Be honest … how comfortable do you feel about telling your colleagues about any personal challenges you may be experiencing? And how much compassion do you show when colleagues are struggling with the same issues?
Practical tools and strategies to help lawyers tackle these difficult questions were the focus of a fascinating seminar on mental health in the legal profession.
This was a very human event. As a young woman told her story – about her journey back from depression suffered while practising as a lawyer – the audience sat in silence. But the nods of recognition that could be seen around the room said it all.
This was not a dramatic scene from a movie, but a CPD event called ‘Transforming the Wellbeing of the Profession’ – a joint event from the Law Society and High-Flyers Coaching based in Chancery Lane.
Welcoming the audience, Joe Egan, deputy VP of the Law Society, emphasized that events like this are vital so that the legal profession can explore how it can de-stigmatise stress, anxiety and mental health issues.
The speakers, all lawyers, gave their personal perspective in this complex area.
Paul Gilbert, chief executive of LBC Wise Counsel, talked about his survey and report on the well being of in-house lawyers. He described mental health as the greatest challenge facing in-house legal teams today.
Lauren Giblin, founder of Bespoke Coaching, was the young woman who spoke so movingly about her journey back from depression. Lauren told the audience she spent eight years as a banking lawyer, and how the perfectionist tendencies that contributed to her successful career as a lawyer also ultimately also contributed to her illness. What stood out most perhaps was an astounding statistic; Lauren said 50% of the women she met whilst being treated in hospital were lawyers.
The secret to her recovery was learning self- awareness and the power of choice. Lauren told the audience she believes these techniques can help anyone address the often-negative internal commentary that causes pressures to build up and overwhelm you. Being conscious of the pressure that lawyers can be under and the impact this pressure can have on your wellbeing allows us to separate out our feelings of being trapped inside the work, and then look more objectively at our lives as a whole.
Elizabeth Rimmer, chief executive at Lawcare, spoke passionately about why well-being matters in the legal community. Elizabeth, who started her career as a lawyer at Leigh Day & Co, emphasized the need for lawyers to find a way of talking about their concerns. This level of honesty and vulnerability is not common or easy in the legal profession, but this is where Lawcare can help. Elizabeth said many lawyers are worried about appearing weak if they admit to personal problems. To give people the courage and the confidence to open up and speak about their feelings or their illness, Elizabeth said the legal sector must challenge the stigma around mental health. That’s why events like this – hosted by the Law Society – are vitally important so the issues are aired and lawyers and law firms begin to engage and change. Closing her talk, Elizabeth said in the workplace there is a role and a need for everyone to be supportive of colleagues and to take the issue of health and wellbeing seriously.
The final speaker was Chetna Bhatt, founder of High-Flyers Coaching. Chetna is currently on sabbatical from her in-house post, helping professionals work in a more balanced, productive and successful way.
She shared her personal story and how she had overcome personal difficulties. Like Lauren, she urged people to take back self-control – in a way that liberates you rather than bottles up problems for later.
She highlighted how important it is to be true and authentic to yourself, and to take responsibility for the changes that need to be made. She took the audience through a range of group exercises, designed to promote self-reflection and to create small changes in our lives that were both achievable and easy to build upon.
The very powerful message from this event was clear; people should not stay silent about the work pressures they are under. People should be encouraged and allowed to talk about stress at work, or to reach out and offer to help colleagues around them. There is help and support at all levels – for both individuals and firms. Starting a conversation about ourselves – like Lauren’s story – or offering help to others on the team are human steps we can all take.