Wellbeing and mental health issues with law firms has been an issue of increasing significance and law firms are beginning to take tangible steps towards addressing what has been a major problem for lawyers in an age of increased competitiveness, over-work and of course, the pandemic.
Studies and surveys show that the issue is one of major concern. In the US, Law.com reported on a global survey of lawyers with 3,400 participants which showed the continued problems with mental health and wellbeing in the legal profession.
The problem is not only widespread, but also universal. A UK survey from wellbeing charity LawCare and taken across 1,700 legal professionals throughout the UK in 2021 showed that 69 per cent had experienced mental health issues, either through self diagnosis or clinical diagnosis. The problems included anxiety, low mood levels and depression.
A 2020 study in the United States, which included lawyers from law organizations like the California Lawyers Association and the D.C. Bar found that almost half of all pracising attorneys were experiencing problems with anxiety and depression, with one-fifth fitting into the moderate to severe range.
Addressing Mental Health & Wellbeing Issues
The issues of mental health and wellbeing go beyond just the issues faced by individual lawyers, but extends to issues throughout the profession and the law firms they work for.
A 2014 article by the ABA reported that “at least 25 percent of attorneys who face formal disciplinary charges from their state bar are identified as suffering from addiction or other mental illness.” The report reported that sixty per cent of disciplinary cases and 85 per cent of trust fund violations involved substance abuse.
And, for lawyers, the issues can start as early at the stress and problems at law school with a report from the Dave Nee Foundation showing that new law school entrants can experience depression but by year three up to 40 per cent of the students experience depression. The same wellbeing issues applies to some of the surveys carried out by State Bar associations, like the Florida Bar Association.
Furthermore, the law profession is in the top 10 professions for the highest rate of suicide and law managers and others are attempting to focus more upon work-life balance, stress reduction, in- and out-of-office resources to combat stress and overwork.
There is now a profession-wide shift occurring, as shown by the move by a top firm like Clifford Chance to hire a global wellbeing chief to oversee efforts to produce a safer and more healthy workplace environment, combating mental health and wellbeing issues ‘from the front’, rather than acting as the ambulance at the foot of the cliff.
Many firms provide measures like mental health education and training, along with appraisals and catchups and so forth, but the need for a more dynamic approach is clearly overdue for a profession beset by depression and mental health issues.
Clifford Chance’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Appointment
Clifford Chance’s appointment of Charles Alberts, the former head of the wellbeing consultancy practice division of consultancy AON.
The Clifford Chance website press release follows –
The appointment will drive forward the recently implemented global People and talent strategy, developed by the firm’s Chief People Officer, Grant Eldred. Charles will work closely with Grant, and the firm’s Global Partner for Talent, Chinwe Odimba-Chapman. The role’s responsibilities include creating and delivering Clifford Chance’s first global wellbeing strategy.
Grant Eldred comments: ‘We recognise that the world is changing and so is our role as employers. Supportive leadership is not just about talking to our people- but about listening too, and Charles’ skills and expertise will strengthen our capabilities in this area. Our people are at the heart of our business and we know that investing in their wellbeing and experience at the firm is imperative to our position as both a leading employer of choice, and as a firm that delivers exceptional service to and partnership with our clients.’
Charles Alberts comments: ‘Over the last five years I have seen first-hand that a targeted and proactive approach to wellbeing and employee experience can yield great results for every level of an organisation. Protecting and enhancing employee wellbeing and creating positive experiences has never been more important in the rapidly evolving world of work. It is evident that Clifford Chance is serious about its people, and I look forward to working with our leaders and colleagues to create a world class approach to wellbeing, enhancing each step of the employee journey.’
Charles Alberts will join the firm on 6 June 2022 and will be based in London.