We need to talk

June 12, 2019

A recent survey report on resilience and wellbeing from the Junior Lawyers’ Division of the Law Society found that 94% of respondents had experienced stress in their role in the last month with almost a quarter of these experiencing severe/extreme levels. More shockingly, 6.4% had experienced suicidal thoughts in the previous month. As the mother of a law student taking her final exams this year and CEO of SCL, I’m obviously concerned by this. We need to talk about mental health and whether technology helps or makes things worse.

There’s much to celebrate about technology: it provides us with a myriad of brilliant solutions, e-discovery, document automation and smart contracts to name a few. But can being always accessible and online make lawyers feel over-anxious, stressed and unable to “switch off”? As a techlaw educational charity, SCL has a vital role to play in raising awareness of wellbeing and mental health issues in the sector. In particular, we should be mindful of these issues as our student community enters an intensely competitive recruitment market where the need to excel is paramount, as highlighted by Professor Richard Collier in his research Surviving or thriving? Researching wellbeing and mental health in the legal profession:

“UK university law schools are seeing increasing concern around the wellbeing of their law students, set against the backdrop of substantial evidence of poor mental health across the university sector”.

It is well-documented that lawyers find it hard to achieve a satisfactory work-life balance, and for some, this technology has been instrumental in this struggle. While new technologies can be empowering, the pressures that they can place on individuals should also be discussed.

“We receive a wide variety of calls to our helpline from barristers feeling burnt out, young trainees and students struggling with the workload, and experienced lawyers and partners dealing with depression”. (Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare).

The increased transparency and accessibility provided by new technological systems can increase client pressure on lawyers to perform to an even higher standard. As a Society we need to ensure that technology enables us to work smarter and safer, but not at the cost of our mental health and wellbeing.

Such issues are not yet treated with the same pragmatism and lack of stigma as physical health problems. While all professions deal with similar pressures, legal professionals are trained problem-solvers so often give their own wellbeing very low priority.

I want to talk about how we can promote wellbeing within our community and open up the discussion. We may start by holding a focus group to help investigate the extent to which this issue has affected SCL members and to offer a platform to share experiences and aim to promote positive mental health goals for the future. We may also consider developing an SCL wellbeing app to help support law students and legal professionals.

Caroline Gould is Chief Executive of SCL and can be contacted at caroline.gould@scl.org or on 0117 904 1242. If you would like to be involved with SCL’s wellbeing initiative, please keep the conversation going and get in touch.