Training law students in emotional competency, better collaboration between regulators and educators, upskilling those in practice and a change in culture from the top in law firms and chambers is needed to combat the growing problem of stress in the legal profession as well as ensure its sustainability.
The issue of “Emotional Competency in the Legal Profession: an educational perspective” was discussed last night, 10 May, at a special roundtable discussion held by the Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce at The University of Law. The event was hosted by James Pereira QC, co author of regular column in The Lawyer, ‘Loving legal life’.
A panel of academic experts and representatives from professional and regulatory bodies discussed emotional competency, why lawyers need it and what can be done to better support them in this area. The panel agreed that understanding your own emotions and your personal values is vital in dealing with stressful and difficult situations in the workplace. Professor Rachael Field from Bond University, Melbourne, said law schools had ‘an ethical imperative to prepare graduates for the real world of work' and urged them to ‘use the curriculum to catch everyone’. Noel Inge, Managing Director, CILEx Law School, urged us to remember that not all lawyers go to university, and we need to reach those who enter law through a different route.
Whilst the panel agreed that lawyers need better resources to support them at law school and beyond with their emotional competency, law firms and chambers should play their role in helping to change the culture of the legal profession. Kayleigh Leonie, Law Society Council member for the Junior Lawyers Division said junior lawyers found it difficult to speak up in a traditional, hierarchical law firm. The panel agreed that senior leaders can change the culture in these organisations by being more open, and normalising discussions about mental health and wellbeing. Rachel Spearing, Bar Council and Chair of Wellbeing at the Bar said ‘wellbeing is a leadership duty’. The panel agreed that stress causes mistakes to be made. Dr Vanessa Davies, Director General of the Bar Standards Board felt that law firms and chambers need to recognise the effects stress can have on their bottom line and see the business case for better supporting staff with these issues.
Emma Jones, Lecturer in Law at The Open University Law School said emotional competency should be more explicit in regulation and felt there would then be a ‘washback’ to the academic institutions who would then be required to teach their students in emotional competency. Julie Brannan from the SRA said that ‘you can’t change culture from writing a rule’ but also agreed that the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) was ‘a foundation on which to build rather than a ceiling’ and that greater collaboration between academic institutions and regulation would be helpful. The panel agreed that working more closely together on the area of emotional competency would be beneficial. Helen Whiteman, CEO of CILEx Regulation felt that resilience could be built into standards and that when regulators developed a new policy or procedure they should consider the emotional impact on the profession.
Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare said: “The purpose of the discussion was to look at how we can better equip lawyers with the tools they need in a challenging working environment. It was great to bring experts from across the industry together and we hope it will lead to greater collaboration on this issue, as well as all sectors looking at what they can do to ensure legal professionals are emotionally competent.”
A full report on the event will be available week beginning 14/5/18
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Roundtable participants were:
The Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce is a cross-profession taskforce set up in 2016 to promote and support good mental health and wellbeing across the legal community.
Members of the taskforce include: the Law Society, LawCare, the Bar Council, the SRA, CILEx, CILEx Regulation, CILEx Law School, the Law Society's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, the Institute of Paralegals, The University of Law, BPP, Newcastle University, the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society, the Young Barristers Committee, the Judicial Office, and the Bar Standards Board.
LawCare is the charity that promotes and supports good mental health and wellbeing across the legal community in the UK and Ireland.
Our helpline is a safe place to talk without judgement. We’re here to listen. 0800 279 6888
As well our helpline, LawCare offers one-to-one peer support, and a wealth of information, resources and factsheets at www.lawcare.org.uk
We are here to help all branches of the legal profession: solicitors, barristers, barrister’s clerks, judges, Chartered Legal Executives, paralegals, trade mark attorneys, patent agents, costs lawyers and their staff and families.
Our support spans the legal life from student to training to practice and retirement.
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