Adele Edwin-Lamerton of the JLD executive committee talks about the importance of addressing work related stress and identifying coping mechanisms.
One of the Junior Lawyers Division’s policy priorities for 2015 was to formulate a programme to provide guidance and assistance to junior lawyers, trainees, and LPC graduates who are suffering from stress.
The JLD is aware of the high levels of stress being put on some of our membership, including, but by no means limited to, city firms - and in particular the incredibly long hours junior lawyers are sometimes (or, in other cases, often) required to work.
Having been in contact with LawCare, we understand that 41 per cent of their callers in 2013 were either trainee solicitors or solicitors up to five years qualified. 86 per cent of all callers identified they were stressed.
Research released by the Law Society also points to rising levels of negative stress. The Health and wellbeing report 2014 found that 96 per cent of solicitors experienced negative stress, with 19 per cent at ‘severe’ or ‘extreme’ levels.
Unfortunately, there remains a stigma attached to stress and as such many people feel that they cannot be open about how they are feeling. The JLD seeks, through various planned initiatives, to help reduce this stigma and give people avenues to pursue if they are struggling.
Having already released a webinar on the subject, the JLD felt that more could be done to help our members in this area, and so we sourced a provider of training workshops to provide tools and techniques to help our members in the early stages of their careers cope with stress and other demands.
The provider, Talaspect, is run by a husband and wife team. Colin Dworkin is a former City Lawyer and his wife Dr Karen Lindall is a General Practitioner. Together with their assistant Juliet, they ran a programme of three workshops at the Law Society on three consecutive Wednesday evenings.
The first workshop focussed on identifying stress and understanding what its physical and psychological effects can be, for example the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. There were tips on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and the delegates were shown a breathing technique to help calm anxious thoughts and/or feelings. It was also emphasised that making and keeping social connections can help you to deal with stress and anxiety.
The second workshop built on the principles covered in the preceding week. In particular it focused on perception and reaction to stressful situations and looked at alternative ways to view a situation, for example by actively recognising when delegates may be catastrophising (imagining all of the terrible things which could happen) and instead showing delegates how to pause those thoughts and ‘re-frame’ them by considering alternative scenarios that may not involve total disaster. The emphasis was on developing ‘resilient thinking’ to enable delegates to bounce back from stressful situations.
The third workshop looked at ways in which delegates could feel good rather than just ‘get by’, and at ways to maintain an equal work/life balance, such as being proactive about planning your day, delegating effectively and how to minimise distractions at work. Delegates were also introduced to the concept of practising gratitude, by reflecting on your day and making a note of at least three good things that happened, no matter how small.
All of the workshops were informal in nature. Colin and Karen appreciated that talking openly about struggling with some aspects of work was not always a subject that people felt comfortable discussing, but they put everybody at ease and made them feel able to contribute safely.
Concepts were explained by considering case studies as individual groups and feeding back collectively, watching role plays and taking part in creative exercises such as finding the blind spot of your vision (if you want to give it a try, close one eye and slowly move a piece of paper with a dot on it towards your face and it eventually disappears) and using hopping frogs to illustrate the application of pressure.
Many of the delegates said that they had learned at least one technique which they could take away and put to use in further stressful situations. Delegates were also extremely appreciative at the dedicated source of knowledge that these workshops provided, since the legal education system in England does not specifically address this area.
The JLD hopes to run the Resilience & Wellbeing programme again in the future. Sign up to our newsletter or keep any eye on our website for details.