Can you keep your staff and lawyers safe? Of course, you might say. The days when a highly flammable cast-off sofa sat in the staff kitchen area are long gone. We even have ‘mind your head’ signs up on the low ceiling above the basement stairs.

But with offices these days being physically safer, it’s not really job done. On this, World Mental Health Day, attention quite rightly turns to mental wellbeing, and here we could be doing better.

The rise in the number of mental health ‘first-aiders’ – staff trained to spot classic signs that someone is in need of help or support, and some possible first-line responses to that – is great …

… but do you really mean it when you say you believe in wellness?

What if law firms are failing to create an environment that reduces stress where it’s possible? What if partners are sending emails at 3am and all over the weekend? What if you’ve cut your teams down to be competitive on costs so that your lawyers are effectively doing the job of two people – how is it then possible to reduce stress? Are your people ever going to feel safe about being vulnerable and saying they are struggling?

On the odd occasion I see anyone in our team is emailing between 8pm and 7am I raise it with them. From a reputation point of view to the client it doesn’t look good. It can look like the recipient is last on the list of priorities that day or that person is so over-worked or struggling with their time management they are failing to keep on top of things. From a healthy head and heart point of view I believe that’s time set aside for rest from work, otherwise life becomes one long working day and that doesn’t benefit anyone. 

Workload

Is it spread unevenly? If you are piling too much on to someone who is good, or even to someone who is not great at their job (in the hope they will leave), you will be contributing to destructive stress, and a sense that they cannot cope. Equally, not giving work to someone in the hope they will leave will be bad for that person’s health and wellbeing.  

Bullying

Any firm needs to know what its culture is, and how it would spot, and tackle, bullying behaviour. The same goes for sexual harassment, where firm leaders need to know it is not tolerated and is dealt with. 

Good management

If you are a firm that manages its instructions well, unexpected stuff will happen less often, and as a result your people will be able to keep outside commitments and feel in control of their life.

Think about suppliers

How do you treat the suppliers and consultants you use? There are plenty of lawyers who treat colleagues well, but have a high-handed yell to suppliers and consultants. But surely they have a responsibility to these too? 

As an agency I refuse to take on client briefs where the client has a bad reputation for treating its staff or suppliers badly. A lucrative instruction was turned down last year because the client had wandering hands when I sat next to him at a dinner months before. I wanted my teams to know that wasn’t ok and I would not be putting them in a situation where they would feel uncomfortable. A client was fired when they continuously missed deadlines and as a consequence our teams worked through entire weekends and there wasn’t a word of thanks and they made no effort to change their behaviour. 

Exercise and fruit

The fruit basket and the firm Pilates class are increasingly common. But do bear in mind that people need time and control to take advantage of these things.

Drink?

Alcohol is a common way that lawyers self-medicate for stress and depression. For many other lawyers, it is of course a part of work and play – few would ban it from professional life. However, would those who use it destructively be less likely to hit the bottle if all of the above was happening and in balance? For many they would self-medicate less if that were the case. Alcohol is in the news at the moment and perhaps it’s time for firms to look at the threat it poses to their most valued assets – their lawyers and their reputation.

Why am I interested in this? I’m interested in this as a business owner, as someone with many friends who work in law. It’s also, increasingly, a reputational issue for individual firms and the profession – and quite right too.

People are increasingly talking openly about their experiences and what they are doing in their businesses.  At the IBA conference in Seoul a couple of weeks ago there were many panels discussions about stress, wellness and mindfulness. The conclusion from many was that we have become an unhappy and unhealthy profession.

As an agency we are working towards the launch of a mindfulness offering that benefits all in the profession to have a real sense of purpose again and vocation and most of all healthy minds that are fulfilled and safe from harm.

If you’d like to share your story on what you’re doing on mental health day I hope you’ll get in touch.