By: 20 May 2024
The importance of looking after your mental health in law

Katy is a chartered legal executive, who joined the Fletchers Group in 2017 and currently holds the role of associate/team leader. She is also one of Fletchers Group’s mental health champions. 

 

Lawyers come in all shapes and sizes.  Whether your specialist area is family law, criminal law or civil litigation, the common denominator amongst legal professionals is the stress of the roll. Our cases are often highly emotive and driven by deadlines.  

Research by LawCare suggested that legal professionals were at a high risk of burnout, with 69% of lawyers having reported poor mental health within the last 12 months, at the time of the study.   

So, how can we look after ourselves whilst doing a good job for our clients?  

From my own experience, I have come to realise that my chosen career in law, whilst rewarding, is inherently stressful.  

Initially, I questioned how my peers managed their roles with such apparent ease and envied their ability to be cool under pressure.  My light bulb moment was when I realised that they, too, were stressed, but had employed good coping mechanisms. I set about exploring how to adopt their ability to cope.  

 

Managing stress 

When I moved to my current firm, Fletchers Solicitors, in 2017, I realised that it would greatly help me to set myself some boundaries and not hide behind the brick walls that I was building for myself previously.  

I began to set realistic targets for the day and I ensured that I had a healthy work/life balance.  

This involved taking small steps such as: 

  • Trying to work within core hours. Yes, there are always going to be occasions where a late-night shift is needed to deal with a pressing deadline, but it’s important to not make late nights part of our normal working week.  
  • Acknowledging that us lawyers are human beings too and we need to look after ourselves.  
  • Taking that all-important lunch break, even if I was working remotely.  It’s essential to open the door and windows, get some fresh air and just take the time to prepare some lunch.  I found that I had a much more productive afternoon after stepping away from the desk, even if it was just for 20 minutes. 

Within my current firm, Fletchers Solicitors, we have created a group of ‘mental health champions’.  These are volunteers who can offer a listening ear to struggling colleagues and offer support or signpost to the most appropriate service.  

The mental health champions group was formed in 2018, with a view to working towards challenging the stigma of talking openly about mental health and encouraging positive mental health. 

I became a mental health champion within the firm in the hope that I could encourage openness around mental health and offer support for someone who had been in a similar position to the one I had been in.  I also became a peer supporter for the LawCare Charity for the same reason.  

 

Wellbeing in the workplace 

Many of us now work from home, and the lines between our home and work life have become increasingly blurred. A lack of rest and recovery from being connected at work all the time can lead to exhaustion and burn out, which is why it’s important to take steps to achieve a balance, and to also know when to reach out.  

Be honest.  

Not only with yourself, but with your colleagues. I know that we all have that stock answer when someone asks how you are (usually along the lines of ‘I’m fine’) but just by having the courage to be a little more open about how you are feeling will help to inspire more honest and open conversation between colleagues, and across the business.   

Break the stigma.  

It’s often easy to try and compare ourselves to others, but remember that the people around you are not necessarily coping better. In fact, some simply won’t want to admit that they are struggling as they feel that there is a stigma attached.  

Let’s try and break down that stigma.  

This is only going to happen if more lawyers are open and honest about how we are really feeling.  

Poor mental health is not a sign of weakness.   

Please reach out. 

Law firms now have multiple resources in place, such as employee assistance programs and mental health champions.   

Reach out to your manager or a colleague that you trust, and at the same time, be a good neighbour and look out for others and check in with them too.   

Consider having a chat with your GP or your regional counselling service.   

Finally, you can reach out to LawCare. LawCare is the mental health charity for the legal sector.  They have a tremendous amount of resources and experience and can offer both a helpline and an online chat facility.  They also offer a peer support service, where you can speak with someone who has been in a similar position to you.   

Supporters at LawCare will listen to you without judgement and will provide support to anyone within the legal community.

 

Image: Provided by Fletchers Solicitors/Canva.
Guest Post
This post has been contributed by a guest writer.