SJ Interview: Mairead Molloy
How can lawyers improve their wellbeing on – and off – the clock? Chaynee Hodgetts talks to relationship psychologist Mairead Molloy
CH: Thank you for making time to speak with us, Mairead. Please tell us about yourself – what’s your current area of work, and how does it relate to lawyers?
MM: I have worked as a relationship strategist and relationship psychologist and in the relationship industry for the last 17 years. I have expert knowledge in human relationships, in particular the know-how and skills to ask the right questions, hear the answers – and so get to the heart of each person I see. If things go wrong and you need a helping hand and a sympathetic ear, or you simply need to share, then that is where I come in. I will talk to you one-on-one, in complete confidence – and I will listen to what you say. More important, I will hear what you don’t say too. That is the benefit of experience. I help all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. If you are in a new relationship, a long-term relationship, or not in a relationship at the moment, I can support you through the journey, from major relationship crisis to smaller issues that are holding you back or making you unhappy. Cosmo Landesman, dating columnist from the The Sunday Times, described me as follows: “On our first meeting I felt like I had found a best friend, an agony aunt, a therapist, a life coach, a stand-up comic all rolled into one smart and savvy businesswoman. She has the gift of the gab and more importantly, she knows how to get you to relax and talk too. The reason why Mairead is so good at her job is because she loves her work and is proud of how she does it.”
CH: Valentine’s Day seems to draw annual attention to the ‘personal pandemic’ – in that many practitioners, while professionally successful, are struggling in their private and personal lives. Why do you think so many lawyers have difficulty with this?
MM: I don’t think there is any difference between lawyers and any other profession as regards dealing with Valentine’s Day. It is an annual, and often unwelcome, reminder to those of us looking for a partner that many others have one or are working on it. An exception to this might be family practitioners, who have by this time had to deal with the high numbers of divorce proceedings which they inevitably see launched in January, enough to dampen even the most enthusiastic seeker of love.
CH: How compatible would you say a legal career is with a stable personal and home life?
MM: The ability to work from home helps. Also, gone are the days of 80 plus hours per week in the office plus a daily commute on top. A legal career provides stability in itself – unlike many careers, there is room to change disciplines and adapt to new working environments.
CH: Would you say there is any difference between solicitors and barristers in terms of work-life balance and associated issues?
MM: I don’t think there is a difference – we all need a healthy work life balance no matter what the job. Many of the skills required of a barrister or a solicitor are the same, but perhaps where there is the greatest difference is that barristers need to enjoy performing. Barristers need to be really well prepared and able to respond under pressure. Taking this into consideration, feeling fresh (ie getting plenty of sleep), healthy and well is key to being performant. For both careers, the key is to find times to fit [sleep, exercise and healthy diet] into a routine and to not give them up during high pressure phases.
CH: What steps can our readers take if their work is adversely affecting their personal life?
MM: For the office: acquire better management skills, implement better technology, create and install better systems and procedures, develop better teams, build better market focus. Accept that there is no ‘perfect’ worklife balance. When you hear ‘work-life balance’, you probably imagine having an extremely productive day at work and leaving early to spend the other half of the day with friends and family. While this may seem ideal, it is not always possible. Don’t strive for the perfect schedule; strive for a realistic one. Some days, you might focus more on work, while other days you might have more time and energy to pursue your hobbies or spend time with your loved ones. Balance is achieved over time, not each day. It is important to remain fluid and constantly assess where you are versus your goals and priorities. To improve your work-life balance, make sure to set a realistic schedule and boundaries, focus on your health, take regular breaks and clearly communicate your needs. Among other benefits, a healthy worklife balance improves your productivity, job engagement, overall health and relationships. Sufficiently managing yourself can be challenging, particularly in getting proper sleep, exercise and nutrition. Make to-do lists and learn to love them (I adore to-do lists). Prioritise exercise for better work-life balance. Block out distractions while working and stay focused. Learn to how better delegate work. Give yourself time to relax when you need it.
CH: What tips would you give out readers on starting (or maintaining) a relationship or marriage while still sustaining professional success?
