The wellbeing crisis in the legal sector

Lydia Watson

Some of us fall into our jobs. But for many in the legal sector, it’s a very purposeful move – one requiring years of study, taxing examinations, and gruelling application processes. The hard work doesn’t stop there either. The industry is known for its late nights, and pressurised environments – and that’s had an impact on wellbeing.

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Damaged wellbeing for lawyers and legal staff

Long before the challenges of Covid-19, and the restrictions of Brexit, the legal sector has faced a pervasive, powerful problem. The wellbeing and mental health crisis in the industry has been identified by academicsreported by press, and highlighted by research – with 48% of junior lawyers experiencing mental health problems, and one in 15 having suicidal thoughts. But why is this such an issue for the sector?

3 likely causes of the wellbeing crisis:

  1. Long hours and late nights: in 2018, partners were working 263 hours longer than four years earlier and the average ‘end of the workday’ time was 10.02pm for junior lawyers.
  2. Imbalanced work-life balance: 75% of legal staff work outside of business hours, and 39% have said that’s had a negative impact on their personal lives.
  3. Stress and less support: 96% of solicitors experience stress, lawyers are the 2nd most stressed workers in the UK, and over 26% of junior lawyers report extreme stress – with 75% saying their managers could do more to help

What impact has Covid-19 had on the legal sector?

If wellbeing was a problem before, it’s likely that the global pandemic hasn’t helped. But what has it affected for those in this sector? One impact has been significant disruption to court proceedings – with delays adding to the already not insignificant backlog of cases. Couple that with a rise in demand in areas like estate administration and a fall in conveyancing, and it’s safe to assume employees have had to be agile – with even more of a focus on client needs than before.

But beyond the changes to the workload itself, ways of working have been disrupted too. Remote working – once seen as a perk for working mothers – became the default, meaning long nights in the office were swapped out for sitting in front of a laptop at home. Could this help employee wellbeing long-term?

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The legal services’ main challenge: changing the always-on culture

For a competitive industry that often works on the billable hours model, encouraging a healthy work-life balance is a challenge. It’s not only cost-prohibitive, but it means a cultural overhaul. Not to mention that, with remote working likely to remain in some form, it allows work and life to be blurred further – without the downsides being as obvious.

But in an industry with a multigenerational workforce, different needs are emerging. With a bigger appetite for flexibility and balance from millennial workers, and a focus on financial drivers like pensions for older groups, staying adaptive to mixed needs is key.

How legal sector leaders can support their people’s wellbeing

Offer perks that really help

If long hours are an inevitability, practical perks could help make the ‘life’ section of a work-life balance less stressful. Some firms offer things like free dry cleaning, and already 45% are offering wellbeing services from gym memberships to counselling. It won’t solve the problem – but it could help employees cope with it.

Consider keeping remote work

Remote working is a two-sided coin, it’s true. Bupa research saw that 57% of legal staff say colleagues have a positive impact on wellbeing – which could be a downside of working from home – but other data shows 42% still want to work just 1-2 days in the office. Firms like Linklaters have already committed to continue offering remote work – and removing the commute and giving more control around those long hours could strengthen wellbeing.

Promote purpose as a driver

Although pay does impact wellbeing for 40% of legal staff, leaders need to offer more to their often overworked employees. Our research saw that ‘purpose’ is the biggest driver of engagement for people in this sector, and it could alleviate some of the stress they experience. Knowing why you’re working hard, and what change you’re making to the world, is a powerful thing – and communicating that will help people and your performance.

Listen closely to their needs

All too often, organisations treat their struggling workforce like a crying baby – trying to work out what it needs, without being able to directly ask. But we’ve developed a way you can ask and really listen to your people’s needs and wants, using advanced language tech. Only then can you make an action plan for change.

With the legal services’ wellbeing crisis in full swing, that’s more important than ever. Book a demo to see how we help you listen:

A faster, simpler way to measure wellbeing

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