This post sets out some rather gloomy stats about where the legal profession in the UK, USA and Australia was at in around 2015.
From more recent discussions with lawyers, it’s clear things have become far more pressured since early 2020.
LawCare’s stats for 2020 make sombre reading. Maybe unsurprisingly, there was a sharp rise in the number of lawyers calling their helpline seeking help with anxiety.
Some extracts from the report for 2020:
“The number of legal professionals contacting the charity LawCare for emotional support continues to rise year on year, with 738 legal professionals seeking help in 2020, a rise of 9% on the previous year.
The charity received 964 calls, webchats, and emails to their support service in 2020. The most common problems cited were stress (23%), anxiety (15%), bullying (10%), depression (10%) and worries about career development (10%). The number of people contacting LawCare experiencing anxiety has seen the biggest increase – from 45 people in 2019 to 111 last year.
The majority of those who contacted the support service were women (69%). 50% were trainees/pupils, or had been qualified less than five years, and a further 6% were law students.
From March 2020, 34% of all calls, emails and webchats to the LawCare support service had a COVID element. Of these, the most common issues reported were:
- Worsening of existing mental health issues (13%)
- Not being permitted to work from home (WFH) (12%)
- Struggling to adapt to WFH due to poor supervision, procedures, or provision of equipment (11%)
- Feeling isolated (11%)
- Being overloaded with work, typically because colleagues had been furloughed (9%)
There were also practical issues related to childcare, relationship strain, redundancy or inability to find a job (including job offers made before COVID being withdrawn) and financial concerns. LawCare also heard from legal professionals being asked to work while furloughed.”
In 2012 the UK legal support charity LawCare conducted a survey into stress in the legal profession. Over 1,000 solicitors and barristers in the UK and Ireland responded.
The results showed that three quarters of the lawyers surveyed felt more stressed than they had five years previously.
The main reasons given for this were being overloaded with work, management issues (including lack of appreciation), and feeling isolated or unsupported.
Other reasons included having unattainable targets, long hours, poor pay and job insecurity.
The majority of those asked (70 per cent) said that they experienced their work environment as stressful.
Almost half believed they had insufficient support.
About two thirds said that they would be concerned about reporting feelings of stress to an employer.
Over two thirds said that they worked late every day or at least several times a week and just under one third indicated that they occasionally drank more than the recommended units of alcohol per week.
The Law Society of England and Wales’s ‘Survey of Solicitors Health and Well-being’ in 2014 indicated that 96 per cent of solicitors said that they experienced negative stress, with 19 per cent at severe or extreme levels.
Workload and client expectations were identified as the most common cause of stress in the previous year’s report.
Despite the number of those experiencing extreme or severe stress, only 5 per cent said that they had taken time off work as a consequence.
In April 2015 the Bar Council published a comprehensive report ‘Wellbeing at the Bar’.
The Council was keen to better understand levels of wellbeing across the Bar and to identify what interventions and resources might be put in place to support practising barristers’ general wellbeing.
The report is comprehensive and wide ranging.
It revealed that, of those surveyed (about one sixth of the profession), around one in eight barristers felt emotionally exhausted and over a half did not sleep properly.
Around two thirds indicated that they thought their present levels of stress had a negative impact on their work performance.
A large number of respondents indicated that most or all of the time they
- found it difficult to control or stop worrying (33 per cent),
- tended to dwell on their mistakes (35 per cent),
- tended to feel nervous, anxious or on edge (24 per cent),
- tended to be very critical of themselves (59 per cent) and
- experienced unpleasant physical symptoms when they felt stressed, for example headache, fatigue, palpitations, upset stomach, and achy muscles (28 per cent).
Financial concerns, devaluation of the profession’s reputation in the eyes of the public and government, and long unsociable working hours were perceived as sources of pressure.
The in-house legal sector
In July 2015 LBC Wise Counsel published a report on the wellbeing of in-house lawyers.
The author of the report Paul Gilbert indicated that he had never been more concerned for the mental wellbeing of the profession.
The report observed that in-house lawyers mostly work in small teams, often lack the infrastructure to support their roles, and tend to soak up the pressures placed on them by colleagues with their own stresses to manage.
The report highlights the job demands for in-house lawyers to be increasingly efficient, cut costs and to do more with less.
It raises the growing issue of technology blurring boundaries between work and home.
Gilbert believes that the pressure on mental wellbeing is the greatest challenge facing in-house legal teams today …
 Kolko, J. (2012). Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving, a Handbook & a Call to Action. Austin, TX: Austin Centre for Design p.26.
 The Law Society (2015) Solicitors’ health and wellbeing: The Law Society’s PC Holder Survey 2014. The Law Society of England & Wales.
 Positive (2015). Wellbeing at the Bar: A Resilience Framework Assessment (RFA).
 Gilbert, P. (2015). A report on the wellbeing of in-house lawyers. LBC Wise Counsel.
(This is an edited excerpt from my book A Lawyer’s Guide to Wellbeing and Managing Stress published by ARK Group in 2015.)