MM: Work on your relationship every day, as much as possible. It’s easy to get lost in work (many lawyers mistakenly think theirs is the most important job on earth) – and this is where things often go wrong at home. If things get trying or overwhelming, try explaining to your partner what’s going on – they may be able to share the load or, at the very least, understand and have your back. Communication style is the number one thing divorced individuals said they would change in the next relationship. Establish a 10-minute rule. Every day, for 10 minutes, talk alone about something other than work, the family and children, the household, the relationship. In addition, set boundaries, talk finances early and often, carve time out for each other, don’t go to bed angry, balance sacrifices, show unconditional support, and love the person, not their title.
CH: What about practice managers and clerks, whose days (and often evenings) are spent resolving the diaries and issues of the practitioners they look after? How would you suggest they can improve their personal lives and wellbeing?
MM: The mental health of each employee has a ripple effect on the organisation. Collectively, it impacts individuals’ wellbeing, their co-workers, the business’s bottom line and even society as a whole. One way would be to discuss time management with their practitioners and implement a system which negates the need to work all hours. It can be done if there is communication. And all of the tips above for practitioners equally apply to practice managers and clerks too.
CH: How did you get involved with your current line of work?
MM: I bought a hotel in Cannes in my late 20s, having studied hotel management – and ran it successfully for six years. I then went back to university and did psychology and an MA in international criminal law, at the same time as working in the dating and relationship industry. Today I have my own consultancy in psychology and relationships.
CH: What is a typical working day like?
MM: Up at 6am (I am a terrible sleeper). I loathe TV but I love breakfast TV; have three or four cups of tea, think about the day, what’s on etc. I always have early sessions with clients, emails and calls all day long, generally one flight somewhere each week to see clients. I always make time every day to take at least two hours walking outside by the sea or in the countryside for thinking time. The days fly by, I love the evenings, dinner and chat around the kitchen table.
CH: What do you enjoy most about helping lawyers with their lives?
MM: Lawyers are under constant pressure. They are therefore more prone to stress than most professions which can ignite an array of psychological problems. I enjoy helping them because they pay attention listen to what I have to say, take the advice, use the advice and put it to work.
CH: What do you find most challenging about helping lawyers with their lives?
MM: Some are so fixated on work and career; they miss out on life lessons which might improve the quality of advice they give.
CH: Are you involved in any charitable work?
MM: I offer a discretionary consultation service at reduced rates to those with serious issues that cannot afford professional help.
CH: What would your advice be to anyone feeling desperate because of these issues?
MM: The best thing to do is talk it out. Communication is at the heart of healing. Whether you do this with a friend, family, or a professional does not matter initially. Don’t hold it in – talk.
CH: What’s your position on mental health for lawyers?
MM: Lawyers spend so much time helping others, they often overlook themselves. The result is a wealth of mental health issues which, if ignored over time, manifest into something more serious and permanent. Try blocking out your time. Try marking off time on your calendar so you can have periods when you focus on work and periods when you are taking care of other responsibilities, such as childcare or exercise. This type of time management can help contain your work to separate times of the day, so you are not constantly jumping between work mode, parent mode and life mode.
CH: What do you do to ensure worklife balance when you’re not working?
MM: I talk to my partner (who is a lawyer) about our work and we make sure to set aside time for ourselves, every day. Kitchen table evening chats are where life flourishes.
CH: What’s your proudest achievement?
MM: Achievements are the building blocks that enable someone to construct a sense of themselves as a success. The achievements that matter most combine to form a version of success that has meaning and substance for each of us as individuals. If I had to name one, it would be buying my hotel in Cannes, France
CH: What one thing do you wish you’d known before now?
MM: That the breakdown of most relationships, whatever myriad other issues couples sidetrack you with initially, is about money. Once a balance is reached about the treatment of money within a relationship, the rest piggybacks.
CH: What one thing do most people not know about you?
MM: In work – I tell it how it is and look for workable solutions and their application, early. Personally, it’s a secret!
CH: What’s next for you?
MM: This is a hard question, like looking into your soul – I call it soul salt. I like to live a good happy life – for me living a good life means more than just having your essential needs met. Deep down, we all want to feel inspired. That can mean in the work we do, the people we help, the hobbies we pursue. Close your eyes and imagine the things you’ve always wanted to do in your life – that’s what I try to do every day, in the work I do, the people I meet, the travel I take, the food I eat, the wine I savour. What’s next for me? More of all this for as long as possible.
Chaynee Hodgetts, features and opinion editor and barrister with Libertas Chambers, interviewed Mairead Molloy MBPsS LLM, relationship psychologist and food disorder specialist: maireadmolloy.com