Life in the law can be tough. At LawCare, the mental health charity for lawyers, we’ve seen first hand the effects long hours, high billing targets, and a competitive work environment can have on lawyers, many of whom become stressed. We’ve been supporting lawyers for 20 years and every year we receive hundreds of calls to our helpline from lawyers who are struggling with the pressures of work.
In addition to this we often see certain personality traits in lawyers: an analytical mind, impatience, extremely driven, perfectionism, a constant feeling a sense of urgency, and overly self-critical. These can all be very useful in the workplace but destructive in your private life. Often lawyers find it hard to admit they are having a difficult time and not coping for fear of showing weakness or losing face at work.
Depression, anxiety and stress are now the leading cause of sickness absence at work costing the UK economy over £70bn per year. Lawyers were found to be the third most stressed profession in a Health & Safety Executive study. It is important that both firms and individuals take action to manage stress before it becomes too much to deal with. Stress is a normal response to a demanding work environment but chronic stress increases the risk of addictive and damaging behaviour, of developing anxiety, depression and other mental and physical health problems.
TIPS FOR LOOKING AFTER YOURSELF
Life in the law can be tough. We receive hundreds of calls every year from lawyers who are feeling stressed and struggling with the pressures of workIn our experience, many lawyers are not great at self-care. Looking after yourself and listening to what your body and mind are telling you is important in making you a stronger and more resilient person. You cannot successfully maintain a life wholly focused on work. If you are in good mental and physical health you will perform better at work and you will also reduce your risk of becoming stressed.
If you’re feeling stressed then try working through this list.
- What is the worst thing that could happen if I didn’t do this?
- Will this still matter next month?
- Would I feel better about this if I broke it down into smaller sections and tackled it a piece at a time?
- Must this be done now, or can I delay it until I am feeling better about it?
- Can I pass this on to someone else?
- Am I trying to do too many things at once?
- Would talking to someone about this make me feel better?
- Do I need a holiday/good night’s sleep before I tackle this?
Looking after yourself and listening to what your body and mind are telling you is vital in making you a stronger and more resilient person. Here are some tips for self-care which can help prevent stress from occurring:
Find a physical activity you enjoy and make it part of your life.
Take a Break
Use your lunchbreak to get away from your desk. Ploughing on when you need a break is counter-productive; step outside, even if for just a few minutes. Take all your annual leave and try to avoid working at weekends.
Get into the practice of quietening the mind at bedtime, having a bedtime routine and trying to keep the time you turn in consistent.
Eating a balanced diet improves wellbeing. If you’re busy at work, buy a nutritious lunch on your way in, keep healthy snacks in your drawer, or set a reminder to go out for lunch.
Drink in moderation
Stay within the recommended alcohol limits: heavy drinking affects brain function.
Keep in touch
Maintain good relationships with friends, family and your wider community: strong connections can help you to feel happier
Share how you feel
Talk about your feelings. You may be surprised how many people have felt the same.
Mindfulness can help you focus on the present and reduce stress and tension. It’s fantastic for lawyers who can find it difficult to switch off.
It has been proven that giving – time or money – can make you feel valued and give you a sense of purpose
Ask for help
Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness. The LawCare confidential helpline on 0800 279 6888 is a safe place to talk without judgement and is open 365 days a year. With calls answered by trained staff and volunteers who have first-hand experience of working in the law, we’re here to listen and help you work out the next step.
TIPS FOR EMPLOYERS
Firms should encourage staff to work healthy hours and keep track of their workloads. Long hours can lead to stress and reduce staff performance and moral. Sometimes long hours are unavoidable but try to let staff have time off to recover from a busy spell. Encourage staff to take all their holiday and discourage them from working at weekends. Being with friends and family and having the time to pursue the things we enjoy is vital to wellbeing.
Having an open, transparent culture where senior leaders are approachable and talk freely about the stresses and strains of working in the law, and overcoming difficult situations can also help. Some firms nominate wellbeing champions, who are available to talk to staff about anything that is concerning them. It is crucial that these people are senior, visible people in the organisation who can correctly signpost staff in the direction of further support if needed.
LawCare is the charity that promotes and supports good mental health and wellbeing across the legal community in the UK and Ireland. Our confidential helpline – 0800 279 6888 - is a safe place to talk without judgement. We’re here to help 365 days a year, with calls answered by trained staff and volunteers who have first-hand experience of working in the law.
Whether you’re a barrister feeling burnt out, a young trainee experiencing sexual harassment, a student struggling with the workload, an experienced partner worrying about a mistake you’ve made, a senior lawyer feeling like you’re being pushed out - we’re here to listen.
We are here to help all branches of the legal profession and our support spans the legal life from student to training to practice and retirement.
As well as our helpline, we offer one-to-one peer support. For information, resources and factsheets visit www.lawcare.org.uk