It was recently National Stress Awareness Day, which is the first Wednesday in November every year. Law is a famously stressful career to pursue, but does the legal sector need to take stress in the workforce more seriously?
It's possible that lawyers are particularly prone to stress. Perfectionist tendencies in a pressurised environment dealing with demanding clients is in a many ways a perfect storm for a stressful working life.
Interestingly, according to mental health care charity Mind, there is no medical definition of stress, and there is debate among medical professionals over whether stress is the cause of problems or the result of them. There is however agreement on what people struggling with feeling overwhelmed should work on:
- Managing external pressures so that stressful situations occur less often.
- Developing emotional resilience so you are better able to cope with difficult situations when they do occur.
However, this burden should not just fall to the individual. Ordering a junior lawyer to become better at managing external pressures and be more resilient is unlikely to be very helpful in practice.
Law firms, particularly leading firms, are known for long working hours and competitive internal atmospheres, where pressure to meet deadlines and client expectations can make it difficult to speak up if a lawyer is feeling overloaded or making mistakes. Whilst the demands of the job are unlikely to change, firms should consider whether they can do more on a structural level to support their employees. Lawyers are a law firm's greatest assets, so cultivating an environment where they feel supported and able to seek help when needed is a worthwhile investment.
LawCare, a charity working to support and promote good mental health and wellbeing in the legal community reports that stress was the most common reason for calls to their helpline in 2017, comprising 27% of all calls.
LawCare said in a statement this week that "mental health in the legal workplace is a leadership responsibility. [...] We need to take a careful look at how we educate and train lawyers about mental health and wellbeing and prepare them for practice, every lawyer coming into the profession should understand that there may be a time in their career when they may struggle and know where to get help. We need to pay particular attention to the needs of junior lawyers for supervision and support with making the transition into practice."