Social media continues to be full of conversation about the tragic death of Vanessa Ford (Heap) and the pressures on lawyers.

But issues around wellbeing are more complex that people might assume.

My time as a solicitor myself and, for the last 7 years, as a therapist for lawyers has taught me this:

(NB the following are my reflections on mine and others’ experiences and not attempts to cast aspersions around the circumstances of this much-loved lawyer’s death).

1. We are split – people in high pressure professionals are consummate experts at splitting. What do I mean? Well, we’re often able to achieve amazing, almost superhuman feats in work (often over long periods of time) whilst at the same time feeling quite different in our personal lives. And it’s precisely because we are able to keep on achieving for sustained periods at work, that we often don’t access help. Or at least not until it’s at a very late stage. This is often why others, like our bosses or spouses don’t spot we need help until it’s pretty far gone as well.

2. Delayed reaction to extreme stress – the pattern is usually a long build up and then an (often small) straw that breaks the camel’s back. And then all of a sudden there can be extreme (often physical in the case of lawyers) manifestations of the stress. Again, the delay in our reactions to ongoing stress, chip chip chipping away at us means we don’t necessarily see the need to get support until the alarm bells are really starting to go off big time.

3. It’s not just about lawyers being ‘bad’ at accessing help. This is a line that’s reeled off so often. Yes, its partially true but why? Please don’t lay all the fault at the lawyers’ feet! One of the problems is that the lawyers themselves know there aren’t easy solutions to the issues.

But sometimes others seem to think there are.

Like the manager who constantly overloads their junior with work & then tells them they look stressed and they should “book a holiday”.

Or the GP or therapist who tells lawyers to “take time off work” or “just give up the job. It’s toxic”.

It’s not as simple as that. There are some great things about being a lawyer. Some of my best times were when I was in the thick of an exciting case. Working long hours on high profile work. Feeling the camaraderie of being part of a team at the top of their game.

It’s not all bad. And when we pretend it is, or we act as if it’s easy to disentangle yourself, both on a practical and a psychological level, from this sort of work, we do lawyers a disservice.

So, for those of us who are supporting lawyers today, whether that’s as a boss, doctor, therapist, spouse or friend, let’s not pretend there are easy solutions.

Let’s not recite lines about how they need to take time off because their work life balance is shot to sh*t.

Please let’s take a more nuanced approach…

Because, if we don’t, we risk making them feel even more alone…


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