Trainee Solicitors and Mental Health Awareness

An interesting article published by The Law Society Gazette early last year reported that the amount of trainee solicitors who experienced mental health problems more than doubled in 2018, compared to 2017. This follows a survey conducted by the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division in 2018 which informed that 39% of trainees have reported suffering from mental health problems, an increase of 19% to the previous year.

I wasn’t surprised by the stats; however, I am one of the lucky people who work for a firm that actually care about the wellbeing of their employees. This was evident when my firm’s Managing Partner took the time to discuss with me the best way to manage my stress and switch off from work (and reminded me that copious amounts of alcohol is not the answer!).

So, as we head into a new year, here are what I consider to be some of the causes of trainee stresses and some suggestions for dealing with them:

Work/life balance

It’s great to be a trainee solicitor in a firm that truly cares about trainee development and learning. As such, I find that I am more involved in actual legal work as opposed to filling my days with mundane administrative tasks.

However, being given a proper caseload can make it difficult for trainees to strike a balance between performing well at work / meeting deadlines and having a social life. If you are buried in files and your ‘to-do’ list is never-ending, you may begin working longer hours to compensate, sometimes even sacrificing your weekends.

Working overtime is fine now and then when a matter is urgent or you want to support your team, but a pattern of working outside of usual office hours can burn you out; when you’re tired, you can become more irritable and you may be prone to making mistakes – only leading to further stress.  In a recent Lex 100 survey, Woodfines scored 89 out of a possible 100 when individuals were asked about their work/life balance.

If you are struggling to find the right balance, talk to your supervisor about how they can help you to manage the work you have on to alleviate some of the stress immediately, and then put a plan in action for the future that will help you manage your work and your time.

Feeling insecure at work

Trainees might feel this way if they are just starting out on their training contract or if they are coming up to qualification. If you’re new to the firm or new to the department you’ve joined, you may feel a lack of status whilst you try to make an impression on your colleagues.

First of all, give it time – those partners and associates will know your name soon enough. Secondly, there are lots you can do to get involved and get yourself known! Get in touch with your marketing department (if you have one) and ask them what events are coming up that you can get involved in.

Networking events are a great opportunity to get some face time with partners and other colleagues where the focus isn’t just on work – it’s an opportunity for them to learn your personality and actually gain some friends at work.

For those trainees that are about to qualify, there is the looming worry of whether you will be kept on after you qualify. In the same Lex 100 survey, Woodfines scored 84 out of a possible 100 where people were asked whether they were confident that they would be kept on. All you can do is control the controllables!

Choose an area of law that will benefit your career for your final seat, talk to the decision-making individuals in your firm to suss out whether there might be a role for you on qualification and of course, use the remaining time to learn as much as you can from the people you’re working with. If it is really stressing you out, talk to someone you trust about your future.

Feeling unsupported

You may feel that your role is severely lacking in support and supervision. This can lead to concerns and stress over whether you might make a mistake because basically, you don’t have a clue what you’re doing and you’re not getting the support you deserve as a trainee! If you do not feel that you can speak directly to your supervisor about this, think about who you trust and talk to them, even if it is just another trainee – they may have been in a similar boat before and can share their experience on how they dealt with it.

Woodfines employs a mentor scheme; each trainee has a designated mentor that they can speak to confidentially about any issues that they may be having (inside as well as outside of work). If your firm doesn’t adopt a similar method, maybe it is time the suggestion was put forward.

Alternatively, one of the trainees could act as a representative for the trainees collectively and put forward concerns to the relevant people.

Non-work related stress

Your stress may not always be work related. Sometimes, things may happen in your personal life which can soon trickle over into your work life. If something is troubling you, it can affect your mood or even cause sleep deprivation; this can then impact your productiveness at work and how you interact with your colleagues.

Woodfines’ mentor scheme means that, as a trainee, I can speak to someone about these issues too and feel supported. I am also very lucky to have other trainees that I can talk to about any personal stress I might have (I say this knowing that I am buying a house and getting married this year – two of the biggest recognised causes for stress!). Of course, you may have things going on that you don’t want to share and that’s fine too. There are plenty of organisations and charities available that want to speak to you about whatever it is you have going on and to support you through it.

A training contract to develop your career is a big undertaking, and one that obviously carries its own unique stresses at each stage to qualification. By working out how to manage these, a trainee can hopefully navigate a smoother course to becoming a solicitor.

Alev Hassan-Rashat