Mental health, wellbeing & stress in the legal profession

I suffer from mental illness. I’m also an extremely successful lawyer. - Ian Jones

We all know what the legal industry is like. There are long hours with extremely tight deadlines. The culture of perfection is overwhelming - it’s baked into the training for lawyers to be ultra-focused and on the top of their game. But what does that look like for the people working in the profession?

The high-pressured nature of the legal profession is synonymous with stress and burn out. Mental wellbeing is rarely at the top of the agenda. However, if Covid-19 has reinforced anything it’s the importance of wellbeing and a healthy work-life balance. In light of Stress Awareness Month, here are some of the key takeaways from our Mental Health Playlist on ways we can deal with mental health, wellbeing and stress in the legal profession.

This article features insights from:

  • Mental Health & The Law with Ian Jones
  • Wellbeing & Mental Health with Zoe Head-Rapson), Nancy Scott and Phillip Norah
  • Wellbeing & Mindful Business in Legal with David McCahon
  • Staying Sane with Karen Glass, Claire Carless, Ed Goold
  • P is for Psychological Safety with Dominique Ashby

[Related content: Mental Health - a playlist curated by Crafty Counsel]

1. Ask people what THEY need: As someone with mental health issues, Ian Jones reminds us that people are individuals so don’t generalise. Everyone will have different needs when it comes to managing their illness or looking after their wellbeing. So ask them.

2. Champions at a senior level: Leaders championing mental health and wellbeing is vital. With someone more senior speaking up for these issues and sharing their experiences, it allows people to feel more comfortable talking and makes the conversation more dynamic.

Looking after yourself at work? It’s about looking after yourself full stop. - Claire Carless

3. Perspective is everything: Everyone has different ways to do it, but learn how to put the bad days into context and don’t beat yourself up over the things that didn’t go right. If you’re getting too wrapped up in your work, or taking it home with you then recognise it and find a way to shake yourself out of the ultra-focused tunnel vision that lawyers can find themselves in.

4. Set yourself boundaries: Being highly organised and good project managers means that lawyers often absorb a lot of work outside of the framework of a legal role. Part of the challenge to maintaining a healthy state of wellbeing is knowing when to say no. Set boundaries within reason to protect your wellbeing.

We’re not saying that there won’t be long hours and all-nighters, but where we can take stress out of the system, that’s where we should put our effort. - David McCahon

5. A culture of psychological safety: Making sure your workplace feels psychologically safe is incredibly important for wellbeing - as well as having direct benefit to the business. Adopt a culture, leadership style and HR process where people can speak up with ideas, questions, mistakes or concerns.

6. Take time to disconnect: Make sure that work is part of your life, not the entirety of it. Having external interests or fulfilment that are just as important stop work from becoming your main focus. By maintaining this ‘work-life balance’ allows you to disconnect from work and manage stress so you can come back to do better work.

In an industry with perfectionism and focus at the core, it is easy to find yourself burnt out or even damaging your mental health. It isn’t easy to stand up and prioritise your mental wellbeing, but as Karen Glass says, ‘It’s important to protect yourself… because nobody else will.’

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