Legal practice is a demanding profession. It requires extremely long working hours, large workloads, and often unrelenting client requirements. The increased accessibility facilitated by new technology development further intensifies workplace stress among lawyers. Stress, emotional, and physical exhaustion, as a result, causes burnout, adversely contribute to anxiety and mental health issues. Awareness around mental health has therefore increased dramatically within the legal industry in recent years.
In UK, the Health and Safety Executive’s study in 2017 ranked the legal profession fourth in the list of UK’s most stressful jobs. The charity LawCare cites a growing number of calls to its helpline (2017’s figure 11% rise compared to 2016), and it is showing no sight of abating. In response to alarming trends, the Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce was launched in partnership with other legal organizations, including the Bar Council, CILEx Regulation, LawCare, and BPP to promote and support mental health and well-being in the legal community.
Similarly, the American Bar Association commissioned a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being and completed a report on “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change” in August 2017 with comprehensive set of recommendations on how to promote the well-being of lawyers for different stakeholders from regulators, law firms, professional indemnity insures.
In Singapore, the Law Society of Singapore administers a confidential counselling service in conjunction with the Singapore Care and Counselling Centre where members may seek advice and counselling from a qualified counsellor.
In Hong Kong, we take a moderate approach in raising lawyers’ awareness of well-being through a framework for lawyers to participate in different kinds of sports, recreational and social activities so that they can connect with a similar professional background, common interests, and mental issues in a stress-free environment.
Law firms have taken progressive initiatives to increase the awareness around the mental health issues and provide essential on-site support for employees. Examples include Dechert and Slaughter and May introducing mental health training for their employees, and Taylor Wessing became the first UK law firm to offer its employees free access to one of the best-known mental wellbeing apps, Headspace. In another positive step, in tackling the stigma around mental health in the legal industry, 10 UK’s top law firm and 3 UK’s biggest banks came together in 2018 to form an “unprecedented alliance” and to author the Mindful Business Charter addressing avoidable working practices that can cause mental health problems and wellbeing issues for employees.
The initiatives are encouraging and reflect the legal industry taking the mental health and wellbeing of its employees seriously. Some progress has been made, but a highly charged, pressurized industry, changing corporate culture, will come with inevitable challenges. However, throughout the industry, there is a growing pressure to make positive change and it is great to see a number of firms introducing well-being programs, as listed below.
|Allen & Overy:||Minds Matter programme|
|Dechert:||Mental Health Champions and Mental Health First Aiders|
|DLA Piper:||Mental health report|
|Eversheds Sutherland:||Mental health and work training course|
|Mental Health First Aid Programme|
|Herbert Smith Freehills:||Mental Health Mentoring Programme|
|King & Wood Mallesons:||Health and Wellbeing Initiatives|
|Kirkland:||Kirkland Wellbeing Program|
|Linklaters:||Good Health and Wellbeing Initiatives|
|Slaughter and May:||Thrive – Mental Health and Wellbeing Network|
Key Contributor: Fai Choi
Researcher: Agnes She