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Stress busting tips for lawyers

BY EVE DULLABH
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Would you want to be a lawyer if you couldn’t accept that the role has its stresses? Perhaps you find some of those pressures motivating? At the same time, spare a thought for your legal colleagues who, come the end of the day, find it very difficult to walk away from the burdens of their occupations. Do you sometimes feel the strain too? Most who work in law do – and many quite often. Stress isn’t confined to the legal sector – but the profession is regularly among the highest reported most stressful job areas. In 2014, 96% of 1,517 solicitors surveyed by the Law Society said they felt negative stress in their occupation.

Mitigating the strains of the job

Some larger law firms try to mitigate the negative consequences of the job. Their initiatives include mindfulness clinics, staff yoga sessions and awareness campaigns to combat presenteeism and, unfortunately, in some cases, bullying. Some have policies designed to reduce the long hours culture. These vary in success. Others have strengthened their support to senior fee-earners by increasing the numbers of properly qualified and trained paralegals.

These measures are harder to implement in smaller organisations – so how else can you help lower stress levels? Simply encouraging people to ask for help is a great start. Providing assertiveness training is very useful too particularly if it is tailored for lawyers. All learning is more relevant and effective when the cohort is roughly similar.

Understanding the link between stress and mental health

Recognising that stress sits upon a spectrum of wellbeing and mental health is useful too. It is only one possible outcome of lack of mental wellness alongside depression, anxiety disorders, and chronic fatigue syndrome. These aren’t automatically “disabilities” under the 2010 Equalities Act, but there are employees who have won cases against their employers for contributing to mental ill-health.

Tips for lawyers to improve their well-being include:

  • Being flexible and resilient. Nothing stays the same or lasts forever – aim for excellence but accept that setbacks will happen
  • Identifying what will help you thrive and not just survive
  • Seeing mistakes as brilliant opportunities to learn. Reward yourself for a job well done and reward yourself, too, for learning from failure (and forgive yourself for the failure in the first place). This can seem alien – lawyers are perfectionists –but do it. And acknowledge that bad times and events are usually temporary and limited
  • Challenging the veracity of negative thoughts as vigorously as you would challenge an opponent’s case
  • Strengthening the mind by being physically active. Play sports with your clients and fellow professionals. Eat well, sleep enough
  • Having a support network: friends, family and encouraging work colleagues. Just a “thanks” and a compliment can boost well-being
  • Taking breaks during the day
  • Planning ahead, planning for contingencies and yet being mindful of the present: what’s happening to your body and what’s around you
  • Being focused with not too many distractions
  • Having a laugh. Choose team building events in which people don’t take themselves seriously. For example, if you have a theatrically inclined legal team, hire a local actor to run an improvisation workshop, which will also boost presentation skills
  • Keeping the mind flexible by learning new skills, especially those that build confidence and efficacy

  • The above are relatively low in cost but high in benefits to individuals and legal teams. They are actions for which workers can take responsibility but achieve the very best results when led by management.