A law firm in London has launched what it believes is the first training scheme in psychologically based supervision to help family lawyers manage work-related stress.
Gillian Bishop, director of Family Law in Partnership (FLiP), said solicitors were the only frontline professionals in the family justice system not to receive supervision.
“I think it should be compulsory for all family lawyers, both for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their clients,” Ms Bishop said. “I wish it had been available for me when I started as a family lawyer.
“Supervision is not mentoring, it is not about getting advice on how to run your cases. It’s about understanding the dynamics of the relationship between lawyers and their clients – for example, if you are speaking to a client on the phone and your blood runs cold.
“It is about understanding what is happening in that situation and what you could do to improve that relationship with a client.
“It’s about managing your mental health in a job where people are telling you a lot about their pain and unhappiness.”
Ms Bishop said other professionals in the family justice system – child psychologists, counsellors, social workers and family therapists – all benefited from supervision.
She said despite the evidence of “chronic stress, workaholism and burnout among family lawyers” and high levels of work-related stress among lawyers highlighted last week by Mental Health Awareness Week, the profession was still playing “catch-up”.
Ms Bishop said FLiP had introduced supervision three years ago, and she was the “guinea pig” and the first to receive it. FLiP, based in Covent Garden, now provides supervision for 11 family lawyers.
She said FLiP’s diploma in family law supervision  was aimed mainly at lawyers, but open to other professionals involved in the family justice system.
The course will be led by Christopher Mills, a psychotherapist, family consultant and supervisor. It will consist of three two-day modules, which take place over the course of 15 months.
The first one will take place in London at the end of September. This will be followed by a course in Birmingham in January next year. It is offered through FLiP Faculty, an independent training company run by the firm.
In a foreword to a book by Mr Mills published this month, The Case that Really Got to Me: An Introduction to Family Law Supervision, Ms Bishop wrote: “It is perhaps a trite thing to say, but no less true, that if we don’t look after ourselves we cannot possibly look after others.
“It is also true that if we do not reflect on how we do our job and what we bring to the party we will never fulfil our potential to be outstanding family lawyers.
“It is my firmly held view that the law counts for only about 10% of our work and the rest is all about relationships – ours and our clients.
“The job requires us to relate not just to clients but to other lawyers, other professionals, our colleagues and, at the end of the day, we take that all home to those with whom we have our most important relationships – our families.”