According to very disturbing report in the Law Society’s Gazette, 90% of junior lawyers say that they feel stressed at work. As many as 25% describe levels of stress that are ‘severe’ -
This begs a simple but important question – how have we allowed this to happen?
Practising law is a stressful occupation in itself. We have all been through years of uncertainty with the virtual removal of legal aid and relentless attacks from politicians and the media towards those who seek justice for victims of accidents or medical negligence. These changes will inevitably lead to some insecurity and anxiety across the profession.
But what is not inevitable is that young lawyers become isolated, worried and worst of all, too scared to tell someone. I touched on this problem a couple of years go in relation to lawyers who makes mistakes and then make things 10 times worse by trying to cover them up –
‘Those of us in senior positions must make it clear that we are here to help and guide and not to judge or criticise. A difficult case never seems to be as bad once it has been shared with someone who isn’t worried about it!’
The same applies to pressures which are clearly affecting the health of many young lawyers. I could not forgive myself if I thought that a lawyer under my supervision was too scared to speak to me. Or if they thought I was too busy, or worse still thought that I would criticise their lack of knowledge or intelligence.
There was a time when it was unfashionable for lawyers to show any personal vulnerability. When the going got tough the tough got going. In a more enlightened world we all know or should know that this is bollocks!
Lawyers are humans, believe it or not. We are subject to the same insecurities and worries as everybody else. To go and tell someone that we are struggling is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It is sign of strength that the worried lawyer is able to acknowledged a problem that needs to be resolved. But more importantly, it is a sign of strength for law firms that they have a caring and open culture that, not only allows, but positively promotes the sharing of concerns. It follows that it is a major sign of management weakness in our business if we foster an environment when our young lawyers are losing sleep.
I would encourage all law firm managers to read the Gazette article and take a long look at their practices. Do our staff, at any level, think that we are so busy or important that we do not care? I would encourage all of us to resolve to include this in our business planning, to make the health and welfare of our lawyers as much a priority as the making of profits. Because without the one we are unlikely to make the other.