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Society reaches out

04 Oct 2019 / Wellbeing Print

Society reaches out to stressed solicitors

While it is immensely rewarding, working as a solicitor isn’t easy.

In research commissioned by the Law Society, you told us about the pressure of work deadlines, client demands, billable hours’ targets and keeping up with the ever-increasing complexity of legal practice. Some of you described working in toxic workplaces.

Sometimes you struggle to balance work stresses with the needs of your family or other demands in your life.

As you work to serve your clients, sometimes you can take on their problems as your own. Experiencing traumatic events is not uncommon in the course of your work, especially in family and criminal law practice.

Stress around the world

There is evidence that legal professions around the world experience high levels of stress that negatively affect practitioners’ mental health and wellbeing. Immediate past-president Michael Quinlan suspected that solicitors in Ireland were also suffering.

Michael thought Irish solicitors owed themselves a duty of care to look after themselves emotionally and psychologically. This is why he initiated a project for the Law Society to increase its supports of the mental health and wellbeing of the profession.

In 2018, the Society asked Psychology at Work, an independent consultancy firm, to carry out a study on indicative levels of stress and wellbeing within the solicitors’ profession, and on how current mental-health supports being offered to Law Society members are perceived.

Disappointingly – but not surprisingly – the study concluded that Law Society members experience high levels of stress that has a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

Low wellbeing score

It also revealed that, according to the WHO-5 Well-being Index, solicitors in Ireland have a lower wellbeing score than the lowest average population score in the EU.

What the study also showed, however, is that solicitors want to know more about how to support colleagues who are experiencing stress or distress, or are in suicidal crisis. It affirmed that we want to be there for one another.

We understand that building a community and network of solicitors who are compassionate, who can notice when someone is in distress, and who can be vulnerable and imperfect around each other is human, and gives us all a sense of wellbeing.

Promoting professional wellbeing

In the study, 94% of you told us that you believe the Law Society should be actively engaged in promoting professional wellbeing among solicitors, as well as suicide-prevention measures.

Currently, the Society supports well-being services for members, including LawCare (a mental health and wellbeing helpline and website) and Consult a Colleague (a professional practice helpline). These services are run independently of the Law Society under rules of total confidentiality.

Following the findings of Psychology at Work, the Law Society will be doing more to help you by providing access to supports, guidance, and education on professional wellbeing.

It is important to note that services will not be provided directly by the Society. Instead, we will provide signposting to independent services, which will always adhere to total confidentiality.

Wellbeing Project

The Law Society has initiated a Professional Wellbeing Project to provide these practical supports, education, and guidance across three pillars: workplace culture, resilience and wellbeing, and emotional and psychological health.

The project also aims to address stigma in the profession about talking about and seeking help in relation to these issues.

The project is getting underway now. Some of the supports you can expect to see in the course of the coming months include:

  • Regular articles in the Gazette, eZine and on the online Professional Wellbeing Hub about mental health and professional wellbeing topics,
  • Mental health and wellbeing signposts for members where they can seek help,
  • Regular seminars and CPD training on these issues,
  • Launch of an opt-in Employee Assistance Programme, which will be of particular help to our sole-practitioner and smaller-firm members,
  • Mental Health First Aid training information and guidance (see Society champions mental-health and wellbeing training),
  • An annual conference on ‘the business of wellbeing’ (the first of these is planned for April 2020),
  • Best-practice mental health guidelines for firms, which will be available on the Professional Wellbeing Hub (see panel),
  • A Peer Support Network, providing a space for confidentiality, trust, and reflection in the profession will be piloted,
  • Guidance on executive coaching and direction for members where they can access services,
  • Collaboration with mental-health and wellbeing organisations – including Critical Incident Stress Management Network Ireland, Mental Health First Aid, and National Suicide Prevention Ireland – to understand how they can help members.

A learning curve

You can expect to read about many professional well-being subjects on this site, as well as across other Law Society communications. Some topics you can expect to learn more about include:

  • The business benefits of supporting your staff’s mental health and wellbeing,
  • Employers’ legal obligations to provide psychologically safe workplaces, and the benefits of employee assistance programmes,
  • How to recognise and prevent bullying behaviour in ourselves, our colleagues, and our staff,
  • The business damage caused by hostile and aggressive work environments,
  • The benefits of peer support and how to establish supportive peer relationships for yourself and for your staff,
  • How to establish suicide-safe systems in your workplace,
  • Addiction,
  • The psychology of perfectionism and imposter syndrome,
  • The psychology of belonging and how it affects performance at work,
  • Skills for responding appropriately to distressed and/or vulnerable clients, and
  • How to prevent burn-out in ourselves, our colleagues, and our staff.

We want to hear what you think about what is planned for the Professional Wellbeing Project.

Any questions?

If you would like to get in touch about this article, or have any questions on what the Law Society is planning on wellbeing and mental health for the solicitors’ profession, please contact professionalwellbeing@lawsociety.ie.

If this article has brought up any personal issues or concerns for you, please visit the Professional Wellbeing Hub (see panel, below) to find a list of independent services you can connect with.

Teri Kelly
Teri Kelly is Director of Representation and Member Services at the Law Society