Mental Health in Law Firms
Lawyers set themselves very high standards. Many are also hypercritical (of themselves and others). They think failure “would be the end of my career”.
With a constant focus on billable hours, and remuneration, law firms are competitive places. Many lawyers, striving always to achieve more, neglect their well-being.
In a 2019 survey of 1,801 lawyers, the Law Society found that 38 per cent did not know where they could seek help to discuss stress or mental ill-health at work.*
It’s a fact that people who don’t believe they can share their struggles take their own lives. In the UK, that happens every 90 minutes.
*Source: Resilience and Wellbeing Survey, Law Society
In 2019, the Law Society asked 1,801 lawyers about their mental health. More than 19 per cent said they had “regularly” felt unable to cope in the previous month as a result of stress at work.
- One in 16 had experienced suicidal thoughts
- One in 10 took time off
- One in three looked for a new job*
Stress and poor mental health costs businesses in the UK between £33bn and £42bn a year – in reduced productivity, high turnover and sickness absence.
That’s £1,205-£1,560 for every UK employee**.
Employees are more likely to continue working with poor mental health than with poor physical health. Many won’t share their struggle. Men often find this harder than women.
It’s not just the ill person who needs help. Often, partners and families suffer too. Many feel lost, and eventually become ill themselves.
The best way to open up a general conversation about mental health at work is to hear from somebody willing to share their experience.
Ideally, that includes internal speakers – the best role models. But they’re unlikely to share as openly as a speaker from outside.
That’s where I come in.
Typically, law firms ask me to speak at lunchtime, to lawyers and non-lawyers together.
I usually speak for 60 minutes, including Q&A, and structure my talk by showing drawings I made while I was in psychiatric hospital, and afterwards.
I’m not an academic, or a mental health professional. I’m somebody who has been through a lot – and that’s what I talk about.
As you can see on my Talks and Workshops page, I adjust my talks and sessions to meet the needs of the organisation I’m working with. If you have further questions, just ask.
I’m not a lawyer, but I understand the sector, having worked for several years on Legal Business magazine and the Legal 500 directory.
I spoke every week to managing partners and others at the largest and most successful firms in the UK.
Later, as a journalist for The Financial Times and The Times, I interviewed many leading silks, as well as law lords and the Lord Chancellor.
Oh, and my mother worked as a lawyer. I spent a good number of days under her desk, during school holidays, soaking up the general atmosphere.
Most of my talks to lawyers have been addressed to a large group of people in the same room as me and a number of others watching by video link.
I take care, in such cases, to include remote viewers as much as possible, ideally asking them for some kind of response occasionally, even if only a show of hands.
Since lockdown in 2020, I’ve been doing the talks entirely online.
Online talks FAQ
Some things people ask
Several people have asked questions about this. As follows:
- If I know I am at risk of having a breakdown (i.e. having dark thoughts etc.), what should I do to avoid it?
- What is the best way I could help someone who I can see is having a tough time, or potentially is at risk of a breakdown?
- What stopped you asking for help?
- Did seeing your loved ones get upset about you encourage you to address your concerns, or not?
- What was the best thing friends or family or colleagues said to encourage you to explain how you felt, or what you were experiencing?
- What should people not say – what words were not helpful?
- Where can people seek help if they are worried about someone?
- Is there a useful distinction to be made between how men and women experience breakdown, both as ill person and caring observer?
If you have a question you’d like me to answer, please put it below!
Might seem obvious, but still…
Somebody asked me that. Here are my thoughts.
1. This could save lives. Every few days, in psychiatric hospital, somebody new joined our group therapy sessions who had tried to end it all the previous day. And these were the “lucky” ones who’d failed.
2. I don’t think of this as being one-way. I prefer dialogue, and the online format should enable participants to ask questions/ make comments they might not ask in front of colleagues at work, or in a shared room. That includes finding out at the very beginning what you are actually looking to get out of it. I’ll adjust accordingly.
3. I’ll talk about what led up to my breakdown, and how (if at all) it might have been avoided.
4. I’ll also talk about what happens after. It’s not like you come out of hospital and everything’s fine. My toughest times were the months after hospital. I’ll tell you how I wobbled and what I did to consolidate my recovery.
5. When I share this material live and in person, there are moments when the room shares laughter and other moments when a few individuals cry. What I share is raw and personal. It’s exhausting. I only want people to attend who are VERY interested – almost or actually desperate, about themselves or others.
6. If you aren’t satisfied, I’ll refund your fee. (You don’t need to explain why you aren’t satisfied – though of course it would help me if you choose to do so.)