Working as a lawyer can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. It can also, of course, involve long and unpredictable hours, heavy workloads and tight deadlines, all of which can be very stressful.
As a result of the pressures that lawyers face, many suffer from a range of symptoms starting with early-stage burnout right through to more severe mental health issues.
A survey carried out by the insurance firm Protectivity found that the legal profession is the second most stressed profession in Britain, with 63% of those lawyers questioned, reporting they suffer from stress on a daily basis.
One of the main causes of stress, particularly amongst those working in private practice, is the pressure to produce high billable hours and always to say ‘yes’.
Many City law firms set such high billing targets and pursue growth so aggressively that lawyers can sometimes feel overwhelmed and overworked. When combined with a lack of support, the pressure and relentlessness can lead to lawyers’ mental health suffering.
There is hope out there for lawyers looking to take back control over their working lives. Law firms are having to adapt to new working practices and some are doing better than others.
It is vital that law firms go the extra mile to support lawyers to build and develop a professional life that mirrors their own lives and ambitions.
There is no single size fits all when it comes to fulfilling, rewarding, balanced careers. Some want to build large, lucrative practices and work around the clock, others are seeking a quieter life and are perfectly happy to earn a little less in return.
It is incumbent on lawyers to ask themselves what they are really seeking from their careers and for firms to try to find solutions to these challenges if they want to keep their best people.
A happy lawyer is one who is a member of a community of like-minded people that they respect and admire. The evidence suggests overwhelmingly that where professionals believe they are respected and valued members of their organisations, their happiness and resilience levels are significantly increased.
The evidence also shows that lawyers need some measure of independence and control over their working lives in order to stave off burnout, whereas a total lack of control can lead to a sense of helplessness.
A happy lawyer will typically have some measure of control over working when they want, where they want and with whom they want and be a part of a supportive and collaborative community of peers they admire.
Given the extraordinary growth in the alternative law firm space, by understanding what they really want from their careers and seeking out the right solutions, lawyers have all the options they could need to transform both their working and personal lives.