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Mental health and Black legal professionals: what’s the difference?

Blog: Latest Legal Trends

Mental health and the legal industry

Each 10th October, we celebrate World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme is ‘Mental health is a universal right’. Last year, LawCare launched their Tell Ten campaign, to encourage people to tell ten colleagues or friends in the legal industry about their charity mission. As proud supporters of this vital service, we explored 10 ways in which LawCare can support the mental health of legal professional during their career.

This year, the demand for services like LawCare continues to increase significantly, with LawCare reporting a 24% increase in the number of people getting in touch with the charity for support. Industry-wide, more legal professionals are being pushed to meet unrealistic demands and work excessive hours with lawyers and paralegals feeling the effects of it. 

A report, released by the International Bar Association, confirmed that legal professionals’ mental wellbeing is a global concern. Similarly, a survey by the insurance firm Protectivity confirmed, the legal profession is the second most stressful profession in Britain, with 63% of respondents reporting they suffer from stress daily.

To combat the mental health crisis in the legal profession, LawCare has most recently released new guidance to support and encourage employers to do more to create mentally healthy workplaces and protect mental health. Learn more here.

Recognising the difference: racial disparity

While this data alone is enough to spark conversations regarding mental health in the legal industry, there has been significant evidence highlighting the disparity between the wellbeing of Black and white legal professionals.

The facts

ALM’s 2021 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Survey demonstrated the apparent inequality with more Black legal professionals reporting suicidal thoughts, depression, and isolation than their white colleagues. More shockingly, 31% of Black respondents reported contemplating suicide throughout their legal career, the highest rates among the racial groups. This evident gap between lawyers of colour and white lawyers was shown across a spectrum of questions.

It was reported that 61% of Black lawyers felt isolated in their law firms, in comparison to 53% of white lawyers, and were more likely to say they had depression or anxiety. Additionally, it was noted that Black lawyers felt less supported by their firms with 51% of Black lawyers saying they felt their firms did not provide support for personal well-being, in comparison the 45% white lawyers who said the same.

A year’s difference

While the ALM Intelligence’s 2022 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Survey indicated that some of the most significant disparities in mental health between white legal professionals and all others has shrunk since the 2021 survey, other discrepancies remained.

An apparent theme that emerged in this year’s survey was that white lawyers and male lawyers seemed to feel advantaged compared with their peers. This was demonstrated in instances such as white and male attorneys feeling more comfortable pushing back on client demands and taking time off, without fear of hurting their careers. Furthermore, it was highlighted that 82% of Black lawyers reported their law firms had impacted their mental health negatively.

Among this year’s respondents, 19% of Black lawyers said they had contemplated suicide – a significant decrease from 31% in the previous year. Interestingly, most minority legal professionals said remote work had helped to improve their quality of life, with appreciation rates of 69% for Black lawyers compared to 58% of white lawyers. Comparably, more women and minorities expressed feeling that remote work had made them more productive and could increase their longevity in the profession.

The year ahead

Looking to the year ahead, it is crucial the legal industry continue to destigmatise mental health while working to make the legal industry more inclusive, if we are to continue to see this data decrease.

It is evident from the 2022 ALM survey that remote working is a factor in enabling minority lawyers, in particular Black lawyers, to feel able to thrive while at work. As we continue to strive towards the evolution of diversity and equality, it is vital that law firms and organisations embrace cultural shifts in the way we work and are aware of  social issues Black lawyers face throughout their career. In doing this we can hope for a legal industry with fair opportunities for all.

There is also recognition that mental health should be actively managed. Employers should look at their organisational culture and working practices and consider their responsibilities to ensure that these create an environment which supports psychological safety and mental health. From adopting sustainable ways of working such as flexible and remote working as highlighted above, to reviewing organisational culture and factors such as long hours, poor work/life balance, meeting the expectations of increasing demands on law firms and legal teams, the pressure of tight deadlines – all whilst maintaining high standards of ethical and professional conduct.

The Obelisk Support approach

Here at Obelisk Support, we take pride in our innovative approach to championing new ways of working. With the vision to make legal work more inclusive and allow accomplished legal professionals to thrive throughout their career – Obelisk Support created a different model to deliver legal work, connecting clients with skilled consultants who work flexibly. This required a change of mind set and approach, which is what Obelisk has successfully focused on, pioneering flexible and remote working arrangements long before they were mainstream. Today, the model includes all lawyers who want to work differently, with over 2,000 consultants now registered.

Obelisk Support is founded on and continues to honour the principle of #HumanFirst. We set ourselves apart through our commitment to putting people first and focusing on what our clients and consultants really need to succeed. Today we continue to be a vocal champion of cultural change in the legal profession to build a future-facing profession where all lawyers have true equality of both opportunity and outcome.

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