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Junior lawyers challenge poor wellbeing in legal profession

Published on: 2 July 2019

A greater openness around wellbeing and anxiety in the workplace and a shift in culture needs to take place in the legal profession to address high levels of poor mental health among junior lawyers.


Research by Professor Richard Collier at Newcastle Law School, funded by the charity Anxiety UK, and building on the 2019 Junior Lawyers Division Survey of Wellbeing and Resilience, found that junior lawyers face several distinctive pressures.  

The study, Anxiety and Wellbeing Among Junior Lawyers, highlights an expectation among junior lawyers to be seen as ‘bullet-proof’ and experiencing a constant need to prove themselves in a competitive workplace culture.  

Lawyers described the route to qualification as ‘anxiety-inducing’, questioning the impact of poor work-life balance, long hours, job insecurity and funding cuts within parts of the legal services sector.

There was also evidence of a pervasive stigma against disclosing mental health issues, with marked differences in men’s and women’s experiences of and willingness to speak about poor mental health in the workplace. In particular, junior lawyers found that engaging senior members of the legal profession, especially men, was essential in advancing the wellbeing agenda.

Professor Collier said: “The idea that poor lawyer wellbeing should be accepted as ‘just how things are’ is being increasingly challenged in the legal profession. This is a core business issue for law firms raising significant questions not only about the links between mental health and the workplace and need to work in more effective ways but also, looking to generational shifts in attitudes, the implications of a greater willingness to be open about mental health issues.”

Generational change

In recent years there has been a growing interest in the issue of the wellbeing and mental health of lawyers. The research supports the suggestion that there is generational change taking place in the legal profession, reflected by younger lawyers willing to drive forward discussions around wellbeing.

The research also highlighted issues around the role of university law schools and vocational education providers in supporting the wellbeing of those entering the profession. The junior lawyers interviewed for the research felt that law schools should give more realistic messages about the nature of the labour market law students were about to enter.

Professor Collier, who has also recently written on wellbeing for the Law Society added: “In the context of a rapidly changing profession and marketplace for legal services, the very idea of wellbeing has become part of what it now means to be a good employer and to provide a first-class service to clients.”

‘Anxiety and Wellbeing Amongst Junior Lawyers: a research study’ is available to read here


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