Opening up the Conversation: mental health in the legal sector
Thirdfort's Calum Marlow speaks to lawyers daily. Here he shares his experience talking to a sector experiencing unprecedented workloads and immense pressure.
The topic of mental health has come under increased focus recently, especially in the legal sector. The pandemic has accelerated the conversation around mental health and its importance, with many struggling to cope with the difficulties the pandemic has brought. Combine this with a booming housing market, thousands of pounds’ worth of client savings on the line and the SDLT deadline fast-approaching, and it’s no wonder many property lawyers are feeling as though they are being pushed to their limits.
I speak to lawyers daily; they are working at the coal face and are under intense pressure. These hard-working lawyers are dealing with a lot. They are often juggling severe time constraints and pressures as well as managing client expectations, all whilst working away from the office and having to deal with the knock on effects of the pandemic. LawCare, a mental health service for legal professionals, has reported a 9% rise in stress and anxiety for lawyers in the last year, and this could be the visible tip of the iceberg.
LawCare was contacted 964 times this year by lawyers. 34% of these contacts cited the pandemic and the 3 lockdowns we have experienced since March last year as a cause of their increased stress and anxiety. 11% cited struggling to adapt to working from home- which is an issue facing multiple sectors with- but when you take into account how lawyers can often rely on files in the office, the struggles of WFH are compounded. To add to this, concerns around childcare have also been flagged as another source of stress.
When the housing market reopened in June 2020 after being shut down since March, Chancellor Rishi Sunak incentivised would-be movers by suspending Stamp Duty Land Tax until March 31st of 2021. With demand already pent up due to the market being shut down, the UK housing market went from being completely inactive to booming, arguably being the busiest that it ever has been.
The sheer volume of transactions that property lawyers are having to deal with, coupled with a fast approaching cliff-edge in the reintroduction of SDLT, on top of the mental toll of the pandemic, has seen many property lawyers experience mental health problems or burnout. Exacerbating this is the long-standing finger-pointing (from other property professionals and clients alike) conveyancers face within property transactions, blaming them for delays that, in reality, could not be helped. The noise around a conversation in mental health in law has been gathering, and right now is at fever pitch.
At Thirdfort, helping lawyers do legal is at the heart of what we do. But giving legal professionals the right tools is just part of the process of positive change for the profession - a process that requires the opening up of a much larger conversation around legal processes during the pandemic. There are some outstanding services out there, both legal specific and more general, which encourage people to tackle their mental health through different exercises and activities. You can learn more about how to deal with and manage your mental health through various online resources. Suggestions of how to cope with anxiety and stress can be found here and the Law Society also offer guidance along with organisations that you can contact here.
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