Dealing with mental health to weather a perfect storm

CILEx Regulation

From Legal Futures Associate CILEx Regulation.

During Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, Paul McCluskey, UK Head of Professional Practices, SME Banking at Lloyds Bank, tells us how stress is affecting the legal services sector.

At a recent meeting with a mid-size legal firm, the managing partner was asked what was the one thing about his legal practice that kept him awake at night. Expecting the answer to be the threat of cyber-fraud it was a real surprise to hear the most troubling issue was due to long-term stress-related illness.

The managing partner explained. “My top three experienced and highest-earning fee earners are all off long-term sick. This is having a real impact of the rest of the team as we simply cannot deal with the volume of work.”

As a result of the best fee earners being absent from the business, the managing partner explained the impact of his perfect storm.

  • Fee income had dropped due to three top earners being absent.
  • Cashflow in the business was depleted as a result.
  • The bank was wary when considering the level of debt facilities due to the challenged financial performance.
  • Given the lack of supervision, time taken to complete tasks was extended and several errors had caused customer complaints possibly leading to a future claim on their PII policy.
  • Finally, colleagues still in the business complained about the workload and were reluctant volunteers to work prolonged extended hours to meet deadlines and the fear on further stress-related illness was very real.

The managing partner’s face was blank when asked what steps the firm was taking to address the issue. When asked about the service of LawCare, the response simply was: “Who are they?”

LawCare is a mental-health charity offering a free support service to law firms’ employees and their families.  With 40 percent of contacts due to stress in the workplace, the team at LawCare is perfectly placed to help people deal with stress regardless of whether this is work-related or linked to a private matter.

From a bank’s perspective, lending money to a business where the management team takes a proactive approach to the wellbeing of people under their employ gives us more confidence that the culture within the business is strong and situations like the one above can be avoided.  This ensures the firm can service their clients and their debts.

For any business, people are the most important element and it is unfortunate to see a firm suffer due to the lack of awareness about mental health and the support available for employees.

Perhaps the stigma attached to mental health prevents colleagues from sharing their innermost feelings and managers from having open discussions with their teams.  The fear of ridicule or rejection is palpable.  Lawyers are the protectors, the defenders of just causes – they are expected to be strong and protect their clients’ interests.  How then can someone admit to having a mental-health issue?

We must give confidence to our teams to tackle mental health.  From leaflets and posters in the staffroom, to running sessions in conjunction with Mental Health Week or just simply providing a caring and understanding culture is paramount.

When talking to the team at LawCare, they tell me it’s not just stress that causes the problems.  They deal with alcoholism, bereavement, bullying, critical illness, divorce… the list goes on.

At some point we all experience life’s challenges.  Difficult situations can overwhelm us and without a trusted adviser, the situation can lead to the feeling of helplessness and confusion.

To signpost the importance of positive mental health, Lloyds Bank is happy to support the LawCare team and is why the Bank works in partnership with Mental Health UK.  We are helping to raise awareness through customer conversations and by supporting fundraising activities such as the London Legal Walk.

We hope to continue highlighting the fantastic support services available from LawCare and I believe they can help our law firm customers prosper.

Associate News is provided by Legal Futures Associates.
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