The legal profession and wellbeing
Life in the law can be challenging and sometimes things can get on top of you. At LawCare we have been providing emotional support to legal professionals for over 20 years through our free, confidential support service. We have visited hundreds of legal workplaces and we have listened to thousands of people in the legal community tell us about the stress, anxiety and depression they are experiencing which is often caused or exacerbated by a difficult working environment. Lack of support or supervision, an overly critical manager, being undermined after a career break, an unreasonably heavy workload, long hours and sleep deprivation are all very common issues. In addition the type of person that often goes into the law often has traits which can hamper wellbeing. They usually have high expectations of themselves and what they want to achieve in life with perfectionist tendencies, which means they find it hard to say no to people and any bump in the road can be tough to manage. They find it difficult to ask for help, believing they should be self-sufficient.
How to tell there is a problem
Sometimes it can be hard to tell there is a problem. Stress tends to build incrementally and you may have got so used to working at a certain pace or feeling a certain way that you don’t realise you need help. Some lawyers are existing in a near constant state of chronic stress, which can lead to burn out. As one caller told us “It just feels like everything is too much at the moment. Like everything is falling apart. I can’t sleep and I’m having panic attacks.” It’s important to note that stress is unlikely to just go away on its own -you must seek help and make changes to address it.
Here are some things to watch out for:
• Lethargy, sleep problems
• Panic attacks
• Aches and pains
• Poor concentration, memory and motivation
• Withdrawal – cancelling plans, loss of interest
• Deterioration in relationships
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Inability to switch off
How LawCare can help
If you’re struggling the most important thing is to talk about how you are feeling – you’d be surprised how much better you will feel from just offloading. We all know the phrases ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ or ‘it’s good to talk’ but the benefits in talking about how you are feeling go far beyond this. When we are in a difficult situation we lose our problem-solving abilities, it can be impossible to focus and it can seem overwhelming to choose what action to take. Sometimes a listening ear and a nudge in the right direction is all we need to move on. Social and emotional support and the role of individuals, families and communities in delivering this are vital to managing wellbeing. We all need someone to talk to about personal matters without judgement and in confidence. To listen to us and offer help when things get on top of us.
For some it’s not as easy as talking to a friend or family member. Perhaps we don’t want to worry them. Maybe they have their own problems going on. We might not have spoken to them in a while because we’ve been so busy at work. We may feel they won’t understand, or feel afraid to unburden ourselves or let go in front of them. Some of us just don’t have people we can turn to in difficult times for a variety of reasons. At LawCare we offer a free and confidential emotional support service, a safe place to talk without judgement with calls, webchats and emails answered by trained staff and volunteers who have first-hand experience of working in the law. We understand life in the law and all it’s challenges - this is what makes our support service unique, you will be talking to a one of your peers in the profession. Our team are not counsellors and they can’t provide people with solutions to their problems but they have been specifically selected and trained in listening skills and are empathetic and non-judgemental.
Most legal professionals find that one or two conversations with our support service are enough to help them move forward and have clarity about what to do next. We will often signpost callers to various organisations who can help with particurlar issues, assist with accessing further support or suggest next steps such as how to broach a conversation with your manager for example. Studies on peer support show that it helps people feel more knowledgeable, confident, happy, and less isolated and alone. A lawyer recently said to us “I was feeling very bad and you helped me. LawCare has already made me feel less alone."
The most common issues we help with are:
• Relationship problems at work
• Returning to work after illness or a career break
• Worrying if law is the right career for you
• Facing disciplinary proceedings either by your regulator or employer
A network of peer supporters
For callers who have are struggling with a particular, ongoing issue we also have a network of 100 trained volunteer peer supporters, who offer emotional support by telephone over a period of weeks or months. Our supporters all have first hand experience of legal education, training and practice and lived experience of a difficult time in their personal or professional life so are well placed to help other legal professionals. Our peer supporters reflect the diversity of the legal profession across the UK and are drawn from all branches of the legal profession and career stages. They are from different age groups, genders and ethnic groups.
One of our peer supporters, Claire, told us “One of the real privileges of this is being able to say that I have stood where they have stood and understand what they are thinking, and have felt the anxieties they are feeling. When you’ve had a critical illness, just going to work presents you with a whole new set of issues you’ve never experienced before and it can be an exceptionally bumpy ride, often feeling like you are taking one step forward and two steps back. It is truly amazing for me to walk that journey with another person, knowing that I have also taken those steps, but also to walk with them for a time, to a place when the rollercoaster is less bumpy.”
Sarah* contacted us for support when she had turned to alcohol to help her deal with a heavy workload and stress at work. She says “One of LawCare's peer supporters helped me earlier in the year and I am now back on track thanks to her. I am doing well and billing and pressure has come away from me. I am also not drinking, she was amazing. Thank you so much, keep up the good work, you saved me!"
How to access LawCare's support services
Whether you’re support staff feeling burnt out, a young trainee being bullied, 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 to all branches of the legal professionals and their staff and families. Our helpline is 0800 279 6888 or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find information and resources on our website www.lawcare.org.uk. LawCare also offers training remotely and in person for legal workplaces and organisations on mental health and wellbeing.
We also have a free course on managing and understanding emotions and stress and developing healthy working practices which you can access at fitforlaw.org.uk. It takes under 4 hours in total to complete in small chunks and includes videos from legal professionals discussing wellbeing issues as well as a range of interactive activities.
Our additional support fund is also available for those who satisfy our financial criteria and who would benefit from but are unable to access therapeutic support sufficiently quickly.
*This is not a real name
We are accustomed to service users indicating they don’t know where to start and being tearful or upset .You won’t be asked any identifying information at the outset or anything to verify you belong to a particular regulatory or representative body. You will simply be asked what has prompted you to make contact and how we can help you resolve matters.
We’ll move on to clarifying the issues you’re facing, discuss possible options and likely consequences and help you decide how you wish to move things forward.
Although there is no `typical call` we will often recommend someone sees their GP – it is remarkable how often people struggle on with stress or anxiety when they wouldn’t hesitate to seek a consultation for a physical complaint.
We frequently direct service users to resources on our website such as a relevant factsheet and signpost to other bodies when we feel they may benefit from for example legal advice, financial assistance or regulatory guidance.
We may suggest our peer support scheme or additional support fund and explain how to access these and towards the end will check if there is anything further we can do to assist and summarise appropriately.
We’ll conclude by explaining that you are welcome to be back in contact with us as frequently as you wish and will ask if you are comfortable answering some routine monitoring questions. It is entirely at your discretion if you wish to offer a first name or pseudonym for continuity purposes if you expect to be back in contact, alternatively you can remain anonymous and also withhold your number if you prefer.