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The Wellbeing of Your Law Firm May Need Attention

It’s generally accepted that the legal profession works hard; consistently. Tight deadlines, huge caseloads and out of work hours have always been the accepted norm.

Yet the past few years have seen an explosion in the hours worked by many legal employees as the sector navigated the ups and downs of the pandemic and its concerned client base.

And it is taking its toll.

The Current Mental Health Challenges Legal Employees Are Experiencing

In a recent C.I.P.D. survey, the evidence suggests that the coronavirus pandemic heavily influences employee health and wellbeing.

The virus has and continues to disrupt due to staff absence, and in some cases, employees are suffering the after-effects of contracting the virus from long COVID. Although organisations are still committed to supporting their people, evidence suggests that activity in this area is starting to slip. A more holistic approach – based on the health risks and needs of the workforce – is much needed.

This was also confirmed by a post on Legalcheek at the end of last year that shared research from a Legal Sector Workers United (L.S.W.U.) survey, which reported that 71% of respondents agreed that their role had a negative impact on their mental health with only 14% saying it had a positive effect.

More than half of the respondents had been diagnosed with a specific condition, and almost seven out of ten described themselves as suffering from poor mental health.

The survey of 300 employees, including paralegals, solicitors, barristers, clerks, caseworkers and admin staff.

The main cause of this work-related deterioration in mental health seems to be material conditions in the workplace.

  • 219 people reported struggling to cope with long hours and overwork,
  • 122 cited pay as a key issue,
  • and 113 felt that the relentless pressure to bill and meet targets was a factor.

Shocking stats for all law firms to process, especially when the survey revealed that one in four law firms had no mental health support on offer for staff.

This comment is even more concerning as seven out of ten respondents said they would not feel comfortable asking for time off for mental health reasons and over half commented that disclosing mental health concerns would, in their experience, impede career progression.

It is no wonder that legal professionals are considering the workplace culture of their current firm versus others they could join.

So what can your law firm put in place to improve your legal team’s wellbeing? Here are several ideas.

Assess The Situation in Your Firm

Some of the larger firms we work with conduct a regular employee survey, though historically, asking your team about their wellbeing hasn’t been included.

Consider the nature of the questions you ask employees, and take proactive measures to ensure that respondents are safe from identification. Attempting to measure mental health and stigma in highly challenging environments like an overworked law firm may also skew results so that they are not representative of true employee sentiments.

This is stage one, as it is critical to know what you are dealing with first before you can implement a process to make a difference across your firm

Have Mental Health on Your Agenda

As in all areas of business, if you want an area to change, you must give it focus. I am sure your law firm has a business growth plan and ideas on succession planning, and you may be working with someone like ourselves on building your legal talent pipeline.

Your leadership team will have a strategic plan on how to take the firm forward, and in today’s business landscape, part of that needs to include looking after the wellbeing of your team.

As a first start, you can find some excellent resources on the Mental Health Foundation website here. In addition, assign a partner to the role of mental health lead in your firm. Consider engaging the help of external suppliers to help you implement an Employee Assistance Programme (E.A.P.) which is one part of a wellbeing solution.

E.A.P.s are intended to help employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance, health and wellbeing. E.A.P.s generally include assessment, short-term counselling and referral services for employees and their immediate family – wherever they are in the world.

Support Managers To Coach and Lead Their Team

An easy start to improving wellbeing is to instil a coaching culture in your firm aligned with external training on mental health and wellbeing. As a manager trained in wellbeing, you can make a huge difference to your team.

Honest and open communication during regular catch-ups with your team members can help identify struggling people.

We know one law firm uses a traffic light system during conversations with green when everything is ok, amber when a few cracks appear that require help, and naturally, red for an extreme case and that individual needs support. The wellbeing plan has created multiple resources we can all now access to improve our mental health, so finally, I want to share a few examples.

 Provide Support Resources For Your Team

The way we think and listen to our thoughts can cause us to spiral out of control. It is no wonder that working with a coach proves to be a valuable support mechanism for many.

One firm we know utilises the help of an external coach, with team members having the ability to book sessions to help them navigate any stress they are experiencing.

Many of us accept that we lead busy lives, and the ability to handle overwhelm and calm can be facilitated in many ways.

Though it sounds counter-intuitive, there are several online apps that many individuals use with great success. The aptly named Headspace and Calm apps have over a hundred million users and provide access to multiple resources.

Develop Your Action Plan

Finally, improving the well being of your team is about taking action. We have shared several ideas and resources here.

In addition, the way many people worked remotely during the pandemic helped their work-life balance and wellbeing. We have written posts about the value of hybrid working here and, most recently, the move to a four-day working week here.

