Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Legal Profession

The legal profession is ranked as one of the top 3 most stressful occupations in the UK according to a survey conducted by Workwear Giant in 2019.

According to a survey conducted by Workwear Giant in 2019, the legal profession is ranked as one of the top 3 most stressful occupations in the UK.  This ranking is largely attributed to the number of reported cases of workplace stress, and the number of unpaid hours worked each week.  It comes as some relief therefore to see that support is being given to the wellbeing and mental health of legal professionals by the justice system.

In August 2019, His Honour Judge Tolson QC issued draft Wellbeing Guidance to the Family Court, outlining a number of wellbeing considerations including the importance of legal professionals taking a proper lunch hour during the Court day, and discouraging engaging in email correspondence before 8 am and after 6pm.  This Guidance was fairly swiftly followed by a similar Wellbeing Protocol issued by Her Honour Judge Sybil Thomas for Birmingham’s Family Court.

The ethos of both the Guidance and the Protocol to mental health in the legal profession, is that whilst there is pressure on the justice system, this should not come at the expense of the legal professionals’ daily life or personal commitments, or indeed their overall wellbeing.  In the Protocol, Particular mention was made of those with childcare or other care commitments outside of their profession, and that notably there should be no need to declare such commitments within the context of ‘excusing’ the limitations on their reasonable availability outside or ‘normal’ working hours.

It is certainly encouraging to see such consideration of legal professionals’ wider welfare, but the practicality of it may be harder to achieve.  It is also difficult to see how the wellbeing guidance can be realistically adopted across the justice system whilst the Ministry of Justice is simultaneously promoting its ‘flexible court hours’ pilot’ in the Civil Courts (which commenced in September 2019) and which sees some Courts sitting as early as 8am, and as late at 7pm.

Most legal professionals are resigned to the fact that high levels of stress are an accepted reality within the industry, as well as a focus on ‘getting the job done’ taking priority over wellbeing.  Certainly, I cannot recall a time when a ‘lunch hour’ during the court day hasn’t consisted of de-briefing with a client, conferencing with Counsel or catching up on emails, whilst lunch itself becomes an after-thought.  It is therefore reassuring to see that a sensible and realistic approach to wellbeing considerations within the profession are afoot.

Against the growing wellbeing back-drop, mental health and wellbeing charity, LawCare, has developed an online course aimed at providing legal professionals with the tools to better understand their emotional competencies and build their professional resilience to improve wellbeing, and potentially reduce levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

The prevalence of poor wellbeing within the legal profession need not become an accepted reality.  Perhaps it’s time we looked after ourselves with the same commitment that we strive to look after our clients.