More than seven out of 10 people working in the legal sector including paralegal and admin staff as well as solicitors and barristers claimed that their job has had a negative impact on their mental health. In what has been described by a lawyer’s trade union as ‘a damning indictment of the operation of many employers’, almost six out of 10 legal sector workers (59%) described their job as their single greatest threat to their mental health.
Several hundred workers responded to the Legal Sector Workers United survey which reported that 71% of respondents agreed that their job had ‘a negative impact on their mental health’ and just 14% who stated that it had a positive effect. More than half of respondents (55%) had been diagnosed with a specific condition and almost seven out of 10 (69%) described themselves as ‘suffering from poor mental health’.
‘While we expected that the results wouldn’t be pretty, we were shocked by the extent and severity of the mental health crisis facing the legal sector,’ commented Isaac Ricca-Richardson, LSWU communications secretary. ‘Unless bosses take real action, and soon, their staff will be at risk of burnout, breakdown, or leaving the sector altogether.”
According to the LSWU, the main cause of this work-related deterioration in mental health seems to be material conditions in the workplace. Some 219 people reported struggling to cope with long hours and overwork; 122 cited low pay as a key issue; and 113 felt that the relentless pressure to bill and meet targets was a factor. Almost two thirds of respondents worked in the legal aid sector
Around one in six workers said that bullying had caused their mental health to worsen, and just over a third reported suffering from vicarious trauma.
The LSWU point out that one in four law firms had no mental health support on offer for staff and more than seven out of 10 respondents (72%) saying that they would not feel comfortable asking for time off for mental health reasons and over half over half saying that disclosing mental health concerns would impede career progression (54%).