In 2009 the number of solicitors on the roll was over 145,000 and record numbers of students signed up to study law. With the profession now more varied and challenging than ever, and the earning potential for a City lawyer opening up tempting lifestyle opportunities, it is little surprise that the profession remains so popular.
But there is another side. The pressures of being a lawyer in the heavily competitive world of today are considerable. The recession has meant that there is less business, and there is a great deal of competition for that business. At an office level, the long-hours culture has reached epidemic proportions, with all-nighters becoming common and colleagues frowning on those who dare to leave for home at their contracted time. The high expectations others have of lawyers, and lawyers have of themselves, carries a huge toll. Redundancy, practises failing and those left having to do more and more work for less and less money add to the burden the profession is carrying.
Nervous breakdowns, alcohol addiction and clinical depression are not just problems which happen to others. LawCare has helped over 4,000 lawyers with problems such as these, which were negatively impacting on their lives and ability to do their jobs.
- 75% complain of suffering from intolerable stress and/or clinical depression, often brought in by the expectations on them or uncertainty about their future careers.
- 15% were finding themselves abusing alcohol, often citing stress early in their career as leading to their alcohol addiction.
- 10% were finding their lives made miserable by bullies; colleagues or superiors who deliberately obstructed them from doing their job, or belittled their abilities and efforts.
These are serious problems; they can potentially spell the end of an otherwise successful career. In some cases, particularly those involving depression and alcohol addiction, the problems can result in loss of career, or belief in the ability to earn a living in the law, or, in the worst case scenario, the suicide of the lawyer.
The solutions to these growing problems lie to some extent with the individual lawyers, but largely with the firms. Ignoring health issues such as these is not good practise for firms and can result in:
- high staff turnover
- high numbers of days lost through sickness (in one CPS region, 44% of sick days were due to stress last year)
- compensation claims, from both clients and staff
- poor morale
- substandard work
- recruitment problems
- negligence claims
- loss of clients
- lower profits
It is important that firms recognise their employees as individuals, with differing skills, strengths and weaknesses, and that they structure the individual lawyer’s workload to play to the strengths and minimise the weaknesses, showing flexibility where necessary. Appropriate training and supervision, especially of newly qualified lawyers, is essential, as are support systems and a culture of fairness and openness.
As part of its brief to provide health support and advice to lawyers, LawCare provides a confidential, freephone helpline, 365 days a year. Through discussion with a client LawCare offers:-
- Identification of a problem
- Non-judgemental support and empathy
- The on-going support of a LawCare volunteer – a fellow lawyer who has suffered from the same or a similar problem,
- Information packs about the illness or impairment (also available on our website for those callers who prefer to remain anonymous)
- Referral to professional Counselling, if necessary
- Referral to other sources of help, such as inpatient treatment, legal advice or financial assistance.
- Ongoing monitoring, support and encouragement.
LawCare’s free and confidential helpline number is 0800 279 6888 and it is open 9 a.m.-7.30 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at weekends and on Bank Holidays. LawCare’s comprehensive website is at www.lawcare.org.uk and you can find a wealth of information on health issues ranging from addiction to eating disorders. Also through the website you can access the LawCare Wellbeing Portal, an online tool to help you monitor, analyse and deal with the stress in your personal and professional lives.
LawCare, a charity funded by all sections of the legal profession, also provides workshops and presentations of varying lengths on subjects such as stress recognition and management, at a firm’s premises, at a time to suit them. The courses can be tailored to suit different levels of staff, carry CPD points, and are offered free except for expenses, although donations are always welcome. For more information about these presentations call LawCare on 01268 771333.