How Law Firms Can Support Fee Earners Struggling with Stress

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Ryan Sparrow

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Stress seems to come with the territory of going to work and earning a living. Sometimes a little short-term stress can be a good thing because it helps people achieve a goal, meet a deadline or find the courage to try something new. But when stress becomes a regular feature of our lives and starts to impact our physical and mental health, it quickly becomes problematic.

Lawyers are particularly vulnerable to stress. They are often balancing a heavy caseload against meeting tight deadlines, addressing client demands and reaching billable hour targets. In a world where workplace wellbeing is central to successful organisational outcomes, how can your firm deliver on its objectives while helping your colleagues find the right balance between work and wellbeing?

The scale of the problem

A 2018 survey by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that 74% of people surveyed had felt overwhelmed by stress in the preceding year, and a 2019 analysis of stress in the UK showed that legal professionals were the second most-stressed professional group, second only to human resources (HR). In addition, the Law Society reported in 2019 that junior lawyers are experiencing increasing levels of stress, with one in 15 junior lawyers having had suicidal thoughts.

How to support your team

Despite increased efforts across the industry to provide support to staff, mental health concerns need to be addressed more effectively in law firms to combat these worrying trends. Here are some places to start.

Create an open and communicative culture
If your employees feel they can talk about their stress rather than suffer in silence, this can help to defuse the problem – especially if they feel encouraged to share potential stress management strategies that can benefit others in the team.

It may also help you to identify particular processes that are giving people headaches or impacting their productivity – might there be a way to rethink your firm’s approach or even find an automated solution? Consider using recurring pain points as the basis for a team-building and problem-solving exercise, which in itself might help to relieve the associated stress.

Engage your team with your company’s vision and values
When people are working together on a shared and meaningful goal, it has the potential to enrich their personal and professional lives and lead to greater job satisfaction. If you can bring your colleagues on board with your goals for the company, they may find their role in your organisation even more rewarding.

Note: A potential side-effect here is that some colleagues may realise they are not able to get behind your goals and so decide to leave – but if that is the case, it may be better for all-round team morale. While it is always sad to lose talented legal professionals from your organisation, you’ll be able to operate more successfully when your employees are positively engaged with your objectives.

Encourage your colleagues to take time out from work
A healthy work–life balance helps people to give more to every aspect of their lives rather than be worn down by draining workplace tasks. Leaving the office on time, taking a day off to spend time with family and friends, and making time to go on holiday and enjoy other hobbies and interests is essential for a balanced and varied life.

When you create an environment that encourages productivity over presenteeism (a fast track to employee burnout), you can get optimal results from your team – a team that’s running on all cylinders rather than limping along in the slow lane.

Make time for mindfulness
Mindfulness is the skill of paying attention to the present moment, without judgement. It helps people to break free of worrying about future events or past decisions; instead, it connects them with what is happening right now.

Mindfulness can be practised in short exercises of a few seconds (such as a few grounding deep breaths at your desk before diving into a new piece of work), or it can be practised through longer meditation sessions. The benefits of mindfulness have been widely recognised, from relieving stress through to improving focus, concentration and decision-making.

Tip: Invite a mindfulness trainer to the office to give a talk on mindfulness – they will be able to recommend audio meditations, exercises and apps to support your colleagues if they’d like to find out more.

Finding ways to solve fee-earners’ workplace problems (rather than piling on more pressure) should yield real change over time. By establishing a professional environment that acknowledges and addresses the pressures faced by modern-day lawyers, you can create a team of happy, healthy and productive employees.

DPS Software offers a range of automation solutions that can help to eliminate stressful pain points for your business. Contact us today to find out more.

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