20 steps to better mental health for lawyers
Angus Lyon shares his top tips for daily mental health help
There’s a worldwide crisis among lawyers. So said the International Bar Association (IBA) in a global report on mental illness among lawyers in late 2021. Lawyers’ levels of mental wellbeing are generally below the national averages, according to the report. Many are on the edge of burnout.
So, as lawyers and those who run firms, what can we do to make sure we and our teams are as healthy and happy as possible?
Here are 20 practical steps we can take:
1. Prioritise people above profit
A study by Deloitte in January 2020 highlighted, in the UK, a sixth of workers experienced a mental health problem at any one time – and stress, anxiety and depression were considered responsible for almost half of working days lost in recent years due to health issues. The study highlighted an average return of £5 for every £1 invested in staff wellbeing. Deloitte’s 2022 report showed the return had increased to £5.30 for every £1 invested over the period of the pandemic.
2. Learn about burnout
3. Set up a wellbeing group for your firm – and have a senior member of the firm drive and champion it
4. Get buy-in from the top
Have senior management share their struggles with mental health. Despite appearances, some will have experienced problems. This helps to de-stigmatise mental illness. It can happen to anyone.
5. No lip service
No virtue signalling. Don’t let your firm be the one where staff say, “We’ve got a wellbeing policy but management ignore it.”
6. Write (or update) your firm’s wellbeing policy
This is how one set of UK barristers’ chambers set about it.
7. Supervise staff
We all have systems for supervision, but are they working well? Yes, I know it’s time-consuming. But it’s vital. Working with lawyer clients in therapy, I see this basic practice for training and support so often observed in the breach. And ensure supervisors are well supervised too.
8. Have a zero tolerance for bullying
And when it comes to light, wonder what the bully might feel bullied by. It’s common to pass our frustrations on down the pecking order.
9. Train up mental health first aiders
10. Have help in place for staff who are nearing burnout
Set up (or review) an EAP arrangement (for medium size and larger firms). Or find out about local therapists or counselling agencies (for smaller firms). Have private health insurance cover for staff. Download, then ransack some online resources. Start with these:
11. Law Society Guidance
Published in October 2019 and (in my view, probably largely overlooked because of the pandemic) the England and Wales Law Society’s Supporting Wellbeing in the Workplace guide.
12. Mindful Business Charter
Initiated by leading banks and firms, the Mindful Business Charter sets out practical steps to reduce unnecessary workplace stress.
13. Fit for Law
14. City Mental Health Alliance
The City Mental Health Alliance Thriving at Work Guide.
15. Check out the Five Ways to Wellbeing
Understand proven ways in which simple life adjustments can enhance mental resilience.
16. Avoid distraction
Set aside time for focused work. And allow staff to do so too. Top of my booklist here is Deep Work by Cal Newport.
17. Press pause
Having a simple practice to help stay (reasonably) calm and gain thinking space when the pressure is on is invaluable.
18. Get organised
We assume we are organised people, or workflow systems will do the job for us, but sometimes things get overlooked. Have a look at David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
19. Make it easy for yourself
Clarify what might be holding you back from taking the next step. Stanford Professor in behavior design, BJ Fogg, can help here – check out the Ability Chain.
20. Finally, take action now
Bookmark this article and block out 30 minutes in the next day or so to check out some of the links. Think about what can be done now, next month and over the next 12 months Then prioritise what works for you and your firm. Build momentum.
Angus Lyon is a counsellor and coach, author of ‘A Lawyer’s Guide to Wellbeing and Managing Stress’ (Ark, 2015) and was a practising solicitor for over 35 years: restart-one.com
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