09 October 2019

Law society in fight to end stigma

Law Society of Ireland launches professional wellbeing project for solicitors, highlights stigma and issues of stress and vicarious trauma.

Following a survey of solicitors revealing very high or extreme levels of stress, the Law Society of Ireland is launching a new initiative designed to promote wellbeing in the solicitors’ profession in Ireland.

Stigma

The Law Society of Ireland commissioned independent research into the wellbeing of solicitors, which was conducted by Psychology at Work in 2018. The Law Society’s Professional Wellbeing Project has been launched to address the needs identified. It provides practical supports, education and guidance across three pillars: workplace culture, resilience and wellbeing, and emotional and psychological health. “The Law Society’s Professional Wellbeing Project has been designed to address the specific issues our members have told us they experience in the course of their work as solicitors,” said Teri Kelly, Law Society director of representation and member services. “It aims to address the current stigma attached to talking about and seeking help for stress and mental health issues.” She added, “The evidence shows that this is a global problem; legal professions around the world experience high levels of stress that negatively affect mental health and wellbeing.” Key findings of the Irish research revealed that 57 percent of solicitors frequently experience very high or extreme levels of stress. Irish solicitors have a lower wellbeing score than the lowest average population score in the EU, and the main stressors are large workloads, high client expectations, and not having enough time to complete their work, among other findings. “It’s important to note these findings are considered a likely, but not definitive, representation of the membership as a whole,” explains Ms Kelly. “However, paired with the international research available and some direct feedback from members, we have a strong basis for developing a proactive programme to promote wellbeing among our members.”

Vicarious trauma

Concerns also exist for practitioners who are exposed to distressing material and situations in the course of their work. “We know that criminal law and family law practitioners in particular can be exposed to distressing materials, cases and situations in the course of their work. It’s not hard to imagine the negative impact this can have on solicitors’ wellbeing,” says Teri Kelly. “US research even suggests that lawyers may experience significantly higher levels of vicarious trauma and burn-out than US mental health clinicians and social service workers.” Some of the key tools and supports that solicitors will be able to access as part of the Law Society’s Professional Wellbeing Project include regular seminars and CPD training, signposted help and advice, an opt-in employee assistance programme, an annual conference on the business of wellbeing, best practice guidelines, a peer support network pilot, and collaborations with mental health and wellbeing organisations. “The Professional Wellbeing Project, along with the existing supports already in place for trainee solicitors via the Law School Psychological Services, aims to meet these needs in an effective, modern and evolving way,” Ms Kelly says. The research findings are examined in detail in the October issue of the Law Society of Ireland Gazette in the article “Sunshine on a Rainy Day” and about the supports being implemented in the article “Society Reaches Out To Stressed Solicitors.” The October 2019 edition of the Gazette can be found for free here.