As we mark the 25th anniversary of LawCare, it's a timely moment to reflect on the charity's enormous contribution supporting individuals and changing attitudes to mental health and wellbeing in the legal profession.
LawCare began in 1997 as a telephone helpline for solicitors in England and Wales, initially with a focus on helping solicitors suffering from alcohol and other addiction issues. For the first year this service was provided by just one person, a retired solicitor in recovery.
Within a few years the service was expanded to Law Society of Scotland members, and since then LawCare has broadened its reach across the whole of the UK and Ireland’s legal communities, with a widened scope to match.
Today, LawCare has nearly 90 volunteers and a staff team of eight. The support LawCare provides still includes addictions but now relates primarily to mental health. This often includes managing the pressures of legal work and issues such as difficult relationships within the workplace and challenges in meeting the expectations of clients, as well as personal matters such as illness or bereavement.
To date, LawCare has supported over 10,000 legal professionals.
The Law Society of Scotland recently hosted LawCare for an anniversary event to mark the importance and successes of the charity.
Pictured: Diane McGiffen, Chief Executive, Law Society of Scotland; Kenny Robertson, Chair of Lawscot Wellbeing Steering Group; Elizabeth Rimmer, Chief Executive of LawCare.
"Having conversations about mental health at work and seeing it as a priority feels relatively new within the legal profession; even in the last four years since working on Lawscot Wellbeing we have recently seen a rapid acceleration of work in this area. Celebrating LawCare’s 25th anniversary has reminded me how ahead of the curve it has been. For a long time, we weren’t even close to talking openly about these issues and all the while, LawCare has been providing an invaluable service to individuals and insights for us all. I look forward to continuing to work closely with LawCare so we can keep mental health at the top of the agenda in partnership with Lawscot Wellbeing."
Kenny Robertson, Chair of Lawscot Wellbeing Steering Group
How LawCare can support you
LawCare is the main place that we refer our members and other legal professionals to access one-to-one support with any mental health issues. Via LawCare's dedicated helpline and online chat function, you can speak directly to someone who has experience with the legal profession and can help you take the next steps in accessing support. LawCare is there to listen, so you can talk about personal matters without judgement and in confidence. Its peer support service means that you could also get connected with fellow professionals with similar experiences, which can help you feel less alone.
"Attitudes and support for mental health and wellbeing have come a long way since 1997. In the legal sector, LawCare has played a big part in that evolution to provide far better support to solicitors and other legal professionals.
"There is a lot still to do, and the value of that support has been underlined during the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic. The past three years have been the busiest in Lawcare’s history. Support in hard times helps people get through, and we are seeing already how the pressures of the past few years remain with many of us. Support over the next few years will be every bit as important to help us get through the challenge of recovery.
"We will continue to work with LawCare and across the legal sector to prioritise mental health and wellbeing , and to break down the remaining stigma that surveys suggest still exists in some cases."
Diane McGiffen, Chief Executive, Law Society of Scotland
LawCare's recent work
A major pieces of work LawCare has produced recently is their 2020/21 Life in the Law survey, which has looked at mental health and wellbeing for legal professionals across the UK. 1,700 legal professionals were surveyed and key findings included:
- The majority of participants (69%) had experienced mental ill-health (whether clinically or self-diagnosed) in the 12 months before completing the survey.
- Data from the study suggested legal professionals are at a high risk of burnout with participants aged between 26 and 35 displaying the highest burnout scores, and also reporting the lowest autonomy, lowest psychological safety, and highest work intensity score.
- 28% of participants either agreed or strongly agreed that their work required them to be available to clients 24/7 and 65% said they checked emails outside of work hours to keep up with their workload.
- The study suggested that many legal professionals are getting less than the recommended amount of sleep (7-9 hours a night) with just over a third of participants (35%) estimating they had slept between 6 to 7 hours a night over the 2 weeks before completing the survey, a quarter (25%) averaging 5 to 6 hours, and over one in ten (12%) indicating they had less than 5 hours a night.
- Just over one in five participants (22%) said they had experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination in the workplace in the 12 months before completing the survey.
This infographic illustrates LawCare's burnout findings in more detail:
The findings complemented the research we released via Lawscot Wellbeing in 2020 in partnership with See Me, which looked at the status of mental health stigma and discrimination in the legal profession and its relationship to workplace culture. Together, both sets of research have provided strong data for us to understand the key risk-factors within the profession and build a strategy to support the profession going forward.