by Dr. Eva Indruchova, LL.M. Eur., lawyer & yoga teacher

It was an honour to give a presentation as one of the keynote speakers about Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession at the Annual General Meeting of the European Expertise & Expert Institute (EEEI) in Avignon and to lead a Practical Workshop: Yoga relaxation techniques, focused on yogic breathing and followed by a guided relaxation.

For the legal sector, mental health is a rapidly growing issue which has been ignored and stigmatised for many years now. It is therefore encouraging to see the growing serious interest in wellbeing among legal professionals as shown by the EEEI as well as other international organisations, such as the International Bar Association (IBA) which recently published a global study on Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession, or the International Association of Lawyers (UIA) which organised a webinar where Bar Leaders dealt with the question: How can we tackle the mental health crisis in the legal profession?

The above mentioned study of the IBA is of a great importance and worth a more detailed analysis as it is the first global study of its kind and the first IBA publication to deal with mental wellbeing as an issue. The study is available in English on the IBA website.

The results of the study show that one in three respondents feels that their work has a negative impact on their wellbeing. The findings indicate that respondents in larger law firms (51-100 employees) experience the most detrimental effects. On average, respondents from civil law jurisdictions had better levels of mental wellbeing than respondents from common law jurisdictions. The study also shows that there is a persisting stigma around mental wellbeing – 41 % of respondents would not discuss mental wellbeing concerns with their employer for fear it may have a negative impact on their career. The key issues contributing to difficulties with mental wellbeing include the stressful nature of the work, intensive work/time demands, poor work-life balance and high levels of pressure. These factors lead to an imbalance between work and personal life and difficulties of ‘switching off’ during holidays, blurring of work-life boundaries.

It is not a surprise that the negative impacts on the overall health of respondents are alarming – 57% of respondents suffer from fatigue and sleeping problems, followed by anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts (6% of respondents). Individual respondents were asked what more should firms and organisations be doing to tackle the issues identified as affecting mental wellbeing.

The majority of responses relate to an improved workplace culture – improved communication, acknowledging wellbeing, and prioritizing wellbeing. Other desired improvements include opportunities for career counselling (mentoring, coaching), training, enabling sabbaticals, and more support for parenting. As regards possible helpful improvements in the post-covid era, the majority relates to working practices. As a consequence of the recent Covid-19 pandemics, remote and flexible working practices were most commonly identified as the key lessons to learn. The respondents would like to see these measures maintained in the post-covid era. Participants in the study would appreciate their individual needs to be met, to be given more autonomy, flexibility, and the ability to schedule their work independently according to their time preferences. The ability to work from home was also a frequent request. In this context, several participants referred to tackling the issue of ‘presenteeism’ and challenging the assumption that individuals would be more productive in an office environment.

It is clear that there is still a long way to go as regards mental wellbeing in the legal profession. However, there are small steps we can take – let’s keep raising awareness and debunk the persisting stigma surrounding all these issues!