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Is Your Overworked and Stressed Legal Team Damaging Your Firm's Success?

Posted by: Lynn Sedgwick

Workplace stress is damaging to both the health of the individual and their everyday effectiveness in your law firm.

The Law Gazette recently published research indicating that lawyers are the second most stressed professionals in the UK: a whopping 93.5 per cent experience workplace stress and reporting feeling regularly overworked, exhausted and anxious.

93.5%. Just take a moment to let that figure sink in.

Feeling overworked and stressed tires your brain, preventing you from applying 100 per cent to the job in hand – and can eventually damage the success of your law firm.

So, what are the signs to look for, to prevent overwork and stress in your legal team?

In this article, we’ll examine four of the main stressors that can result in poor performance, burn out and damage to the firm’s position and revenue – and how you can combat them.

 

Stress Factor 1: Too Much Work

Problem: Even if you enjoy your legal job, you’re more likely to make mistakes when you’re overly busy or tired. The stress of having more work than you can cope with leads to performance drop-off. We all love to think we can multitask effectively, but research shows conclusively that we are terrible at it.

Low morale is often a tell-tale sign that all is not well with your legal team – overworked employees feeling less engaged and may become withdrawn from their colleagues. 

Additionally, having too many cases on your desk makes it easier to lose sight of the bigger picture. Stress can accelerate at an alarming rate into burn out, as colleagues tear through their to-do lists to accomplish all the tasks that face them.

Solution: Avoiding burn out is paramount for the success of your legal team. Understanding individuals work patterns - such as when their productivity levels are highest, will help you focus on who works best and when.

Additionally, taking regular breaks can help with goal reactivation. So, encourage your team to regularly step away for ten or fifteen minutes and refocus, re-energise and say mindful of their objectives.

Make sure your team are fully trained to cope with the work they are being asked to do – it’s sometimes easy to overlook the fact that team members may be struggling with new duties and procedures.

Finally, I would recommend operating an open-door policy, or at least time when you are available for your team to talk to you about any concerns they have. Support (more on this coming up) is critical in enabling you to keep an overall picture of the mental wellbeing of your legal team, and for them to feel they have the understanding and support of their manager.

 

Stress Factor 2: Long Hours

Problem: In the legal world, professionals often put in long hours: from working late to finish case notes, responding to emails at all hours, and willingly working additional hours over weekends when the need arises – legal professionals are committed to their job.

But are you guilty of developing a culture where this has become the norm in your firm? When Senior Solicitors and Managing Partners put in the hours, additional work often cascades down to junior staff, creating a culture of overwork for everyone.

It’s not uncommon for senior professionals to be driven by ambition, pride, a desire to prove they’re important, or an overdeveloped sense of duty. And while some drivers can be positive, others are not.

Research suggests that more input does not necessarily mean more output.

Studies have found that overwork and the resulting stress can lead to all sorts of health problems including impaired sleep, excessive drinking, depression, heart disease and impaired memory – and while these are disastrous for the individual, they are also terrible for your firm in terms of absenteeism, higher turnover and lower productivity rates.

Solution: Take a step back for a moment and think about your drivers for working longer hours. Are they psychological? Or are they a necessity?

If you can, try to reduce the hours your legal teamwork, so that they can at least go home early on some nights of the week.

Perhaps you need to think about hiring additional employees to ease the strain on your team?

 

Stress Factor 3: Lack of Support

Problem: If your legal team don’t feel supported by Senior Solicitors and Managing Partners, there will be a dive in productivity: fact.

It could be that your team are not enjoying a good office culture with regular and transparent communication on issues.

Lack of support often manifests in a dearth of communication. I often hear candidates complain that the hard work they do disappears into a void with senior colleagues and is never seen again, without explanation.

Holding up the system can cause a real headache for those in your legal team who are eager to progress a case – they want things to move quickly and are motivated to do an excellent job for the client. So, when files become bottlenecked, it can cause stress to those waiting for an answer before they can advance further.

Solution: Check your processes, reflect and evaluate the effectiveness of individual stages – is everyone contributing in a timely fashion or is there a bottleneck? Can processes be made smoother and therefore, quicker to implement? Can you give autonomy in some sectors?

Of course, If everyone involved is critical to the process and working hard, it could be that some things take time and can’t be rushed. In which case, communicate this to your team, so they understand.

 

Stress Factor 4: Employee Turnover

Problem: Does your legal team have a high turnover rate? 

A stressful working environment can result in your law firm having a more difficult time attracting and keeping high-quality talent.

And staff retention problems can quickly impact even the most hard-working legal team. Not only in an increase in workload for individuals who have to cover missing team members, but on the firm itself.

A constant need to hire and train new employees can see your law firm veer away from its mission and vision. This can negatively impact your employer brand in the marketplace if productivity and standards begin to drop, and clients may start to look to other law firms.

Additionally, employee turnover has a direct impact on company revenue and profitability. The time and associated costs of having to seek new employees, interview, review applications, hire and onboard can see your law firms’ turnover rates plummet.

Solution: By retaining employees, law firms can provide a higher calibre team that positively affect the bottom line. Lower turnover rates can be achieved by improving your firm’s company culture; providing training and upskilling opportunities, rewarding employees for good work, offering a clear career pathway and creating a culture of trust.

 

Conclusion

Stress management is necessary to ensure you keep your legal team focused, driven and happy – and your firm profitable. 

If you see signs that your team is faltering under heavy caseloads or other factors that can lead to problems, it’s wise to tackle the situation immediately. By looking at the source of the stress objectively, you can work towards identifying solutions.

Next Steps

If you’re reading this article because you are looking to develop your legal team, call one of the Clayton Legal team on 01772 259 121 and let’s have a conversation to explore your options.

Thanks

Lynn


About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from Partners to Legal Executives, Solicitors to Paralegals and Legal IT Personnel to Practice Managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

If you would like to know more about recruiting trends in the legal sector this year, download our latest guide here.

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