ONE IN FOUR CONTEMPLATE LEAVING FAMILY LAW AS TOLL OF LOCKDOWN REVEALED

  • New report from Resolution, supported by other representative bodies, shows impact of lockdown on working practices and wellbeing.
  • Findings released during Mental Health Awareness Week, ahead of Resolution’s National Conference, taking place online next week.
  • Report also backed by legal mental health charity LawCare, who call for “creating habits in family law that support wellbeing.”
A quarter of family justice professionals are on the verge of quitting the profession as the toll of lockdown on their mental health becomes clear, the family law group Resolution revealed today, ahead of the release of a landmark wellbeing report.

Over 1,200 family law practitioners surveyed for the report, which will be published next week during Resolution’s National Conference, say that a combination of long working hours, heavy workloads, client expectations and working in isolation has stretched them to the limit.

More than half (51%) of those surveyed said they had considered leaving the profession at some point in the last three years because of concerns about their wellbeing. At the time of the survey, 26% were actively considering leaving the profession.

It comes after family practitioners helped to successfully cut backlogs in the family court by sitting more days than ever before during the pandemic. Although this demonstrates practitioners’ dedication to supporting clients and commitment to family justice, it does raise significant questions as to whether this additional workload is sustainable or desirable.

The survey found that as many as 57% of practitioners work more than eight extra hours during the week - an additional working day each week. Almost all (88%) needed to work during annual leave and 64% of practitioners said they usually or always feel fatigued during the working day.

Worryingly, of those who are considering leaving the profession, almost half (45%) are junior practitioners highlighting a significant risk of a generational ‘brain drain’ of young talent leaving the sector. Remote working has presented barriers for younger practitioners, for example their professional development has stalled by not being able to learn from senior practitioners.

Although awareness of wellbeing has grown in recent years the survey found that 43% of practitioners still felt uncomfortable talking to their employers or workplaces about work-related stress and pressures.

Juliet Harvey, National Chair of Resolution, said: “It’s clear lockdown has taken its toll on the collective wellbeing of family justice professionals and if the profession is to recover, we need to ensure practitioner wellbeing is a top priority.

“The fact that a quarter of family professionals are actively considering leaving the sector should be of concern to everyone. If firms fail to embrace flexible working and better wellbeing support, I fear we could lose the next generation of family practitioners.

“This report is an important first step in acknowledging and addressing this issue, and I’m delighted that Resolution has been joined by LawCare, as well as the FLBA, CILEx, ALC and LAPG in getting the findings in front of as many practitioners (and their firms) as possible, and demonstrating a shared commitment to supporting the wellbeing of our respective members.”

Elizabeth Rimmer, Chief Executive at LawCare, said: “What comes through loud in clear in these findings is that, as a community of practitioners, educators and regulators, we have work to do. We need to start taking positive steps to change the culture in law.

“This report is a catalyst for action to start creating everyday habits in family law that support wellbeing, such as good supervision, training for managers, and creating a positive work-life balance.

“These changes start with each of us, and with these findings coming during Mental Health Awareness Week, we should all take the opportunity to reflect on how we can better support ourselves – and each other – so that we can in turn better support our clients.”

Case Studies (anonymised):

Georgia: When Georgia qualified as a barrister, she fulfilled an ambition she’d held since childhood. But the pressure and scrutiny of pupillage made it a very anxious time, and nearly cost Georgia her life. She’d now like to see the sector develop a more open dialogue around mental health. Read more.

Lila: A barrister at a Western Circuit chambers, Lila had seen work gradually affect her wellbeing but found it hard to admit she was struggling. Eventually, after three weeks of almost total sleep deprivation, she found herself unable to go in to the office. With the help of medication, counselling, and her supportive colleagues, she’s since learned to recognise the signs of stress before they escalate. Read more.

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