Cultural drift or structural shift?
Halebury’s Polly Jeanneret blogs on well-being in the legal profession following an industry roundtable earlier this month.
Stress is not a sin and lawyers need to talk about it. This was one message I took away from a recent roundtable I attended on the wellbeing of lawyers hosted by the Law Society Gazette: http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/people/roundtable-wellbeing/5051503.fullarticle.
We bemoaned the fact that, sadly, lawyers remain some of the most stressed out professionals. This fact is backed up, for instance, by Law Society research carried out earlier this year (http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/press-releases/drop-in-lawyers-sick-days-but-high-stress-levels-continue) which found that 96% of solicitors feel under high stress with nearly a fifth at ‘severe’ or ‘extreme’ levels.
Yet we also celebrated the fact that culturally things are changing: firms are increasingly trying to alleviate the pressures on lawyers with a range of responses including wellbeing awareness weeks, lunchtime sessions from mindfulness gurus, and training on how to get a better night’s sleep.
This is to be welcomed: much can be done by senior management in setting the right agenda from the top: if you want better equality stats, you need women in leadership, if you want to root out corruption then you have to sack CEOs who turn a blind eye to misdemeanours (are you listening VW?). The same applies to lawyers and the long hours/high stress culture of many law firms.
I wonder, however, how far this takes us. Cultures are tied into the structures that surround them: the community-based culture of a small social enterprise is inextricably linked with its flat structure and devolved powers; Google’s ‘we’re-not-an-office’ office culture is crafted very carefully by the company’s architects where employees have direct access to top executives to pitch new ideas.
So how far can law firms change if they are still almost vertigo-inducingly hierarchical, pyramid-shaped entities? Do we need real structural change such, as but not limited to the NewLaw alternative structures of which Halebury is rightly proud to be an example?
Common causes of lawyer stress are unrealistic deadlines and equally unrealistic targets over which you have no control – yet at Halebury I am my own boss and set my own parameters. Do we, in fact, need a real revolution to change the laborious lot of lawyers to let them take control of their own lives?
Polly is an employment lawyer at Halebury and a professional writer contributing to the legal and mainstream press (The Times, Prospect, Legal Practice Management magazine, Law Gazette and IBA) on law and the legal profession. You can follow her on @pollybots.
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