A recent report published by Resolution in partnership with LawCare has found that 89% of professionals working in the family justice sector have experienced negative wellbeing issues as a result of their work, with 1 in 4 individuals considering leaving the profession entirely. The survey taken from a cross-section of over 1,200 professionals working in the industry also found that at least 95% of respondents regularly work more hours than they are contracted for, with the majority (81%) feeling unable to take annual leave or a even a short break during the day.
The report set out some key findings from the collection and analysis of qualitative and quantitative data and personal accounts, highlighting the wellbeing issues faced by professionals both before and since Covid-19. It found that many work-related challenges arose as a result of pressure and stress following the first Covid lockdown, with working from home and isolation being cited as contributing to a lack of practical support in day-to-day working life. But other causes of stress are wide-ranging and proved to have a large impact prior to the pandemic, such as client demands and expectations, as well as delays and difficulties at the courts.
Juliet Harvey, National Chair for Resolution commented that:
“it is easy to see concerns about wellbeing in the workplace as part of the fallout from a global pandemic. But the reality is that this was already an issue affecting many family law professionals and will continue to do so long after the virus subsides.”
“The pandemic and our move to remote working has only exacerbated these challenges, and the high response rate to our survey reveals the resonance of the issue. Our findings make for sobering reading, and deserve the attention of all of us working in this area, whether we have been in role for 30 years or 30 days.”
Heavy workloads both pre and post pandemic were found to be the overarching contributor to poor mental and physical wellbeing amongst those surveyed, with 64% always feeling fatigued during the day. Many respondents also reported disrupted sleep and anxiety issues with one in three making, or nearly making, mistakes that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. Additionally, 40% have seen a negative impact on their physical health, with 30% experiencing problems with family life or relationships. Most concerning of all however, is that as many as 5% of respondents have experienced suicidal thoughts or self-harm during the past 12 months because of work-related pressures and stress.
Lila, a Barrister at a Western Circuit Chambers commented how her busy workload and extra-curricular, but work-related commitments eventually become too much, resulting in a breakdown:
“it crept up on me. I was so used to being constantly busy that I didn’t notice how exhausted I was. I started to realise something was not right when my sleep was being severely affected. There were about three weeks where I suffered almost total sleep deprivation. One day, I just couldn’t get out of bed and into work. It was as if my body had pressed the ‘stop’ button. My first steps were to contact my chambers and see my doctor. I hardly ever go to the doctors, so it was a big thing for me. I knew I needed help. I was prescribed medication and I referred myself for counselling.”
Jay, a Family Law Partner from Wiltshire, also remembers the immense pressure of high workloads and strained client relationships from a previous role in 2007:
“it started off with the workload becoming a real strain on my wellbeing, with very little work-life balance. Things took a turn for the worse when I had a traumatic experience involving a client, who should have been flagged as at-risk. She had been turned away from another practice for dangerous behaviour, but the information never got passed on. In one meeting, she self-harmed with a sharp object. I was in shock and genuinely felt quite vulnerable … not long after the incident, I handed in my notice to work at a firm nearer to home.”
The report also highlighted that employers that fail to address wellbeing issues risk losing talented team members – especially those at the early stages of their careers. More than half (51%) of those surveyed said they had considered leaving the profession at some point in the last three years because of concerns about their wellbeing. Of those who have considered leaving the profession, almost half (45%) are junior – whether trainees, assistants, associates, or junior counsel. This highlights a significant risk of a talent drain across the sector.
Linda Ford, Chief Executive of CILEX, the professional body for Chartered Legal Executives in England and Wales, commented of the report:
“these thought-provoking findings will help to progress conversations around mental wellbeing and stress in a profession that has long been associated with strained working conditions, long hours and insufficient work-life balance, providing a clear picture of the wellbeing issues professionals in practice are facing today. It is clear that supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing isn’t just an option for employers – but a necessity.”
For help or information on mental and physical wellbeing in the legal community contact LawCare.