All of these ideas can be used to help your team improve their well being – although obviously need to be carefully considered alongside business strategy and key objectives.

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Posted By

Lynn Sedgwick

Managing Director

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International Women’s Day – Why it’s time for women to shine in law

  • March 1, 2018

As we all know, the legal profession has historically been male dominated, perhaps more so than almost any other. However, times are changing – not just in law, but across the board – and women are now getting the same opportunities that were once almost entirely reserved for men. Theresa May is Prime Minister, Cressida Dick is the head of the Metropolitan Police, and Angela Merkel has been heading up Europe for a number of years.

Within law, things are also changing. Baroness Hale, the Supreme Court Deputy President – is expected to replace the retiring Lord Neuberger who steps down at the end of next year. She has already become the UK’s first female Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and is currently the only female justice of the Supreme Court.

In addition, Lady Macur is lined up as the next Lord Chief Justice and will become England’s most senior judge when Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd also retires in 2017. And it’s likely that this won’t be the end of women being promoted to greater positions of power within the UK legal arena. We’ve written before about the rise of flexible working in law over recent years and the introduction of this way of working to the Supreme Court is likely to encourage more women to the posts. And the vacancies will be there to take, as a record six other senior judges are expected to stand down in the next two years as they approach retirement.

Flexible working

 

Flexible working doesn’t just appeal to women of course, but it should help to encourage more mothers of young children, for example, who may have stepped away from full time positions to care for their families. It can also help to improve diversity and therefore business performance if managed in the right way.

As well as the introduction of flexible working, equality law provisions will also come into play, specifically the clause known as ‘the tipping factor’, which allows employers to treat a candidate from an under-represented group more favourably if:

  • Both candidates are “as qualified” as each other
  • The employer selects on merit
  • And taking the action is seen as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Women in the legal profession set to rise

 

All three are likely to apply to the Supreme Court so it’s highly likely that we’ll see even more female professionals join Lady Macur and Baroness Hale at the top table of the legal profession. It appears that it’s not just politics where women are making their mark, but also in law too. Here’s hoping this provides an inspiration to female professionals and the legal firms that embrace diversity and we begin to see greater numbers of women make partner over the coming years.

For more insights from the team take a look at our other blog posts.

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Why every law firm needs to embrace diversity

  • April 24, 2017

Hardly a day seems to go by within the legal profession without some piece of publicity about, or new initiative around, workforce diversity. But while almost everyone would agree that this trend is a good thing and that the profession should offer equal opportunity to all whatever their gender, social background, ethnicity, etc, how many of us really understand that there is also a compelling business case shoring up altruistic motives?

The reason why many of the very largest firms have been devoting so much time, effort and cash to building more diverse workforces is not because they have experienced some unexpected attack of niceness, but because they grasped some while ago that this makes good business sense.

The business case for diversity

In the days when the great majority of customers for legal services were white, middle class males, who had attended similar schools and universities it may have been sensible if many law firm partners looked exactly the same. But the world has changed. And when partners at major firms found themselves in meetings with potential clients from every corner of the globe and from backgrounds as far away from the English private school system as it’s possible to get, they quickly got the message that the cosy, old arrangements of the past might no longer be fit for purpose.

However the business principles behind diversity are not simply the province of the ‘Magic Circle’ and its peers. Firstly, no organisation can genuinely understand and respond to what motivates its customer base unless it mirrors it, at least to some extent. Secondly, diversity is often the source of new and innovativeideas and approaches – something that every firm needs to embrace in this age where traditional ways of operating can be rendered obsolete virtually overnight. And finally, ignoring the potential of diversity and simply recruiting the same people from the same places you always have is transparently self-defeating. The best talent is the best talent, no matter what it looks or sounds like or where it happened to be educated.

Achieving workforce diversity and accessing the commercial benefits that it can bring does not have to be the daunting challenge it is often portrayed as. An open mind and a willingness to look beyond the obvious to what an individual can really offer can achieve an awful lot without any investment in glossy, formal programmes or initiatives. And once the diversity gets started its momentum can end up doing your job for you. As the barrister and diversity campaigner, Miranda Brawn puts it, the key is for individuals from what might be regarded as disadvantaged groups to see role models across the profession in firms of all sizes. Because if they can see people like themselves in senior positions, the brightest and best will do everything they need to do to emulate them. And that can only be good for talented lawyers and the firms that will gain commercial advantage by hiring and developing them.

For more insights from the team take a look at our other blog posts. And if you’d like to discuss your hiring requirement speak to us today.

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