Stress in legal affects more than just lawyers

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I want to start this post by acknowledging how far the discussion around mental health and wellbeing has moved within the Australia legal industry since the death of Tristan Jespon in October 2004. In part I put the moving of this needle down to the work of my good friend Justin Whealing while he was editor of Lawyers Weekly and in part I put this down to the continued work of Jerome Doraisamy, also of Lawyers Weekly and Minds Count (the new name for The Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation). Don’t get me wrong though, there are many many others who have played both active front-line and support roles in ensuring the issue of mental health and wellbeing is taken more seriously in our profession (see RUOKAY Day for example).

That said, while I think all of these initiatives and discussions are fantastic and are standouts that should make us extremely proud of the direction the industry is taking in Australia, almost every single conversation that I have been involved in on this issue has related to the mental health and wellbeing of lawyers – and, more specifically, junior lawyers. So it was great to see a report published earlier this month by fSquared Marketing on the issue of ‘Legal Marketing Mental Wellness’.

The subtitle of this report – ‘Stress in legal affects more than just lawyers’ – sets out the parameters of the journey the reader is about to undertake. And if you are left in any doubt about this, one of the first paragraphs of the Report cuts to the rub of the issue and totally grabs your attention and is also so very true.

It reads:

What about the legal marketing and business development professionals who are tasked with growing firms how is their mental health? They work in the same high-pressure environment as attorneys after all, and often under their direct management. Might the traditional pyramid structure, with equity partners at the peak, lead to stress cascading down the hierarchy to fall on the shoulders of the marketing and BD staff?

As someone who has worked on the front-line for over a decade my response is – ABSOLUTELY!

Taking a look at some of the responses I was particularly saddened, although not overly surprised, by these two graphs:

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both of which were followed up by:

  • When reflecting on their own experiences, 83% of respondents listed their level of stress as at least a 7 on a scale of 1-10. No respondents reported feeling “very little to no stress”.
  • 71% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “I have too much work assigned to me.”
  • 76% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “There is a lack of resources in my department/assigned to marketing.”

And the following two highlighted comments made me sad that I personally am not delivering on my duty to my team and that the industry more generally really needs to address this issue:

“Much of the stress would be alleviated with stronger leadership from firm management, as well as from growing the marketing/business development team.”

“It is unfortunate that law firms segregate mental health awareness between lawyers and non-lawyers. Somehow they feel that staff (with whom they work directly) do not suffer from the same level of stress that the lawyers do.”

As damning as that last statement is – and never underestimate how damning it is, I want to end this post on a positive note, and that is this:

62% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “My team’s ‘wins’ in marketing are celebrated”.

I certainly hope my wonderful team think so!

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*if you are having issues in this area, no matter what firm you are from, never feel shy to reach out. I don’t promise to have the answer (frankly I won’t), but I will try and help you find that answer.

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