Why Lawyer Well-being? All is well with us lawyers, isn’t it?
“Are you crazy – mental health is not an issue for lawyers!” This could be the answer to the question about the (mental) health status of lawyers. Lawyers are trained to keep a cool head even under high pressure, to give clients a feeling of security in critical situations, to put on the poker face in negotiations and – if necessary – to act against their own moral compass. Lawyers should always see a way out, be always available as advisors and act as a rock in the surf to guide clients safely and, of course, as unscathed as possible through the legal jungle. It is about responsibility for the interests of others, often in difficult and complex situations. There is no room for personal fears, weaknesses, doubts, and uncertainties. The legal profession thus is exposed to numerous risks for mental health. In recent years, the pressure and uncertainty associated with digitalization made the situation worse. Communication efforts are increasing, we are overrun by documents and data, and the latent risk of outdated IT systems accompanies our practice. Be honest, …
- how many hours do you spend in virtual meetings per week?
- how many emails do you receive and write every day?
- how many pages of PDF documents do you get “FYI” every day? And how many of them do you read?
- how many decisions do you take in your job, that are not totally aligned with your moral compass?
- how often is your rest at the end of work (if any) or on weekends (if any) interrupted or disturbed by constant availability – made possible by technology?
Due to their activities and the expectations placed on them, lawyers are heavily exposed to mental health risks.
What is the state of mental health of legal professionals?
Since the 1990s, mental health studies of male and female lawyers in the U.S. have shown an alarming picture: hey are notoriously overrepresented in mental illness. Suicide was the third most leading cause of death among lawyers in 2006 – after cancer and heart attacks. They are three times more likely to live with addictive disorders and were nearly six times more likely to commit suicide than the population average. The situation has not improved much so far, as the American Bar Association noted in a large-scale study of 13,000 participants in 2016: “(B)etween 21 and 36% qualify as problem drinkers, and approximately 28%, 19%, and 23% are struggling with some level of depression, anxiety, and stress.“ (P. R. Krill, R. Johnson, & L. Albert, The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys, 10 J. ADDICTION MED. 46 (2016)).
Now, one could argue that this is a study specific to the Anglo-American area and that there are no reliable figures for Europe or for the German-speaking countries. Information on suicides among lawyers is neither available for the German-speaking countries nor does this professional group appear in the available statistics. There are also only very few surveys that consider mental illnesses or concrete stress-related burdens in the world of work.
Hence, the Liquid Legal Institute clearly focused on this topic last year: First, a small, non-representative survey was launched, and the results published in a report. Already this questionnaire showed that over 60% of lawyers said they had experienced “work-related mental health problems” at least once in their lives. Over 70% stated that they know colleagues who suffer from work-related mental health problems. Furthermore, more than 80% of the respondents agree that the issue of lawyer well-being needs more attention and social consideration.
On this basis, we conducted a larger study in German-speaking countries together with partners, including the German Association of Corporate Counsel (Bundesverband der Unternehmensjuristen, BUJ e.V.) and EUPD Research, which allows similar conclusions to be drawn about the state of health of lawyers. The alarming results from this large study are publicly available (https://www.liquid-legal-institute.com/library/).
The new CHA Award “Legal” and the Seal for Excellent Lawyer Well-being “Inhouse”
While our study results confirm what has been known for years in other regions of the world, we must not stop there! Given the sensitivity and complexity of the issue, this is easier said than done. Significantly supported by Zoë Andreae, Managing Director of Lecare GmbH, a separate “Legal” prize, the so-called Corporate Health Award (CHA), was launched. To this end, all companies in the legal sector are invited to outline their measures for employee well-being in the legal sector. This expressly includes (legal tech) start-ups, and alternative legal service providers. An independent jury evaluates the submissions, audits the submitted documents, and conducts interviews if necessary. The winners will receive the Corporate Health Award Special Prize “Legal”.
But we went even further than that. Together with our partners, we are now also offering a seal for excellent lawyer well-being for legal departments and administrative lawyers in the public sector that makes health related commitment and achievements visible.
We hope that both the award and the seal will help raise awareness of the issue so that in the end, the lawyers – the human beings – are the true winners.
We create positive incentives so that companies can address the issue. The corporate health award “Legal” and the creation of a seal for excellent lawyer well-being for legal departments will push the topic out of the taboo zone and into the light of public awareness.
How do we continue? Together!
We thereby also aim to provide objective evidence on a highly relevant topic. We must focus a lot more on the person behind the role of lawyer and his or her stance in the modern working world, nothing less.
However, study results and awards are only steps on a long road that no one must travel alone. The LLI, with all its members and (future) partners, invites you to take the next steps together. We expect that there will be greater demand in the field of law because companies are only starting to understand the issue. We also need to create an environment for further training and qualification so that something can change in the long term. In addition, the findings and considerations must not only be passed on to the participating companies, but universities should be invited to make those findings part of their education curriculums. And finally, more reliable data must be collected through interviews, studies, surveys, etc. to understand the issue and the causes even better and to take targeted measures.
The efforts in the field have only just started. We must continue to work together to ensure that the legal market continues to offer livable and appropriate working conditions in the future.