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‘Unrelenting pressure and unrealistic expectations’

11 Mar 2024 / law society Print

‘Unrelenting pressure and unrealistic expectations’

Law Society head of psychological services Antoinette Moriarty has said that lawyers are searching for a healthier work culture that allows them to practise optimally, without doing serious harm to their personal wellbeing.  

Speaking to the Business Post on 10 March, Moriarty said that, of 2,200 lawyers surveyed by the Law Society last year, 80% described mental health issues as either ‘extremely challenging’ or ‘challenging’. 

Moriarty said the Law Society was aware of acute distress levels in the profession, and that research it had commissioned clearly demonstrated the complexity and structural nature of the ‘pain points’. 

As a psychotherapist, Moriarty has heard at first-hand of work stress that could be caused by unrelenting pressure and unrealistic expectations. 


For many solicitors, the long road to career success is an exhausting one. Success, once achieved, may be devoid of substantial meaning, she said. 

Antoinette Moriarty explained that her current role was focused on creating structural change within the profession, to move away from personalising vulnerability or a culture of staying quiet about the mental-health toll, and towards a more open, refreshed work culture. 

The Law Society has recently beefed-up its mental-health offering, with free or subsidised psychotherapy now available to all members. 

The uptake has been high and the offering “extremely well received", Moriarty told the Business Post

The Law Society also has a 50% take-up on its counselling service for trainee solicitors attending the Professional Practice Course at the Law School. 

Cultural elements

Law firms are now more engaged with the cultural elements of poor mental-health levels among lawyers and are proactively engaging with Law Society Psychological Services for support with how to usefully tackle them, the head of psychological services added. 

Her comments followed the death of an England-and-Wales lawyer Vanessa Ford, a 47-year-old mother of two, who died in tragic circumstances last year. 

The late Vanessa Ford was found, in a recently published coroner’s report, to have allowed herself to drop on to railway tracks after consuming a “significant” amount of alcohol. 

She had been working 18-hour days on the sale of Everton Football Club. 

Vanessa’s husband Oliver described to the coroner how the Everton deal had been “all consuming”, and that she had intense guilt over missing family time as work on the deal intensified. 

'Work above everything else'

A colleague told the coroner that Ford had never complained about stress at work, a detail that onlookers found unsurprising, given the legal work culture of placing work above everything else and never ever complaining. 

Moriarty said it is acknowledged that law firms can be both conservative and competitive, but there is a change in priorities emerging among upcoming leaders. 

“There’s a push against it and it’s getting stronger,” she told the Business Post. 

Many solicitors describe enjoying their work while disliking a workplace culture of relentless demands, with no room for reprieve or displays of vulnerability. 

Senior lawyers described to the Business Post the “career-limiting” impact of any decision to speak out about mental-health challenges. 

After the late Vanessa Ford’s inquest, Pinsent Masons’ managing partner Laura Cameron said the firm would seek “positive and lasting change”, to support staff, especially working parents. 

“Across the legal industry – and more generally in society – a stigma around mental health persists and this is challenging to address,” she said. 

Some lawyers told the Business Post that, in certain firms, only staff deemed to be a “cultural fit”, were promoted, causing an overload of identical personalities, with detrimental results. 


Anything less than unwavering loyalty was also regarded as a sign of weakness, others said. 

A 2020 International Bar Association report found that mental-health issues carried a stigma, and nearly half of those legal professionals surveyed spoke of a fear of career damage from speaking out.

Law Society Psychological Services is on a mission to change that.  

A new Law Society of Ireland partnership with RDJ, which has 270 lawyers in Cork, Dublin, and Galway, will involve an analysis of the firm and an organisational report. Moriarty said she hopes the move will soon become the norm among other firms. 

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