James Cornell, the Office Administrator for Shook, Hardy & Bacon, was the featured Subject Matter Coach for the Successful Firm Project’s inaugural huddle: How Successful Firms Make Mental Health Matter. Subscribers from the Successful Firm Project came together with peers to discuss their personal and professional mental health, with a goal to normalize and identify resources to improve mental well-being in the workplace.  The following are some of the critical takeaways shared.

The Data

  • May is Mental Health Awareness Month and organizations throughout the legal industry are placing a great deal of focus this year on mental health and well-being.
  • Substance abuse, depression, burnout, anxiety, divorce and suicide rates for lawyers are generally two to four times higher than the general population. 
  • In a recent study by Bloomberg Law, over 85% of respondents indicated that they experienced burnout in their current job. Job burnout is a type of work-related stress. It is a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.

What’s the Cause? Challenging Work vs. Stressful Work

  • Law firms are stressful environments and lawyers can be subject to the demands, long hours and deadlines of the firm’s clients. This in turn may mean that the professional staff working with the lawyers become subject to those same demands of the clients AND the lawyers on their teams.
  • The challenging work and pressure from law firms can lead to creativity, innovation and ingenuity. However, too much constant pressure can turn into stress.
  • Stressful work can create anxiety, lead to burnout, and interfere with a person’s ability to concentrate and retain/recall information.

Employee Well-Being and Profitability are Positively Correlated

  • Happier employees are healthier and more productive.
  • Stressed employees are less productive, less engaged, less healthy, and overall perform at lower levels.

How Do We Establish a Positive Workplace Culture?

  • Caring for, being interested in and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends
  • Providing support for one another
  • Avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes
  • Inspiring one another at work
  • Emphasizing meaningfulness of work
  • Treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust and integrity

How Leaders can Build a Positive Culture Around Mental Health

  • Foster social connections
  • Show empathy
  • Make time to prioritize well-being in your workforce
  • Encourage people to talk to leadership, especially about challenges that could impact performance
  • Create a safe environment to share these ideas.

For more information on the topic of mental health in the legal workforce, and ways successful firms are approaching team and individual well-being, read James Cornell's article from the March 2021 Issue of ALA Legal Management Magazine

James L. Cornell
James Cornell
Office Administrator, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP

James L. Cornell leverages 20-plus years of management and leadership experience in law firms, along with service as a volunteer leader and Past President with the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) to bring together the holistic perspective of today’s legal management professional and the business of law. James can be reached at (202) 210.5321, jcornell@shb.com or via Linkedin.