07 Jun 2022

Undervalued lawyers more likely to suffer well-being issues, study finds

Almost half of those lawyers say they have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder

Man rubbing his eyes due to tiredness

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Law firms that put financial performance and productivity above all else could create unhealthy working practices that harm lawyer well-being, according to a study by Krill Strategies and the University of Minnesota’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

The report – which surveyed almost 2,000 US-based lawyers and was published this month in MDPI’s Behavioral Sciences journal – found that health and wellbeing in legal environments appears to be linked to employer values. The researchers split respondents into three groups depending on the type of organisation they worked for – profession-centric organisations (where employers were mainly perceived to value professionalism and skill), business-centric organisations (where employers were mainly perceived to value hours billed) and organisations where lawyers felt unvalued by their employers (often because lawyers received no feedback on their performance).

Almost half of lawyers in the unvalued group (48%) said they had suffered a mental heath disorder diagnosis at some point in their life, compared to 41% in the business-centric cohort and 38% in the profession-centric group. Lawyers that identified as non-white were also more likely to indicate that their employer does not value them or provide feedback. 

Lawyers working for business-centric organisations were also more likely to work longer hours – 37% said they worked 51 hours or more in a typical week compared to 24% of the profession-centric group. The business-centric group were also more likely to work in private practice.

Lawyers who work for employers that do not value them were also more likely to view their workplace as facilitating maladaptive behaviours, while almost 50% of that cohort were more likely to say the legal profession had been detrimental to their mental heath. That compared to 41% in the business-centric group and 24% in the profession-centric group. More than a third of lawyers in the ‘no value’ group (37%) said they had considered leaving or had left the profession due to mental health, burn out or stress, compared to 27% in the business-centric group and 15% in the profession-centric group. 

In total, 62% of lawyers surveyed were categorised in the profession-centric group, 27% belonged to the business-centric group and 11% to the no-value group.

The authors wrote: “The group with the worst health and most limitations are those who either felt unvalued by their employer or did not have enough feedback to know what their employer values most about them. Those in that group experienced worrisome levels of perceived stress that would clearly warrant employer intervention due to their likely association with mental health problems among their lawyers.” 

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