Lawyers showing “greater awareness of mental health” as helpline calls rise

Rimmer: More solicitors need to know about LawCare

An increase in the number of callers to mental health charity LawCare is a sign of “greater awareness”, its chief executive has said.

LawCare reported an 11% increase in callers to 616 last year, with workplace stress still topping the table of reasons for unhappiness. Three-quarters of callers (76%) were solicitors.

Chief executive Elizabeth Rimmer said the increase in callers was the result of “greater awareness about mental health” among lawyers.

“We’re getting more requests to attend events and go into law firms. More people in the legal community are discussing mental health and wellbeing. There’s a greater understanding than two or three years ago.”

Workplace stress was cited as the main reason for contacting to LawCare by 27% of callers, followed by depression (17%), disciplinary concerns (8%), anxiety (7%), bereavement (7%), financial problems (4%) and bullying and harassment (4%).

Other issues were chronic illness, alcohol and drugs, career development problems and relationship issues.

Almost two-thirds of callers (65%) to the helpline were women and almost half (45%) solicitors qualified for less than five years or trainees.

Ms Rimmer said knowledge of LawCare was still quite low in the legal profession, with figures obtained by the Law Society through the PC renewal process showing that only 26% of solicitors knew it existed.

“When more people are talking about mental health, it is easier for us to point the way for people to be more open about what is concerning them. Often people contact us when they reach crisis point – we would like to see them avoid that.”

Earlier this month LawCare called on the legal profession to reconsider its approach to mental health and wellbeing after a young solicitor, Sovani James, avoided being struck off for dishonesty by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal because of the pressure she had been put under by her law firm.

Ms Rimmer said she hoped the case was a “sign of the times”, with the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal making the “courageous decision” to take a “holistic view” of the situation, rather than putting all the blame on the young solicitor involved.

Meanwhile, a survey of City lawyers by executive search consultants Fides Search has found that “client demands” are the biggest obstacle to wellbeing and a more inclusive culture in the workplace.

Client demands, cited by 36% of lawyers, came well ahead of revenue generation/billable hours’ targets (26.5%) as the biggest obstacle.

Other major concerns were the need to sacrifice work-life balance in pursuit of promotion (13%), the demands placed on partners preventing them from considering wellbeing (12%) and a lack of role models (10%).

The survey was based on 80 responses to an online poll, 61 of which came from solicitors, split roughly evenly between partners, senior associates and associates.

‘Genuine support’ from law firm managers and partners was considered to be the most important change needed to make workplace cultures more inclusive.

Most respondents said partners could best demonstrate that they cared about the issues of wellbeing and inclusiveness by a ‘change in behaviour’.

Other suggested methods were giving their staff ‘more interaction and feedback’, reducing the focus on billable hours and providing mentoring for associate solicitors.

When lawyers were asked whether people in their firms respected them, cared about their wellbeing and treated them fairly, the figures were at least 10% lower when the question mentioned partners as opposed to other colleagues at the office.

Researchers suggested that inclusiveness could be improved by partners more openly championing inclusion and wellbeing policies, while “key themes” included a greater commitment to flexible working and focus away from the billable hour.

The report recommended that law firm managers should “better communicate their inclusion and wellbeing policies”, while firms should “consider alternate resourcing models to satisfy client demand, and to open dialogue with their clients on issues of inclusion and wellbeing”.

The LawCare helpline is open 365 days a year on 0800 279 6888.

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