Lawyers are hard-working, competent, knowledgeable, and take great professional pride in serving the best interests of their clients.
As solicitors, they adhere to a strict code of conduct, where honesty is paramount – however being human, mistakes happen -- and lawyers are no exception.
LawCare (the emotional support charity for lawyers) believes that the danger is greater in a toxic work culture, which can affect mental health and, in turn, lead to poor decision-making, mistakes and dishonesty.
While individual lawyers have a duty to their firms and clients to act with integrity, firms also have a responsibility to ensure that their employees are supervised and supported to be honest, and to admit any mistakes they have made.
On ‘Time to Talk Day’, which falls tomorrow 12 April in Ireland, LawCare is encouraging firms to examine whether their workplace culture looks after staff and encourages people to speak up.
Lawyers who call the charity’s confidential helpline often include solicitors who have been working evenings and weekends for months at a time.
Many of them have caseloads that are overwhelming. Sometimes these solicitors are being bullied by a co-worker or manager and are not being adequately supervised. These working conditions can quickly lead to stress.
Stress contributes to raised levels of cortisol and other hormones, which negatively affect the brain’s ability to function and process information.
Lawyers experiencing stress, anxiety or depression can find it difficult to concentrate, pay attention to detail, or interact with colleagues.
Judgment and decision-making skills are often affected, as is the ability to manage time effectively. This, in turn, can impact on competence, leading to mistakes being made.
Lawyers tend to be perfectionists and find it very hard to admit when they make mistakes.
It is inevitable that some lawyers will make a significant mistake, or will be the subject of a complaint at some point during their careers. Just acknowledging this at a senior level, and communicating it to staff, can make a difference.
Senior managers should consider sharing with staff the mistakes they’ve made -- and how they put them right.
Colleagues should be encouraged to treat each other with respect – employees will be much more likely to admit a mistake if they feel able to talk to their manager.
Providing mental-health training for all staff so they are aware about what to look out for in colleagues, and how to support them, will also help promote a culture in firms that encourages open discussions about the pressures of life in the law.
If you need support, call LawCare in confidence at 1800 991 801; or visit www.lawcare.ie.