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Elliott Begley

Wellbeing and Law. Can they coexist?

We were fortunate to sit down with two lawyers from leading law firms Allen & Overy and Dentons, to discuss wellbeing in the legal industry. They had some great insights into what wellbeing looks like, and what improvements still need to be made in order to bring wellbeing to the forefront. You can read what they had to say below, or watch the full webinar here.

Meet The Frontline Lawyers

Isabel Lam is a Trainee Solicitor at Allen & Overy, in her third seat in a corporate department. Previously, before her training contract, she was as a project manager at a legal tech startup.

Anton Jarbøl is a three-year PQE Associate in the finance banking team at Dentons. He predominantly does Aviation Finance, as well as commodities and general banking work as well.

John Sharp, our webinar moderator, is currently Head of Business Development at Definely. Prior to this, he was working at Clifford Chance in Applied Solutions for a number of years, and before that, he was at Thomson Reuters.

What does Wellbeing mean to you?

Anton: For me, wellbeing isn't just an absence of being ill or sick. It's actually quite a complex set of factors which includes a person's physical, mental, emotional and social state as well. So it's actually quite a mixture of different emotions that you bring into it. 

It’s something which is very important not only in your personal life but also professionally, and it's wrong not to stress the importance of both in each sphere, as I think it permeates the boundaries between the two. 

So you asked me why it's important to me. I think it's important because obviously wellbeing can have a very profound effect on how you can sort of perform at work. But at the same time, personally, it has a very big impact on your ability to form relationships in life and your ability to sort of slow down.

Isabel: I think Anton quite comprehensively covered a lot of points about why wellbeing is important. I think I'm quite lucky with the day and age I'm coming into a legal career. The fact that everyone prioritises wellbeing is really great. For me, the emphasis is on physical and mental health and the ability to take care of those things while you're at work because, like a few other professions, law really does take a lot of your life when you're presently in it, so it's very intertwined with your personal life.

So wellbeing in the workplace affects your personal life, and vice versa, so for that I think I've definitely recognised the importance in taking care of both aspects of mental and physical health, and I think that's kind of my emphasis on it when I think of wellbeing.

What sort of shifts have you seen?

Anton: I'm now a three-year PQE, so I've been in the industry for a little while so I've seen this transformation that Isabel mentioned firsthand. I've seen the dynamics shift in the workplace and it's actually quite incredible to have been part of that journey because I think it's only really been in the past three years. COVID was obviously a huge game changer for us all. Generally we had an understanding amongst senior partners that it was not possible to run a good business from home, and while there are a lot of things that I really enjoy about working in the office, there are good things to be said about working from home as well.

We've also had huge pay increases across all pay bands - NQ salaries have been skyrocketing recently. But for me personally, I don't think money can necessarily buy someone a good night's sleep. For some people, money is a solution, and people can choose exactly what makes them happy - I have no issue with that. But for a lot of people, it's not the solution.

Isabel: On my end as a trainee, especially in your early years, as Anton mentioned, you do feel like you have a lot to prove. You feel, to a certain extent, that you need to put in that hard work. You need to work long hours, and while I mentioned earlier I am coming in at a very good stage in where the industry is at the moment, there is still a long way to go in terms of people unlearning bad habits and trying to figure out what the good ones are. I think at the very least what I've seen so far is an openness to unlearn these bad habits and implement good ones in their place..

Can law and wellbeing coexist?

Anton: I think they can, and I think in certain ways, when we look at wellbeing, people have a tendency to equate it with stress. Stress is not necessarily a negative factor. We volunteer to put ourselves in stressful situations at times, and that can actually be quite an important thing to do. 

So I think it's important to segregate, say, stress and anxiety. People put themselves under stress a lot, for example, playing sports, but I think where people start to question wellbeing in law is by that association with increased stress necessarily leading to a reduction in your health and wellbeing. And I just don't think the two necessarily correspond. Right now, in the past two or three years, the response has been “let's throw money at it until it goes away.”

Isabel: I think they definitely can! One of the main reasons why I picked the firm that I'm in right now is because of its support and encouragement of the use of legal tech. Trainees are actively encouraged to make use of these resources, and that’s what the bulk of legal tech is all about, right? 

It helps decrease the administrative workload and decrease human error which massively helps trainees’ lives because you're already anxious about doing a great job. Having a certain type of software that's able to help reduce the stress around making errors is a huge relief and really improves wellbeing by reducing the anxiety associated with making mistakes. You can take comfort in these resources, and it’s the fact that you’re encouraged to use them which is great. 

To watch the full webinar with Isabel, Anton and John, watch it here. If you’re interested in learning more about ways that lawyers can help combat burnout and improve wellbeing, download our free wellbeing guide; The Ultimate Guide to Wellbeing for Lawyers here.

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