IP Inclusive leader Andrea Brewster OBE reports on an employers’ round-table she attended recently, to discuss mental health support in the legal professions. We find out how those discussions link to our own activities for Mental Health Awareness Week (13 to 19 May 2019).
Not long ago I was invited to a round-table breakfast meeting for employers in the legal sector. This was one of a series of discussions organised by Kayleigh Leonie, formerly of the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division and now a trustee of LawCare. Its purpose? To improve the mental health support that employers provide to legal professionals. The event brought together HR professionals, practice managers and solicitors, from a range of law firms.
The focus of the meeting was an excellent talk by Nick Bloy of Wellbeing Republic. Nick explained the typical character traits that can make lawyers, often more than any other professionals, vulnerable to stress and mental health problems. Perfectionism, pessimism, “busy-ness” and the insistence on prioritising work ahead of wellbeing were the main ones he mentioned, but the discussions touched on others as well. It seems that we really are our own worst enemies in the legal services sector; the very traits that make us so good at our jobs – and perhaps more likely to go into those jobs – are the ones that ultimately undermine our ability to perform at our best, and that reduce our resilience to the pressures we face.
Not about blame
Nick did not suggest we should blame ourselves for these traits. His message was, rather, that by understanding how we behave, we can be better equipped to curtail the negative aspects. It was also about how those who work with us, manage us or support us can recognise and reduce the main triggers for mental ill-health, and provide a working environment that plays to lawyers’ strengths not their weaknesses.
The impact on productivity
Interestingly, Nick included some startling evidence about the impact of stress and long hours on productivity. In several case studies, shorter working hours have actually yielded a greater, not to mention a higher quality, output. So there are business as well as personal drivers for improving employees’ mental wellbeing.
What’s being done in the legal profession
Both during and after Nick’s talk, attendees exchanged thoughts about the mental health support schemes in their own organisations. There is a lot being done – mental health “first aid” training; corporate wellbeing plans; workshops and training sessions – but I was particularly struck by three things:
- Following up on mental health first aid training by turning your first aiders into proactive mental health “champions”, who are visible and approachable and help ensure their colleagues understand the help they can provide.
- The importance of having senior staff involved: taking part in the first aid training, sharing their personal stories, acting as both role models and ambassadors for change.
- The need for flexible working schemes that incorporate clearer, and better respected, boundaries between work and down-time, and if necessary for them to be enforced so that employees are certain to take healthy amounts of the leave and non-working hours they’re entitled to.
Support for employers
Through these round-table events, and her work on wellbeing surveys for junior lawyers as well as the Junior Lawyers Division’s employers’ guidance, Kayleigh Leonie has done a lot to improve mental wellbeing for lawyers. She has created a community of employers who are now sharing ideas and best practices – as well as their experiences of things that work less well – to everyone’s advantage. I am extremely grateful to her for allowing us access to that. Perhaps in due course we can build a similar community for IP Inclusive supporters.
IP Inclusive’s activities
Meanwhile our 14 May lunch-time webinar, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, will include a discussion on mental health first aid training and appropriate follow-up. You can register for that webinar here.
And I am delighted that Nick Bloy has agreed to repeat his talk for us in an IP Inclusive webinar at 4 pm on 13 June 2019. You can find more details and a registration link here.
Both of our webinars are free for all IP professionals, whatever their role or their level of seniority, and for those who support them for instance in managerial or HR functions. We have also organised some “live viewings”, at various locations; these are informal events that allow you to watch the webinar alongside your peers and if appropriate to discuss together the issues that it raises.
IP Inclusive is involved in several activities to mark Mental Health Awareness Week this year. In addition to the webinars, we’ll be running a survey on stress and mental wellbeing in the patent and trade mark professions, by way of follow-up to our 2018 survey; and some mental health first aid training “pilots” for our EDI Charter signatories.
Our aim is to ensure that mental health stays on the agenda throughout the year, not just for one week.