drug dependency and other issues such as difficulties with relationships and those closest to us.
As a committee with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences in the law, from small high street firms to large city firms, we were surprised by the results. In particular, we did not expect to see some of the coping mechanisms: drug use was cited as a mechanism used to cope with stress, others relied on alcohol or paid for private therapy to manage the pressure they are under.
The causes of the stress also made interesting reading, with respondents citing many all too familiar causes such as heavy workload, lack of support and ineffective management. Others mentioned providing cover for others and money worries. Surprisingly, lack of control was also mentioned.
Now we have these results, the question is what we do with them, and what we ask the senior members of the profession to do with the information. The JLD intends to work closely with the Law Society to produce guidance for firms on how to manage stress. Stressed junior lawyers are not productive, and it can lead to mistakes. Nobody needs a negligent solicitor. The JLD hopes that firms will be more aware of their junior lawyers stress levels, and more alert to the causes of stress and ways in which it can be managed. We would ask that firms consider that not every trainee or junior solicitor is the same, and while some may relish the chance to step into the shoes of a senior colleague to cover their work, many may not feel they have the confidence to do that.
If firms do have concerns that junior lawyers are stressed, talk to them. Take the time to check whether there is a problem. A firm taking the time to “check-in” means a lot and can be a huge help. Junior lawyers are often fearful of speaking out, but if they feel they have the support of their firm and it helps reduce stress, then firms will have more productive and efficient junior lawyers.
Bryan Scant is Chair of JLD