What Has Wellbeing Got To Do With Ethics?

Publication Date04 November 2020
SubjectFood, Drugs, Healthcare, Life Sciences
Law FirmLeigh Day
AuthorMs Emma Walker

As long as there are cases of legal professionals concealing their conduct out of fear of the consequences or being unable to own up and speak out about mistakes, conversation aimed at improving the workplace culture in the law are needed.

So often, "toxic" workplace culture comes not only with a culture of fear but also poor staff wellbeing. But the imperative to tackle practitioner wellbeing is not only about preventing mistakes, or even just about protecting staff: it is also about providing best service to clients. That, in turn, has the effect of boosting profits. There is a "bottom-line benefit" to firms that create constructive, "no-blame" and supportive environments.

Wellbeing is a facet of legal practice that no one can afford to ignore, so what should we being looking out for and what action can each of us take?

Just another worry on the list?

The World Health Organisation describes wellbeing as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Transposing that into legal practice, optimal levels of wellbeing means practitioners are best able to serve their clients' interests. Anything that undermines wellbeing is, therefore, a risk and barrier to optimising individual and, therefore, organisational performance.

The factors that destabilise wellbeing in the solicitor profession are varied and, it goes without saying that each of us is different, but everyone will have some experience of the dynamics.

Personal attributes typically regarded as desirable qualities for the job, such as high levels of performance, attention to detail and diligence can translate into a fear of failure and create a stigma around speaking out about perceived "weaknesses", owning mistakes or asking for help.

Financial pressures such as billing targets and heavy caseloads and cultures of presenteeism or unhealthy competition between staff, can all cause stress and anxiety.

Working with traumatised clients, taking on their problems and prioritising their interests without exception, including equating client service with 24-hour availability, often takes a toll.

There are also, of course, innumerable influences from the wider societal, social, economic and political context.

Approaches that deny the significance of wellbeing and these factors on the ability of legal professionals to perform, fail to uphold the ethical obligations owed to every individual member of staff, the profession and to clients. We...

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