This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week focuses on stress. Statistics cited by the Mental Health Foundation state that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetime. When we use the term ‘stress’ we normally think of it in a negative way. As lawyers, most of us thrive on the stress our job entails and we can find this to be a positive part of our work. However, when pressure becomes too much and we begin to feel unable to cope, this stress becomes negative and not only impacts our professional lives, but our personal lives too.

Negative stress is a real problem in the legal profession and there is a long way to go to alleviate the stigma surrounding mental ill-health. When starting out on a legal career most students believe they have the skills required to work in a high-pressured environment. Unfortunately, these skills are not taught at university and do not form part of your legal training. For junior lawyers struggling to keep up with the pace, this can be quite isolating. The legal profession is at risk of losing some of its best talent if it does not act now.

Over the last two years the Junior Lawyer Division (JLD) has undertaken research regarding negative stress and mental ill-health of junior lawyers. The results of our 2017 survey showed that more than 90 per cent of participants had experienced negative stress in the last month, with 26 per cent of those experiencing severe / extreme levels of stress. In relation to mental ill-health, more than 25 per cent of respondents had experienced a mental health problem in the last month (whether formally diagnosed or not). You can read more about the 2017 survey results in the report.

We ran our survey on resilience and wellbeing again this year. Our 2018 survey showed that over 82 per cent of respondents had experienced negative stress in the last month, with 26 per cent of those experiencing severe / extreme stress levels. The number of participants who had experienced a mental health problem in the past month increased by 13 per cent from the previous year, reaching 38 per cent. You can read more about the 2018 survey results in the report.

In February this year we also released guidance for employers which encourages organisations employing junior lawyers to adopt a more proactive and inclusive approach to mental health. The guidance is split into three core pillars: (1) education / training, (2) support, and (3) culture. You can find the full document here and we would be extremely grateful if you can circulate a copy in your organisation.

To support Mental Health Awareness Week, we are releasing a series of blogs each day. The first three blog posts focus on mindfulness and are written by Ann Page, motivational trainer and coach of Yorkshire Courses for Lawyers. Next, Natalie Matthews, a trainee from South Wales, talks about life after a bereavement in our fourth blog. The final piece by Liz Gilmour, a transformational coach and non-practising solicitor, looks at the benefits of cultural change for better wellbeing. Many thanks to Ann, Natalie and Liz for their contributions.

We are aware of the various pressures that junior lawyers face and if you would like support relating to stress or other associated mental health conditions, please contact LawCare in confidence for more information. You can also find details of additional organisations which are there to help in the support pages of the abovementioned JLD survey reports and the employer guidance. Finally, Chetna Bhatt of Being Lawyers has recorded a webinar on stress in the legal profession.

Read Ann Page’s introduction to mindfulness blogs:

  1. Living in the moment
  2. Acknowledgement and acceptance
  3. Detachment

Read Natalie Matthews’ blog on coping with bereavement

Read Liz Gilmour’s blog on cultural change for better wellbeing