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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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Why Soft Skill Development Will Be A Success Factor In Your Growth This Year

  • March 8, 2022

Last week, I watched an old comedy re-run and interview featuring Joan Rivers, an iconic U.S. comedian.

During the interview, she shared a quote; “life doesn’t get better; you get better”.

Something to consider for lawyers but in a different context; let me explain.

Studying the law and gaining experience to then practice takes years. The shortest possible time is around seven. Unfortunately, it does not stop there to be truly successful in your legal role.

Enter the ability to develop your soft skills.

Soft Skills For Growth

Functional or hard skills are one skill area to develop. Yet, the skills that make the most difference to accelerating your legal career or growing your law firm are the ‘soft skills’ that will help you manage your mind, communicate well consistently, and influence your team to improve their performance.

Here at Clayton Legal, we help our clients craft role descriptions for candidates who are critical for their firm’s growth.

Alongside this, we assist legal candidates in developing their legal careers where we consistently share the softer skills that need to be developed.

Self-Awareness

One of the key challenges when managing and developing a team is a lack of self-awareness from the employee.

You will hear the term emotional intelligence shared in many circles. The term was defined as a person’s ability to manage their feelings and to express those feelings appropriately and effectively.

The original book on this topic is worth getting from Amazon by Daniel Goleman.

Who has not come across a colleague in the practice who has zero idea about their impact on others? Only last week, a paralegal candidate approached us looking for a new role because of the behaviour of a new partner in the firm; yes, managers can lack self-awareness too.

It appears that every morning the manager in question would appear with a sore head, grumbling and snapping at people. The individual had no idea how his behaviour affected the team.

Self-awareness also covers motivation, empathy, self-regulation, and appropriate social skills.

Communication Skills

The legal profession includes people with effective communication skills. Summing up a case or communicating options to a client jargon-free are all expected skills. However, talking over team members in a practice meeting does not demonstrate communication excellence.

A large part of being a great communicator is the ability to listen. We can all tell the difference when someone hears the words you are saying or when they are actively listening.

As an experiment, notice how often people have their phones open during conversations or look over your shoulder at other people and what’s going on when speaking with you; worse, they sit on the edge of their seat waiting to interrupt.

I hope I have not just described you.

Active listeners, meanwhile, pay close attention to meeting presenters, offer up clarifying questions or responses, and refer back to notes in future discussions. They do not need things repeated to them because they heard them the first time, making active listeners respectful legal colleagues.

Openness to Feedback

This might sound like a different soft skill, yet a lack of openness to feedback often indicates an individual stuck in a pattern and unwilling to learn.

The ability to accept developmental feedback is critical for all of us; otherwise, how will we improve? Think about it; constructive feedback will help you do the best job possible when it comes to your legal role, and yet often, people take it personally and react defensively; when this happens, feedback is not heard.

No one is ever perfect, no matter how long they have been in a role. Reflecting on this, when did you last ‘overreact’ to feedback?

Growth Mindset

Having a growth mindset leads on from the ability to accept feedback. Individuals with a growth mindset see feedback as the gift that it is.

Their mind is focused on what is possible rather than what is not. No matter what role, you will encounter roadblocks, disappointments, and other situations that might frustrate you. A soft skill critical to your ability to persevere is having a growth mindset.

Dr Carol Dweck conducted the original work on this several years ago. Her book is well worth reading to identify if you have a growth or fixed mindset.

For instance, someone with a growth mindset who did not achieve their billable target would look at this as an opportunity to double down and focus on what they could do differently in the next quarter.

Whereas someone with a fixed mindset would see this differently, complaining that the target was too high, the clients they were working with were demanding, and the list of complaints goes on.

Adaptability and Flexibility

The last few years have been a challenge for many, yet certain employees have stood out above others; Two words describe them.

Adaptable and Flexible.

No matter your role in your law firm, the ability to adapt to change and a positive, flexible attitude about what is happening never go unnoticed.

Many people have no idea how negative they can be when something does not go their way. Worse still, they become a classic mood hoover.

Fact: Our business landscape is changing, and no matter what role you hold in an organisation, you have to be willing to adapt and change.

In summary, soft skills focus on developing a positive can-do attitude. A well-worn statement, I know, and yet developing abilities like this will help you navigate most things that are thrown your way while making you stand out as a potential new hire for a firm (as well as being areas to focus on if you are indeed in the hiring seat, and looking for a standout candidate to bring on board).

How Can We Help?

Here at Clayton Legal, we have multiple clients looking for skilled and ambitious candidates to join their teams. For a confidential conversation about your legal career goals and your next move, please contact one of our team here.

About Clayton Legal

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

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