Due to the very high levels of stress being reported in the solicitors’ profession in Ireland, the Law Society of Ireland has today launched a new initiative to promote wellbeing among practitioners.
In all, 57% of solicitors have reported ‘very high’ or ‘extreme’ levels of stress in the course of their daily work. This is just one of the findings from independent research, commissioned by the Law Society, which examined the wellbeing of solicitors.
The research was conducted by Psychology at Work in 2018. It reports that Irish solicitors have a lower wellbeing score than the lowest average population score in the EU, and that the main stressors are large workloads, high client expectations, and not having enough time to complete their work, among other findings.
Teri Kelly (Law Society Director of Representation and Member Services) commented: “The evidence shows that this is a global problem; legal professions around the world experience high levels of stress that negatively affect mental health and wellbeing.”
She continued: “It’s important to note that these findings are considered a likely, but not definitive, representation of the membership as a whole. However, paired with the international research available, and some direct feedback from members, we have a strong basis for developing a proactive programme to promote wellbeing among our members.”
The Law Society’s Professional Wellbeing Project is being launched to address the needs identified. It provides practical supports, education and guidance across three pillars:
- Workplace culture,
- Resilience and wellbeing, and
- Emotional and psychological health.
“The Law Society’s Professional Wellbeing Project has been designed to address the specific issues our members have told us they experience in the course of their work as solicitors,” said Ms Kelly.
“It aims to address the current stigma attached to talking about, and seeking help for, stress and mental-health issues.”
The research’s findings are discussed in the Law Society Gazette’s articles ‘Sunshine on a rainy day‘ and ‘Society reaches out to stressed solicitors‘ (October 2019).
Concerns also exist for practitioners who are exposed to distressing material and situations in the course of their work.
Teri Kelly says: “We know that criminal law and family law practitioners, in particular, can be exposed to distressing materials, cases and situations in the course of their work. It’s not hard to imagine the negative impact this can have on solicitors’ wellbeing.
“US research even suggests that lawyers may experience significantly higher levels of vicarious trauma and burn-out than US mental-health clinicians and social-service workers.”
Tools and supports
Some of the key tools and supports that solicitors will be able to access as part of the Law Society’s Professional Wellbeing Project include:
- Regular seminars and continuous professional development training on these issues,
- Mental-health and wellbeing signposts to confidential, independent services and resources where members can seek help and advice,
- An opt-in employee assistance programme, which will be of particular help to sole practitioners and solicitors in smaller firms,
- An annual conference on the business of wellbeing,
- Best practice guidelines for firms on wellbeing,
- A ‘Peer Support Network’ pilot, and
- Collaborations with mental-health and wellbeing organisations.
Kelly concludes: “We know that our members want to be there for each other in a real and effective way: solicitors want to know more about how to support colleagues who are experiencing distress or stress.
“The Professional Wellbeing Project, along with the existing supports already in place for trainee solicitors via the Law School’s psychological services, aim to meet these needs in an effective, modern and evolving way.”