Pamela Young and Penny Owston outline common challenges faced by the in-house community and how the Law Society is providing much-needed support
The challenges of working in-house
Not only do in-house lawyers face the usual challenges that come with being a lawyer, but they also have to deal with the extra challenges that come with working in-house. Typically, these are things like keeping up to date with changes in the law in the context of the business; pressure to keep work in-house when budgets are squeezed and resource is stretched; managing expectations of the in-house clients who compete for priority over their time; having little opportunity to attend training and development courses; feeling alone and unsupported; keeping the business ethical and compliant; managing risk; having to deal with areas of law that are not their speciality; being the ‘go-to’ person to solve no end of diverse problems; thinking strategically in the context of the organisation; having a voice in the business; managing conflicts; dealing with resistance to ‘no, you can’t do that’… and the list goes on.
Lawyers can develop techniques to control the way they react to difficult and potentially stressful situations
In July last year, a survey was undertaken by Paul Gilbert on the wellbeing of in-house lawyers, the findings of which paint a very bleak picture and have identified a wellbeing crisis in the in-house sector. Gilbert urged in-house lawyers to get better at managing their environments. We all accept that some workplace stress is normal, but prolonged and excessive stress can affect your motivation and productivity, and eventually impact your physical and emotional wellbeing. Your ability to deal with it can mean the difference between success and failure. Whilst lawyers can’t control everything that happens in their work environments, they can develop techniques to control the way they react to difficult and potentially stressful situations. It’s a crucial part of a lawyer’s development to learn these skills and yet it’s not something they teach in law college.
The Law Society development programme
Recognising the challenges faced by in-house lawyers, the Law Society has launched a development programme designed specifically for the needs of this group. It comprises a series of two-hour workshops which tackle common issues such as dealing with difficult people, managing conflict in the workplace, working with emotional intelligence, building resilience, and becoming an effective communicator.
The topics are carefully chosen to ensure that in-house lawyers get the help and support they need for the more effective management of themselves, their colleagues and the work environment generally. It’s a safe environment to speak freely. The workshops also provide a forum for fellow in-house lawyers to meet and network with like-minded individuals. It’s quite comforting for them to know that they’re not alone and that others in a similar role have the same issues. For some, it’s also an opportunity to speak to us, on a confidential basis, and have a mini-coaching session to deal with a difficult issue or to provide clarity in their thinking.
Not only do attendees leave better equipped to deal with stresses in the workplace, but they also gain a great deal from being with other in-house lawyers who understand the pressures of the role
The programme has been well received and members of the in-house group are encouraged to suggest topics for future workshops that would help them with the issues they face. In running these workshops and coaching in-house lawyers, we’ve seen patterns emerge of the type of issues encountered and the stress triggers. Typically, many find the stressful parts of their jobs are caused, not by doing the ‘law’ bit, but by ineffective and inconsiderate managers, who often lack communication skills and emotional intelligence. The workshops address these issues. Not only do attendees leave better equipped to deal with stresses in the workplace and with tools to improve their own performance, but they also gain a great deal from being with other in-house lawyers who understand the pressures of the role and are happy to share anecdotes and tips over a cup of tea or a glass of wine or two after work. Chatham House rules always apply, of course!
The Law Society’s soft skills workshops for in-house lawyers
Upcoming dates: 16 June, 14 September and 15 December 2016.
Pamela Young and Penny Owston are lawyers and business coaches at Musa Coaching and Development