Pinsent Masons seeks ‘lasting change’ after inquest into partner’s death sparks mental health debate

Details of circumstances surrounding death of Vanessa Ford led to outcry over pressures lawyers face at work
Pinsent Masons logo on the side of building


Pinsent Masons’ managing partner has pledged to seek “positive and lasting change” following the death of a partner who was suffering from an “acute mental health crisis” after working on a high-profile deal.

Laura Cameron was responding to an outcry on social media following an inquest last week into the circumstances surrounding the death of Vanessa Ford, who was hit by a train last September.

Describing Ford, the mother of two young children, as a “much-loved and respected member of our firm”, Cameron noted the difficulty of “balancing work and family life… particularly for working parents”. 

She added: “We want this to be an ongoing conversation with colleagues to ensure we are doing everything we can to support our people. Across the legal industry – and more generally in society – a stigma around mental health persists and this is challenging to address. With vigilance, refreshed support measures and ongoing dialogue, both internally and externally, we will seek to make positive and lasting change.”

Ford, who was 47 when she died, was a senior equity partner at the firm and had been leading on the sale of Everton FC in the weeks leading up to her death. According to British Transport Police, Ford left a note expressing “a degree of helplessness” while her manager said she had raised no concerns about stress at work.  She had reportedly been working up to 18 hours a day on the deal.

Delivering a narrative verdict, the coroner said Ford had consumed a significant amount of alcohol and he could not determine whether she had intended to take her own life. 

Many social media reactions highlighted the work of LawCare, the specialist legal mental health and wellbeing charity, in providing support to those suffering from a mental health crisis. There were also widespread calls for systemic change within the profession. 

Diversity and inclusion consultant and coach Claire Rason wrote: “The always-on culture is one of the factors why women don’t rise to the top. My research has shown that many women chose not to progress. When will the profession sit up and take notice? This is not okay.”

Ciara Simmons, a senior legal counsel at Equinix, spoke for many in saying: “We take on stress for other people, it’s never going to be an entirely relaxing ride, but it really doesn’t need to be this bad. 

“Changes that perhaps slightly inconvenience partners and clients would make it much harder for people to reach crisis points. Unfortunately, leaders are too often only willing to act when that point has already been reached.”

Lorna Khemraz, lead AI counsel at Legal OS and a Pinsents alumnus, said that, while Ford’s story had hit home to her as a working mother who loved her family and her career, “the profession [is] the issue, not the firm necessarily. The firm is full of truly wonderful and talented people who are human beings, just like the rest of us.”

In a Q&A with GLP published in March last year, Elizabeth Rimmer, chief executive of LawCare, described stigma as the main obstacle preventing improvements in mental health and wellbeing among lawyers.

“It is very hard for a legal professional to seek help if they are struggling for fear of being perceived as weak or not good enough, so people carry on in silence,” she said. 

LawCare's confidential helpline is available in the UK on 0800 279 6888 during office hours; alternatively email the team at Samaritans UK's 24-hour helpline can be reached on 116 123. Click here to find country specific helplines compiled by the International Association for Suicide Prevention. 


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