Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) comes at a time when the mental health of so many is being tested and is a topic at the forefront of Coronavirus related conversations. So we are taking this opportunity to discuss mental health and wellbeing within the legal sector.
The 2019 Bellwether Report on stress in the legal profession found that 76% of solicitors feel that stress/mental wellbeing is a major issue within the legal sector, with 1 in 4 experiencing extreme or very high levels of stress.
Employers have a duty of care to their employees and should help where possible, for the benefit of the employee as well as the firm. Research by Deloitte found that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion a year, an increase of 16% since 2016. It also found that for every £1 spent by employers on mental health interventions, they save £5 in reduced absence and staff turnover.
Mental health and risk management
As an insurance broker who specialises in law firm risk mitigation, we recognise this as an emerging risk area that all law firms need to think about. Stress and poor mental health is of course not unique to the legal profession and it’s encouraging to see some law firms being proactive in this area. However, there is a lot more that can be done.
A Law Society survey found that 66% of solicitors say they would be concerned about reporting feelings of stress to their employer because of the stigma involved. Stress and anxiety is common in the legal profession and without the right help and support, could develop into significant errors being made and potential negligent claims made against a firm. Whilst negligence is covered under a professional indemnity insurance policy (speak to your broker for further details), our advice is to be proactive by putting in measures to prevent errors. We are happy to provide further advice, just get in contact.
Creating psychological safety where employees feel comfortable in admitting mistakes or being honest about their capabilities helps to avoid the risk of claims by ensuring the problem is dealt with at the beginning. Positive wellbeing also helps to improve productivity and morale, as well as potentially reducing turnover and helping recruitment.
Support for staff around mental health is not currently formally considered by insurers when reviewing a law firm’s risk, however we argue that it should be. Positive measures demonstrate proactivity and alternative thinking when it comes to employee supervision and risk mitigation. This is an area we are exploring further and would welcome your thoughts. We encourage law firms of all sizes to incorporate employee wellbeing within their risk management strategy as it helps ensure that firms are seen in the best possible light.
Support and information
The initiatives and resources needed to provide support differ depending on the structure and environment of a firm, and of course involves HR. Speak to your HR team (or HR service provider) to see what is currently in place. For those who currently have no mental health initiatives in place, you may wish to begin by providing resources or regularly surveying employee wellbeing. Alternatively, you may wish to develop a comprehensive employee assistance programme (EAP), which could include access to counselling and other wellbeing perks. A good place to start is by doing some research and speaking to organisations who can help.
Mental health charities
We work with LawCare, a registered charity who promotes and supports good mental health and wellbeing in the legal community. All LawCare volunteers have working experience of the legal sector, so know first-hand some of the pressures and concerns encountered in law firms. Their website is full of useful resources as well as a free confidential helpline.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England
You may also want to consider training some of your staff on mental health awareness and skills through Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, a social enterprise who provide training with the vision of improving mental health of the nation. Miller successfully implemented this scheme in 2019 and have over 30 mental health first aiders who are available for Miller employees to talk to and are trained in spotting the signs of poor mental wellbeing.
The legal community
Another valuable resource is the legal community. If you are looking to implement a wellbeing programme then it may be worthwhile to learn from other law firms who already have initiatives in place. We welcome any firms who would like to discuss this further to get in touch.
We also recommend getting involved in and/or promoting networking groups within your firm. It can be helpful to speak to peers about issues and ways to deal with them. Here are a few examples:
- Women’s networking groups
- London Young Lawyers Group (LYLG)
- Black Solicitors Network
Significant progress has been made in recognising the importance of mental wellbeing, however there is still a lot more than can and should be done. We strongly believe that by being proactive in providing employees with appropriate wellbeing support and resources, it will help law firms mitigate risks as well as other benefits.
Mental health is a topic our solicitor risks team is discussing regularly, so do get in touch if you would like to get involved.