The wellbeing of our young lawyers

07/11/2018

In this article, LawCare focuses on young people and mental health.

Supporting younger lawyers

45% of calls to the LawCare helpline (across all jurisdictions) are from young people studying law who often cite anxiety, sleep problems, financial worries and bullying as the reason for their call. Law by nature can be competitive and adversarial and often comes with a heavy workload. Long hours without regular reprieves, although sometimes unavoidable, can lead to stress and reduce staff performance and morale. The work is often about winning or losing, requiring legal professionals to be critical, judgemental and combative. Lawyers are required to look for potential problems and worse-case scenarios. In addition, many law students and lawyers are perfectionists who fear failure and making mistakes. All of this can significantly affect mental health and wellbeing.

What can we do better?

Equipping law students with the right skills to manage the pressures of practice and understand their emotions is vital. Trainee solicitors at the Law Society’s Law School are well supported in this area, completing a psychology module ‘Shrink Me; Psychology of a Lawyer’ where they learn about a range of mental health issues and strategies for coping. They are also offered free counselling sessions – used by over 50% of trainees during training. Counselling and psycho-education are now a core part of professional legal development and not just something to be called upon in an emergency. This creates a real openness to seeking professional support and also encourages trainees to support each other during the long journey of professional life.

In order to attract and maintain talent, the leadership in law firms are learning the business value in prioritising wellbeing at a senior level. Through training, supporting and mentoring, junior staff are more likely to progress and develop a sense of belonging to their firms. Staff who are encouraged by firms to work healthy hours, keep track of their workloads and take all their holiday entitlement are more engaged and willing to forgive less negotiable aspects of professional life.

Looking after the mental health and wellbeing of our young lawyers is increasingly becoming a priority for everyone in the legal community. We need to see a continued change in culture within law firms so we can talk freely about the stresses and strains of working in the law and learn from each other about how to overcome difficult situations.

More information

Visit the LawCare website or read the Autumn edition of LawCare News for more information. If you need to talk, call the LawCare helpline on 1800 991 801.

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This article originally appeared in the October 2018 Member eZine. For more information, and to subscribe, see eNewsletters.