On 13 February 2019, the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society of England and Wales wrote a letter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority after recent decisions adopted by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and appeals to the High Court regarding junior lawyers.
Specifically, our official collaborator referred to Sovani James and Emily Scott cases. Both were struck off as solicitors despite having been bullied and pressured by seniors and subjected to oppressive management.
We want to make something clear: the “Instituto de Salud Mental de la Abogacía – Mental Health Institute of Legal Professions (ISMA-MHILP)” respects all institutions involved, regardless of our support to JLD.
Although these cases are out of our jurisdiction, the truth is that, after the internationalisation of the legal market, some Spanish law firms have offices or best friendship networks with other firms in England and Wales, and vice versa.
For this reason, the JLD’s concerns are also us. Our colleagues are doing incredible work to improve solicitors’ well-being and mental health, and we are going to support them when they need it.
After this official letter, following the JLD’s concerns, our organisation is going to ask Spanish and Catalan bar associations the following questions:
a) What practical support and measures the Bar has in place for lawyers who are facing difficulties in raising their concerns in the workplace?
b) What is the Bar doing to ensure that organisations employing lawyers are being supportive and that these organisations do not have ‘toxic’ cultures in which lawyers feel unable to raise concerns or ask for help?
At this moment, the ISMA-MHILP is changing its legal form and intern structure. Due to this circumstance, we will comply with this decision in the following manner:
1. Approval of Board of Trustees whereby the manager will be able to send letters to Spanish and Catalan bar associations, asking them the questions as mentioned above.
2. Creating a particular line of research within the Studies and Research Committee.
On April 27th, 2018 The Law Society Gazette published an article called “Legal profession facing talent drain as mental health problems surge“. This article announced the publication of the second edition of the “Resilience and wellbeing survey report“, a report that collects and analyzes the results of the surveys done by members of the collectives represented by the JLD: legal practice course (LPC) students (including paralegals who have undertaken their LPC), trainee solicitors and solicitors with up to five years’ post qualification experience. For a second consecutive year, the person in charge of drafting this report has been Kayleigh Leonie, an associate with Trowers & Hamlins LLP and she is also a Law Society Council Member.
In its introduction, Kayleigh Leonie underlines that the “legal profession is at risk of losing some of its best talent if employers do not begin to embrace their employees’ wellbeing as a key asset for their business” and also that the “legal profession still has a long way to go to alleviate the stigma relating to mental ill-health“. Words that the Mental Health Institute of Legal Professions fully subscribes.
In its 2018 edition, the number of those who have done the survey has been of 959, versus the 214 people who did it in its first edition (four times more people than the last year, an increase of a 448.13%). That fact is itself, encouraging. Notwithstanding that, it is a long way yet to be walked, as the author of the report says.
For the very first time, it has been included a key factor of work stress: dealing with vulnerable clients due to their age, their mental o physical problems, for being in custody, due to their incapacity, traumas or for any other reason. From all those surveyed, the 25.4% of them (244) work with that group of clients.
Below, we will do a detailed analysis of some of the data collected on the report.
1. Stress keeps preventing employees to cope with their obligations
Despite the fact that, in comparison with 2017, the number of surveyed professionals have expressed that stress prevents them to cope with their obligations occasionally or regularly has reduced from the 54.6% to the 54%, it is also important to underline that those surveyed in the intermediate stages (occasionally or rarely) have moved to the extreme stages (regularly or never). The most worrisome fact is that even though those whose stress occasionally prevented them to cope with their obligations decreased from the 39.1% to the 33.6% (a decrease of a 5.5%) have moved to consider that stress regularly prevents them to cope with their obligations, from a 15.5% to a 20.4% (an increase of a 4.9%).
