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Junior lawyers in the City at risk of burnout

Jackie Scruton writes

A recent article in The Times newspaper caught my eye.  A 46-year-old female lawyer is taking a claim against her employers to the High Court. She claims that she was so overworked that she ‘sobbed uncontrollably, as a result of a “mental meltdown”’.

She further claims that ‘the US firm’s “intolerable” working conditions have ruined her career in the law’. Managers at the firm deny the allegations and are defending the case.

Whilst this relates to a US firm it is by no means unique  and probably does not surprise some people reading this blog.

Last autumn the charity LawCare published research that indicated that those working in the law were/are at high risk of burnout, especially those aged 26 to 35 although it is not unique to that age group.

One the key aspects of this is the very large salaries firms are offering in order to attract new staff. This can be seen as ‘selling your soul’ to a regime of long hours; rather like being on a hamster wheel. The research also found that working at high intensity in a stressful environment, was associated with higher levels of burn out regardless of how much autonomy the individual has or how psychologically safe their work.

LawCare’s Chief Executive, Elizabeth Rimmer, stated that the high salaries that junior lawyers in the City are offered, should ring some warning bells, often meaning working long hours including weekends. This may well impact on the individual’s mental resilience and well-being.

The Junior Lawyer’s division of the Law Society suggest that City law firms should consider the hours and conditions of junior lawyers. However, the Chair of the City of London Law Society suggests that the link between pay wars and mental health issues are “indirectly connected”. He suggests that pressure of work, poor management of staff and client expectations as well as a culture of ‘I had to do it, so you can’ are among other factors that are implicated.

The pandemic has added an extra layer of complexity for young lawyers especially when working from home where face to face support maybe difficult and there is no real barrier between home and work. Here at Jonathan’s Voice, we are committed to working with organizations to create and sustain a mentally healthy workplace. We have a number of resources to support mental health and wellbeing in the intellectual property sector, including a guide for senior leaders. We also offer consultancy and training from experienced mental health practitioners at no charge.

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