The mental health statistics that plague the legal industry are truly shocking. Recent surveys reveal that lawyers have the fifth-highest incidence of suicide among professionals.
Even before suicidal ideation kicks in, mental health issues are rampant with 28% of lawyers suffering from depression, 19% from anxiety, and 23% from stress.
Substance abuse is also a major problem.
One-fifth of lawyers exhibit signs of hazardous alcohol use and nearly 32% of lawyers aged 30 and under are problem drinkers.
More and more overworked attorneys are also succumbing to drug addiction. Cocaine, prescription opiates, and heroin are all too prevalent within the profession.
With the industry experiencing this sort of crisis, many law firms are scrambling to find ways to help. That’s the driving force behind the recent trend for law firms to have therapists who maintain office hours within the four walls of the firm.
In this article, we explore the role of the law firm therapist, discuss whether there are any drawbacks to this arrangement, and offer alternatives approaches to firm-wide treatment.
A day in the life of the law firm therapist
Dr. George Wheeler is a psychologist who has been working with legal professionals for nearly twenty years.
While he was initially on retainer for firms that would send patients to his off-site therapy office, he eventually took up a three-days-per-week residence at Hogan Lovells, splitting his time between the firm’s Baltimore and Washington, D.C. offices. He has also worked with other large firms in the East Coast market.
Dr. Wheeler reports that big-firm attorneys are simply plagued by stress, an observation that few who have ever worked for a large law firm would find surprising.
However, you might be surprised at how frequently his services are invoked. During the days that he keeps office hours at the firm, he is so fully booked that he barely has time to take a short break for lunch.
Clearly, Hogan Lovells is onto something.
Overcoming the stigma of therapy
Despite the overwhelming need for mental health care within the profession, lawyers have historically been fearful about seeking this sort of help.
After all, lawyers are expected to be the pinnacle of emotional strength. Any sign of weakness is an opportunity for competitors to pounce — regardless of whether those competitors reside inside or outside of the same firm.
Fortunately, Millennial and Gen Z lawyers are more progressive when it comes to things like work-life balance and mental wellness.
To the upcoming generation of legal professionals, taking care of one’s emotional needs isn’t embarrassing. Indeed, some 50% of Millennials and 75% of Gen Z workers report that they’ve given up a position based on (among other things) the job’s toll on their emotional wellness.
It’s refreshing to see the legal industry beginning to emphasize mental health and wellness. Nonetheless, law firms still have several considerations to take into account when considering whether to hire an in-house therapist.
Why an in-house therapist might not be the best idea
While in-house therapists may seem necessary to the legal profession in light of the overall mental health crisis it is experiencing, there are still some drawbacks to this type of arrangement.
For example, despite the openness of younger lawyers to issues surrounding mental health, older professionals may not want to be seen walking into the therapist’s office — especially if they are seen by those who report to them.
Moreover, the relationship between the therapist and the client is a highly personal one.
If the firm hires one therapist to treat hundreds of employees, there’s a good chance a percentage of employees won’t be able to (or want to) connect with that therapist.
For example, the gender and race of a therapist can be extremely important to the person seeking treatment. It would be impossible for a firm to hire enough in-house counselors to please everyone.
Additionally, an in-house therapist may be perceived as being in cahoots with law firm management. Consequently, employees may be hesitant to open up about career-related issues that are impacting their mental health.
So, while in-house therapists are certainly something to consider, there may be other options that work for a greater number of employees within your firm.
Alternatives to in-house therapists
While there are some compelling reasons to consider hiring a staff therapist, in-house options may not work in every law firm environment.
Fortunately, there are a variety of options for enhancing employee wellness. Examples include:
- Comprehensive mental health care as part of an overall healthcare package
- Ample information about mental health resources available on internal firm websites or other firm-sponsored publications
- Firm-sponsored wellness initiatives such as walking groups or book clubs
- Law firm policies that encourage mental wellness and discourage bullying or stigmatization of employees who need a break
- Mentorship programs that focus on personal development as well as professional development
- Availability of mental health breaks or personal time off without explanation
The opportunities to support employee mental health are endless and the time has never been better.
Whether your firm chooses to employ an in-house therapist or take other measures to combat stress in the workplace, the need for this sort of intervention can no longer be denied. The question is not “Should I support mental health in my law firm?” but instead, “HOW can I best support mental health in my law firm?”
For eBooks, guides, and more to help you and your team refocus on wellness, check out the InfoTrack resource center. Browse the library of downloadable tools or check out one of our popular eBooks here:
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