Steven Clarke is an LLM graduate and experienced in-house Counsel.
Wellness in Legal Practice
I approached the LLM Legal Practice by Distance Learning with the intention of gaining a better understanding of wellbeing in legal practice with particular focus upon the impact and influence of stress, anxiety, love and passion. I aimed to compare the experiences of in-house and private practice solicitors while considering gender differences. I started by completing an extensive literature review in order to draft a meaningful and comprehensive survey.
I designed the survey with the intent of gaining an insight into the participant’s legal practice together with responses to questions in the following areas by reference to a scale of responses covering feelings; attitudes and influences, resilience and wellness, stress and anxiety and the effect of common stressors. I also sought open responses to allow open comments in relation to methods used to deal with challenges faced or build resilience and experiences of stress and anxiety in legal practice. I secured a convenience sample of 52 respondents.
Unsurprising findings included that Wellness is important for the vast majority lawyers, this bears through from the literature which is supported by in excess of 90% of my respondents, furthermore over 85% of respondents thought stress and anxiety are real issues in legal practice. Respondents felt most impacted by “Pressure to do too much”, “Having to work long hours” and “Email volume”. The potential for change to be disruptive was a concern for a higher percentage across all groups than the disruption caused by the pace of change. Respondents reaction to whether they loved their job could be considered to support the literature as it revealed that private practice females were least likely to love their job while male respondents showed a higher level of agreement that they love their job, which might go some way to support the concept of masculinity of the legal profession. 100% of all groups except the male in-house respondents agreed that “A positive mind set and attitude is essential to my future success”, the in-house men present an inexplicable anomaly here. In excess of 80% of respondents from each group agreed that “Resilience is an important quality and lawyers must develop techniques to maintain an ability to practice law at the highest level” but across all groups, the percentage of respondents who considered themselves to be naturally resilient was extremely low. In the free text section respondents listed up to five “favourite methods of dealing with challenges and ensuring they deliver to meet or exceed expectations without being adversely impacted by negative influences” (their resilience toolkit). Respondents clearly indicated that methods were extremely personal but key methods across all groups included the ability to talk openly and without judgment on the topics under consideration, exercise, mindfulness, Buddhist practice, deep breathing, seeking support or guidance from a colleague, calm, taking time out, positivity and perspective.
Both the in-house and private practice groups are strikingly similar in their experiences of wellbeing investigated in this article. Common stressors have a significant impact and the percentages are both significant and to a large extent consistent across in house and private practice, suggesting a very similar experience of wellbeing across both practice areas. Individuals are clearly taking a range of steps to increase their resilience by developing their own resilience toolkits, some on their own or with the help of peers, or external support and some within a framework of offerings provided by their employers.