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Anxiety, Substance Abuse and Poor Mental Health Common Among Lawyers in City Law Firms

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Photo Credits - Tom Pumford via Unsplash

It’s widely known that big-city law firms pay mouth-watering salaries for high-stakes, time-consuming work. But an increasingly worrying trend spotlights how the workaholic culture is leaving many in the sector with poor mental health. Below, we explore the impacts of an excessive workload and what employees can do to cope with mental illness.

If you require any immediate help, please contact a mental health helpline like:

  • Samaritans on 116 123 – who are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year
  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK on 0800 689 5652 – from 6 pm until midnight every day
  • SANEline on 0300 304 7000 – every day from 4.30 pm until 10 pm

Workaholic Culture in Law Firms Causing Substance Abuse Crisis

In 2013, David Latham, a partner at Hogan Lovells, died during a period of poor mental health. His death came just a day after he’d spoken to his colleague about committing suicide. Paul Rawlinson, former Baker McKenzie Chief, committed suicide in 2019. Similarly, his death came as a result of mental illness.

Then, on 23 September, Vanessa Ford, who was a senior partner at Pinsent Masons, died after consuming a substantial volume of alcohol. According to the coroner, she’d been dealing with an “acute mental health crisis” when she was hit by a train. The coroner stated she’d taken her own life but couldn’t conclude if she’d intended to do so.

Unfortunately, the above cases highlight the sad reality for many in big city law firms. That is how the expectation to work long, life-consuming hours in a law office severely impacts employees’ mental health.

READ: Manager Faces Hostile Work Environment and is Accused of Faking Mental Illness Upon Return to Work 

Yet, despite the tragic cases highlighted above, the problem still seems to remain. A LawCare survey found that more than 60% of respondents had experienced anxiety during a 12-month period. Worryingly, some respondents had even felt suicidal thoughts during the same time.

But it doesn’t end there. Last year, a Paul Hasting’s associate released a list of ‘non-negotiables’ for junior colleagues. Among other things, the list included 24/7 availability and “I don’t know” being an unacceptable answer.

Consequently, this type of unhealthy office culture in law firms has led to substance abuse, which has exacerbated poor mental health. According to former US lawyer Patrick Krill, alcohol has become the “primary drug of choice” to cope with stress from excessive workloads.

Avoiding Mental Illness in Law Firms

With many big-city law firms encouraging a culture that results in employees having excessive workloads and poor mental health, individuals must take care of themselves. Some things will likely be outside their powers, but controlling what’s controllable is important.

To combat poor mental health in law firms, control what's controllable. This includes resisting against excessive workloads and learning stress management.

Push Back Against the Excessive Workload

First, with many law firms piling work with tight deadlines, employees must control their workload. An obvious consideration here is time management. Individuals should look to improve their prioritisation skills, as doing so will help meet the deadlines. 

Another consideration is learning when to say no. Just because an individual has been asked to complete work doesn’t mean they will be required to. The employee’s superior may be unaware of their workload, and discussing capacity may lead to the work being allocated elsewhere.

Finally, employees should learn to detach themselves from work when at home. Initially, individuals may believe they’re more productive if they allow more time for their work. However, this can lead to employee burnout and make them less efficient. As such, having a break at home and a good work-life balance could improve the employee’s productivity.

Focus on Stress Management

A career in law is often filled with high-stakes decisions that pay well. Inevitably, this leads to stress for employees in law firms. Some stress is okay, but too much can significantly impact the individual’s well-being. As such, learning to manage it is crucial.

Firstly, it’s a good idea for the employee to understand what causes them stress. Without identifying the triggers, it may be challenging to find coping mechanisms. Once this has been determined, the individual can look at solutions.

READ: Our Top Employment Law Articles From February 2024

Next, the employee should consider what they can do internally and externally to deal with the problem. A positive mindset and belief in one’s abilities can go a long way to boosting an employee’s well-being. 

Additionally, learning to offload to colleagues could prove beneficial. Not only is it healthy for the mind to talk and get things off the chest, but colleagues may offer help if they know the individual’s circumstances. Also, if others are facing similar issues, the employee may feel better, knowing they aren’t alone.

Finally, the sector encourages resilient workers. Whilst life can be challenging, making it important to show some resilience, knowing when to get help is equally important. Therefore, employees should research the help their employer offers and ensure they utilise it if required.

Our Final Thoughts

In 2024, well-being is discussed now more than ever. Knowing the potentially stressful demands in the legal sector, it’s important law firms provide their employees with the support they need. Furthermore, employees should look to take care of themselves and know when to ask for help. Doing so will promote a healthy workplace environment and reduce poor mental health.

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If you have any legal issues and need help, contact Redmans Solicitors now. They are employment law specialists and could discuss your circumstances before advising on your possible next steps.

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