By Legal Futures’ Associate Advanced
This presents us with an opportunity to slow down for a moment and think about stress in the legal profession, which is a well-documented concern. Law is a pursuit that is naturally filled with contentious and sensitive matters, and lawyers work every day with challenging schedules, demanding clients and heavy workloads – all of which can contribute to increased levels of anxiety.
There is a widely held belief that a poor work / life balance is the norm in law practices. Certainly, working in all areas of law presents challenges, but physical and mental stress are more common in some fields than others. For instance, criminal lawyers may experience empathetic trauma or suffer from having to work unsociable hours. In either circumstance, lack of control or flexibility in working arrangements can become corrosive over time and may leave practitioners feeling overwhelmed.
Talking about mental health at work
In 2017 the Law Society surveyed their members about resilience and wellbeing. The results indicated that 90 per cent of junior lawyers were experiencing work related stress and that 1 in 4 had suffered a mental health problem in the previous month. These statistics clearly indicate that the maintenance of good mental health is an ongoing issue which needs to be addressed.
All legal professionals, whether sole practitioner, barrister or corporate lawyer, deal daily with time pressures, increasing competition, customer expectations, billing targets and matter administration. The central issue is how they can learn to balance the strain of myriad responsibilities and manage their personal wellbeing at the same time.
Implementing new legal technologies can help
The Solicitors Regulatory Authority recently published a report outlining the advantages of using new technologies in legal services. It provided strong examples of how technology can enable law firms to meet their responsibilities, deliver better service to their clients and acquire new business – all notable elements in the battle against practitioner stress levels.
Reducing the time required to complete tedious administrative tasks and providing a more flexible work environment are important in helping to increase work satisfaction. The legal sector, for whom many high-performance technologies have been developed, can now benefit significantly from a number of applications that enable more flexible and efficient work processes.
Implementing automated workflows can ease pressure on fee earners by allowing them to be more productive in fewer hours. Documents and precedents can now be set up centrally for easy access and updating by authorised users across the firm. This reduces errors and duplicated work, and allows less skilled staff to complete tasks with the confidence that they are following defined procedures.
Legal technologies that are constantly adapted to comply with the latest compliance and risk management regulations can also ease the burden placed on practitioners. They allow both lawyers and support staff to complete fee earning activities without fear of non-compliance and increase their ability to deliver chargeable work more quickly.
Mobile flexibility is an excellent illustration of how a commonly used technology can help reduce the strain on time-poor lawyers. Mobile software, easily accessed through any web-enabled device, is something that most of us use every day. This ‘at your fingertips’ technology can allow busy fee earners to respond quickly when required, communicate easily with both co-workers and clients and to promptly complete daily tasks like time recording or diary management. Offering the flexibility to work from any location, mobility means higher efficiency throughout the day, with no time needed to catch up once back at the office.
The human element
Technology cannot claim the ability to eliminate all of the causes of work stress. There are many personal factors that firms will always have to consider, and deal with, including the management of competitive personalities, corrosive co-worker or client relationships or discrimination. The ideal way to do this is to focus on the elements required to establish a safe and supportive workplace culture. What technology can do, however, is remove a significant proportion of job and process pressure and deliver a measureable and immediate positive impact on the mental wellbeing of legal practitioners.