Trainee blog: Trainee resilience and wellbeing – why does it matter?
Stress is a normal part of working life, not just for trainee solicitors. However, my first few months at Michelmores have taught me that resilience and self-care are particularly important skills for lawyers, at every stage of their career.
I am surely not the first trainee solicitor to have read recent legal press citing junior lawyers who were punished for covering up mistakes because they were, 'carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders' and motivated by a 'culture of fear' (read more here), whilst others have been left, 'physically and emotionally drained' by their heavy workloads (read more here). In some extreme cases, junior lawyers have fallen into depression and contemplated suicide (read more here).
These horror-stories make for some nail-biting reading for trainee solicitors and those looking to enter the profession. Before I started my training contract I often thought – is this really what I want to get myself into? Thankfully, eight months into my training contract at Michelmores, this fear has been wholly dispelled.
The Law Society Junior Lawyer's Division (JLD) recently published its Resilience and Wellbeing Survey Report 2018. The survey received responses from junior lawyers across the country and it is perhaps unsurprising that the report demonstrated that many of them have concerns about stress in the workplace.
In light of the JLD's survey, here are some tips for taking care of yourself as a trainee solicitor:
The survey ranks 'speaking to family and friends' as one of the most common strategies for managing stress levels. As well as family and friends, your training contract places you at the heart of a peer group of trainees who may share your experiences during your time at Michelmores. Don't be afraid to talk to your fellow trainees for support.
Michelmores operates a Trainee Liaison Network. This scheme enables the trainees to have regular contact with newly-qualified solicitors who act as a support network. They listen to our concerns, give suggestions and liaise with more senior lawyers to seek solutions. Michelmores prides itself on its community-feel and collaborative working environment; everyone is in it together.
Don't be afraid to talk to your supervisor when you are struggling; I learned that during my first seat. At one point, after a stream of clumsy panic-induced-errors, I confessed to my supervisor that I was feeling overstretched. Almost immediately my supervisor suggested I take a step back from certain tasks temporarily and re-prioritise. Lesson learned. Speak to your supervisor (it's what they are there for) and say "no" when you are starting to feel overloaded. You will give yourself more time to focus on tasks which, ultimately, will also improve the quality of your work.
Maintain a work-life balance
Whether you love sport, music, art, books or binging on TV series, being a trainee solicitor should not get in the way of what you enjoy doing. Junior lawyers may also have responsibilities beyond their role; looking after children or dependents, medical appointments or a second job to name a few. At times your job may require the occasional late evening, but it is important to maintain a balance between your life inside and outside of work.
Michelmores keenly encourages its employees to stay active, healthy and happy. For example, the Michelmores Cycle Network get together once a month, the Choir meet once a week and there are various yoga and circuits classes. Even if you arrive at Michelmores without a particular hobby, you may soon find one.
Michelmores also offers agile working, allowing qualified lawyers and senior support staff to work from home one day a week, which is in place to improve staff wellbeing. It may also be possible for trainees to work from home on occasion, depending on the circumstances.
Take a Breather
Some trainee tasks can be lengthy or complex and sometimes you may find yourself trying to juggle several jobs at once. The JLD survey noted that the biggest cause of stress at work is a high workload. Don't be afraid to take a break, stretch your legs and step away for a moment and come back to your desk with fresh eyes.
A number of trainees will gather for lunch or a coffee; others will spend time at the in-house gym; others will simply get a magazine and take a time-out. From experience, I have found myself to be far more productive when I feel refreshed.
Remember, as a trainee, you are at the very start of your career in law. You are building knowledge and experience and, if like me you have not previously worked in a full-time profession, you are learning to balance competing pressures in your everyday life. Michelmores trainees are not expected to be shackled to their desks, grafting until the early hours of the morning each day in order to further our careers. Michelmores treats its trainees in a less medieval manner; providing a network of support and resources to help you stay healthy and resilient in your job.
What support is available at Michelmores?
It is good to be part of a firm that takes mental health seriously and provides support for its employees. Michelmores offers an Employment Assistance Programme, which includes a confidential and impartial telephone counselling service providing 24/7 support, as well as face to face counselling. A bereavement counselling service is also available as well as a LawCare scheme, which provides free and confidential help for workplace stress.
On a further and final note, trainees at Michelmores are all enrolled as members of the JLD. As JLD members, we are all granted a voice on issues such as mental health and wellbeing through regional committees and national representation at The Law Society.
The JLD recently released its Resilience and Wellbeing Survey Report for 2019. This year, the JLD received almost twice the number of responses (1,803) than it did in 2018 (959). This shows that mental health, resilience and wellbeing are topics which are coming to the forefront of lawyers' considerations during the early stages of their career.
In this year's report, 93.5% of respondents reported feeling stressed in their role during the month before they completed the survey. 24.8% of those respondents noted that they had experienced severe or extreme levels of stress during that time. The JLD comments that, "[T]here is a real value in investing time and resources to improve employees' wellbeing and mental health".
For more information, you can read the JLD's 2019 report in full here.