How to ensure mental wellbeing for your new junior lawyers? 

Blue Monday has been and gone; the culmination of post-Christmas blues and grey January skies leaving workers feeling more disheartened than any other day of the year. Depending on the nature of your role and the pressure you’re under, you may agree with the 61 percent of people who, when surveyed, said they felt more depressed on their way to work on this day. If you’re a junior lawyer, Blue Monday was likely just another day in a series of stressful weeks. 

According to research from the Junior Lawyers Division, over 82 percent of respondents had experienced negative stress in the last month with 26 percent of those experiencing extreme levels of stress. A further 38 percent of respondents had experienced a mental health problem in the last month – an increase of 13 percent from the previous year. 

With today’s competitive landscape creating tough conditions for newly trained solicitors, law firms must prioritise the mental wellbeing of their junior staff – but what steps can be taken to give new lawyers a healthier start to their professional careers?

Provide sufficient support

From exceptionally long hours to large student debt and a lack of job security, newly qualified solicitors certainly don’t have it easy – however, the stress of starting a new job is inevitably made worse by a lack of support from law firm leaders. Worryingly, a staggering 73 percent of respondents to the 2018 JLD survey stated that they did not know, or thought that their employer did not, provide any help, guidance or support to staff in relation to mental health at work. 

Rather than simply addressing the issue by putting in place a policy that remains buried in a company handbook, employers in this fast-paced sector must actively work to provide employees with the help they need. A well-trained, approachable HR team is the bread and butter of a supportive culture, but beyond a dedicated department, law firms might consider establishing employee engagement groups, counselling services and mindfulness workshops to give staff the resources they need for improving their mental health.  

Improve your company culture 

There is no silver bullet solution to tackling mental health issues at work; there is no tick-box exercise or training course that will bring about change overnight. However, if employers seek to create a better environment for newly qualified lawyers, they must strive to improve the organisational culture by reducing the stigma associated with talking about mental health and encourage an open discussion on the subject. Absence reports, staff turnover and employee surveys should be closely monitored to allow for a true insight on how your people are feeling, but they should by no means replace regular 1-2-1 catch-ups.

As well as demonstrating a clear commitment to culture change by encouraging an ongoing conversation, firms must ensure that employees understand the importance of down-time to their own health. Staying late may be inevitable from time to time, but line managers should keep tabs on their staff to check they are fully utilising their annual leave entitlement. Appointing mentors from your leadership team to champion mental health issues will further aid in ensuring employees don’t feel alone should their stress levels increase.

Raise awareness through training

In the legal industry, success is still defined by the number of hours a lawyer puts into their working day. In turn, transitioning from a traineeship to full-time employment is a baptism of fire for most fledgling lawyers who struggle to meet the standard expected of them without sacrificing their mental health. Unfortunately, a lack of awareness of how stress can impact on our physical health sees too many junior lawyers stay silent on the issue – a trend which tends to take its toll on the individual. 

If they are to encourage a culture-shift in their organisation, law firm leaders must educate their workforce on the importance of mental health and provide employees with the tools they need to maximise their wellbeing in the workplace. According to research from Deloitte, businesses lose in excess of £1,500 per employee per year due to the costs associated with poor mental health. 

If well-implemented, a staff-wide training programme will naturally lead to substantial returns on investment for a law firm as employees are taught to prioritise their resilience and wellbeing.