Do you feel stressed out at work? You’re not alone. A recent survey carried by the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) as part of their Resilience and Wellbeing Report, found that over 90% of young lawyers have felt under too much emotional or mental pressure.
The long working hours in pressured situations, relentless workloads and demanding clients associated with a career in law are all conducive to a high-pressure working environment. It could be argued, therefore, that stress is simply an unavoidable part of being a lawyer. Some solicitors even view the feeling of being overwhelmed as a kind of badge of honour.
It’s true that stress can sometimes be beneficial; the adrenaline it produces can give you the boost you need to meet a challenge such as an urgent deadline or critical client pitch. But chronic stress is a different matter entirely. It can significantly affect both mental and physical health, leading to problems such as impaired judgement, heart problems, depression, high blood pressure and accelerated ageing. Because stress also impacts mood, causing anger and irritability, it can also be damaging to relationships with colleagues, friends and family.
Unfortunately, stress levels amongst solicitors appear to be on the rise. Earlier this year, confidential lawyer helpline, LawCare reported that in 2016, they received 12% more calls than they did in 2015. Last year, stress and depression were by far the most common reasons for lawyers picking up the phone and 36% of stressed-out calls to LawCare were from solicitors with less than 5 years’ PQE.
More than half of respondents to the JLD survey said that they regularly feel unable to cope at work because of pressure. 65% of lawyers said the main cause of their stress was their high workloads and half blamed ‘ineffective management’. Unreasonable targets and client demands were also cited as sources of workplace stress.
A common stress factor that was reported was a lack of pastoral support from firms. A good employer can and should pay attention to the risks of stress, and work to manage these factors for their staff. As many as 73% young lawyers said that they were unaware of their firm providing help and guidance in this area.
But it’s not just within the law that stress and other mental health issues are a problem. Away from the profession, a number of high-profile figures have spoken out about their own experiences with mental health. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with Prince Harry, are fronting the ‘Heads Together’ campaign in an attempt to start conversations about mental health and end the stigma that surrounds it. This weekend, the cause will be the Charity of the Year for the 2017 London Marathon.
Last week, Prince Harry talked candidly about his personal struggle with grief following the tragic death of his mother, Princess Diana, on The Daily Telegraph’s Mad World podcast. He described how bottling up his emotions for almost two decades while growing up in the public eye led to him becoming very close to a ‘complete breakdown on numerous occasions’. He explained the life-changing effect opening up to those around him as well as professional counselling has had on his mental health and urged listeners to speak up about their problems.
Mental health and wellbeing are undoubtedly being spoken about more openly than ever before. It’s essential that this is carried over to the legal profession to ensure that lawyers feel properly supported within the workplace. Steps are already being taken, with initiatives like LawCare, the Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce and Mental Health Awareness Week all helping to combat workplace stress and depression, but further work is needed to help lawyers feel able to open up about how they are coping. Individuals must acknowledge when they are struggling and firms must be proactive in addressing mental health issues within their workplace to create an open, productive and healthy working environment.