Also, it is seen that the 71% of the surveyed answer that, within the last month, they have regularly (35.5%) or occasionally (35.6%) felt stressed; in front of the 82% of 2017. That seems prima facie, a good result, but must ask ourselves the extent of the ability of the professionals working at Law firms to self-assess their stress level. Reached that point, we would like to express that it is necessary to include mental health contents in the study plans of LL.B. and legal practice courses. We cannot be happy with the results when only the 29% of those surveyed in 2018 rarely (20.8%) or never (8.1%) felt stressed.
When asked about the level of stress, those suffering worrisome stress levels, understood as those feeling severe (22.1%) or extremely (3.8%) stress, did decrease from the 26.1% to the 25.9%. It is still happening that the majority of the surveyed felt a moderate level of stress (49.6%).
2. High workload, still the most common cause of work stress. The demands and expectations of the clients, upwards
At the ninth question of the report, those surveyed answered that the most common cause of work stress is, yet, the high workload; followed by the demands and expectations of the clients. Let’s see the following table how did the work-stress related factors evolved in comparison with 2017.
We see the important rise of the pressure that professionals suffer when dealing with clients’ demands or expectations (that rise a 10% as a cause of concern and become the second cause of work stress). The high workload (it rises to the 67.3%). We could affirm that the high workload, solvable with hiring policies that allow professionals to face a minor workload with higher precision and perfection, is closely linked with ineffective management and the lack of support of the employer (which occupy positions 3rd and 4th). Billable hours’ target, despite maintaining quite stable (this cause only rises a 0.9%), become the 6th work stress cause of those surveyed.
It is also seen that the work stress causes might be avoidable with sustainable work policies within Law firms. In fact, the 34.4% of those surveyed answered that, within the last month, they would have been seeking for a new job (they represent a 9% less than in 2017, but it stills worry us), with the consequences of that for those firms that invest high amounts of resources on forming their employees.
We are worried, also, because some of those surveyed take alcohol to face stress. We should note that the percentage is not expressly said, but its mere mention is worrisome, due to the severe personal and professional troubles that addictions may cause. Some others face stress healthier (practicing sports, by taking some mindfulness sessions, talking to their supervisors, practicing hobbies, going to therapy, with a healthier diet or sleeping enough hours).
3. An increase in the number of those surveyed that suffer from mental health issues and the proportion of those who render insufficient the measures taken by their employers. A decrease in the ability to talk about their mental health problems to their supervisors
Another worrisome fact of the report is that the number of those surveyed that confess to having suffered from mental health issues within the last month increases to the 38.5% (a 12.8% more than in 2017), meanwhile the majority of them (an 82.1%, a 6.1% more than in 2017) acknowledge to have not told to their supervisors (the cause, might be, without any doubt, the stigma that the author of the report pinpoints at the introduction).
As well, the majority of those surveyed considered that their employers do not take sufficient measures to fight against work stress. In fact, the 83.2% of those surveyed (a 9.4% more than in 2017) considered that much more could be done in this respect.
In particular, an 80.2% of those surveyed (a 29.8% more than in 2017) considered that their employer might do more to offer some help regarding mental health issues in the workplace.
4. An increase in the number of professionals that know about organizations championing for wellbeing and dealing with questions like work stress and another mental health issues
An encouraging fact of the report is given to us by the 18th question, which asks “Do you know of any organization that is there to help you if you want to discuss stress at work or any other mental health issues?“. The 65.7% of those surveyed answered positively (a 15.4% more than in 2017).
We are especially glad of this result because of brave and altruist organizations such as LawCare, managed by Elizabeth Rimmer, that are doing a great job in this regard and, one step at a time, they are becoming well known within those professionals seeking professional help.
From the Mental Health Institute of Legal Professions, we want to congratulate the great job done by the Junior Lawyers Division of The Law Society to raise awareness of mental health issues within legal professionals, and we keep waiting to learn from the Anglosaxon role model, hoping to apply it in Spain and in continental Europe. We will work harder to get the support of the civil society, professionals, professional organizations and other organizations that are willing to sum to our exciting and laborious project.