22 May Mental Health Awareness Week: The JLD is campaigning for your wellbeing
For our next Mental Health Awareness blog, the legal hack legend Ben Rigby provides us with a guest blog.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Many lawyers may be affected by mental health issues; I have always had a particular interest in, and empathy towards, how young lawyers manage these issues, and are supported to do so.
Before I became a journalist, I was once vice-chair of the Trainee Solicitors Group, and later, chair of the London Young Solicitors Group, both of which were later subsumed into the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD).
Both groups always offered pastoral support and worked with bodies such as LawCare to do so. Support from law firms, the Law Society, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority was perhaps a little less forthcoming in my time; but things have changed.
The JLD has built upon the work of both groups, and added to it, in making the welfare of trainee and newly qualified solicitors a priority in terms of policy-making, campaigning, and practical support; and current JLD chair, Charlotte Parkinson, has continued this tradition.
The need to do so can be seen from the results of a recent survey, featured in Legal Futures, which showed that post-Covid-19, that anxiety among aspiring solicitors had “skyrocketed”, with 75% of trainees and paralegals expecting the pandemic to lead to “significant job losses at my level of seniority”.
The JLD has been swift to respond. It has made its views clear to the SRA, as this letter shows – and the SRA has responded, at least in part. It has written to firms, asking those responsible for the training the future of the profession to be transparent in their dealings with trainees, and to communicate effectively, and clearly, with them. It has also promoted helpful hints and tips in the Gazette, to reach its members more widely.
This is not a new issue for the JLD; research in 2019 on anxiety and wellbeing tracked junior lawyers’ concerns on this issue, which the Division supported; and it has kept guidance on resilience and well-being under review, with its annual survey now in its fourth year.
The JLD is also an equal participant in outreach efforts led by the Law Society, of which it is part, as a critical friend, supporting junior lawyers on that body’s Council. This week saw the JLD’s social media channels endorse the #BeKind message unequivocally; including promoting a Law Society webinar on kindness and compassion, in which Law Society president, Simon Davis, played an active part.
It has also promoted, as part of the JLD’s new regular mobile outreach hub for junior lawyers, Community Calls, a conversation, via Zoom, with Tayyaba Jordan, a health coach, on ‘Practising Kindness, Managing Anxiety, and Screen Fatigue’.
The JLD has also campaigned extensively on improving the overall health and wellbeing of its members, which, in turn, helps with overall mental health, as well as dealing with stress awareness.
April saw the JLD campaign on creating a healthy alcohol culture in the legal profession, following the launch, in January, of guidance on the same, accompanied by a proactive campaign, highly visible in both social and legal media, to support this issue.
Here, Law Society council member, and Macfarlanes solicitor, Laura Uberoi, has been a powerful voice for change, using social media effectively to demonstrate, through the use of case studies, alternatives to boozy law firm events.
In doing so, the JLD is focusing on not just immediate health needs, but also aiming to change the culture in which health issues can be created, or exacerbated, for junior lawyers, be it addressing bullying and harassment, working on healthy drinking, or managing resilience and wellbeing in challenging times.
In doing so, it is living its values; encouraging its members to #BeKind, not just to themselves, but to others – which showcases the JLD, and its leaders, at its very best.