The event was held in partnership with Leeds Trinity University and hosted in the UK’s largest single site law firm - Walker Morris. To honour World Mental Health Week, the session was focused on the importance of mental health and wellbeing across the legal sector, with specific reference to preventing digital burnout.
After networking over a delicious lunch, Julian Wells, Director at Whitecap Consulting/LegalTech in Leeds kicked off the event by welcoming all attendees and thanking the speakers.
Julian gave a brief overview of the LegalTech in Leeds initiative, recapping on the three overall aims:
· Help drive digital adoption across the legal sector.
· Support tech entrepreneurs to engage with the legal sector.
· Improve access to legal services.
He then gave an update on recent activity and progress including stats around events, sign-ups and social media channels, and a summary of the six events hosted in September. Julian finished his opening talk by thanking the LegalTech in Leeds sponsors and partners for their continued support: Addleshaw Goddard, Bruntwood SciTech, Barclays Eagle Labs, Barrister Link, Calls9, Cyber Security Partners (CSP), DAC Beachcroft, FinTech North, Founders Law, Jungle IT, Katchr, Leeds City Council, Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, Leeds Law Society, LawtechUK, Leeds Trinity University, rradar, Page White Farrer, PEXA, SYKE, The University of Law, Toca, University of Leeds, Walker Morris, Whitecap Consulting, Yorkshire Legal)
Next up, we had Tom Matusiak, Director at Leeds Law Society and a Legal Director at litigation and disputes firm Stewarts, who gave an enlightening talk on the importance of the legal sector for the Leeds economy, “law is one of the pillars of the Leeds economy, with a full range of law firms, legal service providers and in house legal teams giving excellent service to a full range of regional, national and international individuals and corporates.” Tom touched on some of the recent developments across LegalTech including the announcement from HM Courts & Tribunals Service which confirmed the new Court facilities will be operational from early 2024 at West Gate.
Tom also spoke about his experience attending the LegalGeek conference and summarised some of the key themes that he gleaned from the speakers, with AI being a key topic in most of the talks.
Tom finished his talk by bringing the focus back to World Mental Health Week and avoiding digital burnout across the legal sector. Tom stated that working in law can be a wonderful career for many reasons, including “helping clients whilst and contributing to the development of the law and building a stronger society and working on important and intellectually stimulating matters in diverse and inclusive collegiate environments.”
However, Tom made the excellent point that “working in law can be stressful – even before technology is added into the equation…”, with some reasons for that including that “Client service can be demanding – with the consequences for clients often being life-changing or business-changing and attention to detail is vital, often leading to sleepless nights for lawyers.”
With the addition of tech, this can be amplified including because “with mobile devices lawyers can be reading or responding to messages (or be video-calling) at any time of night, weekend, day they are unwell or holiday – wherever they are in the world; there can be immediate expected times of response”.
Tom highlighted some of the ways in which tech can bring mitigations and solutions to those stresses – but emphasised that the human side is still key along with organisational systems and policies. He concluded that, “awareness of and support for mental health challenges including burnout have improved immeasurably in the profession (as in society) in recent years – but there is a long way to go and further improvements need to be on the radars of all firms.”
Our next speakers were Charlotte Rainey, Employer Partnerships Manager and Dr Simon Best, Senior Lecturer in Law at Leeds Trinity University who began by giving the audience an introduction to the university and why it’s unique:
Charlotte then moved on to speaking about the ‘Strategic Employer Partnerships’ programme whereby employers have the opportunity to:
Charlotte then handed over to Simon who spoke in detail about the law courses on offer at Leeds Trinity University including:
As well as other initiatives that employers can get involved with to support future talent such as the professional mentoring scheme. Simon also spoke about the introduction of a new LegalTech module which the university is keen to get input on from employers to ensure the module is relevant to industry needs.
Simon and Charlotte finished their talk by talking about the exciting new city centre campus, located at Trevelyan Square, due to be open in the 2024/25 academic year and by encouraging those working across legal to get in touch to find out more about the placement and mentoring schemes or to collaborate with LTU on the new LegalTech module.
Contact details - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next up, we heard from Tracey Foley, Head of HR at Walker Morris, who started her talk with what she believes are the 3 key barriers to having a long, sustainable career in a large law firm:
1) Do you understand what the expectations of you as a lawyer are? “You should have regular check-ins with supervisors to clear up misconceptions and if you’re in a senior role, make sure you communicate regularly and clearly with your team to define expectations.”
2) Being organised – “A lack of organisation causes a lot of stress and burnout. Are your more junior team members organised? Have they organised their email inbox? Are they overwhelmed? At Walker Morris we run training on this to get junior lawyers in good habits early on so that they don’t end up overwhelmed by emails etc.”
3) Technology – “It can be challenging and time consuming to learn a new software but it’s important to provide that training and encourage lawyers to embrace it and use all of its capabilities.”
Tracy finished her talk by highlighting the innovative ‘Sustainable Careers Programme’ at Walker Morris, where the approach is to help people to progress through their careers without experiencing burn out. In doing so, Walker Morris has reduced chargeable hour targets, introduced a paid sabbatical scheme as well as paid family leave for all parents. These are amongst a whole host of other benefits and wellbeing/mental health support on offer at the law firm. Tracy concludes with, “it’s about giving our lawyers control over their career and as a result of this programme, solicitor turnover has dropped by 7%.”
Our next speaker was Ian McCann, CEO at Legal Studio who gave an extremely candid talk on his own experience with depression, burnout and adult diagnosis of being neurodivergent. Ian recalled upon his time working in a high-pressure law firm, comparing the difference between what he was projecting on the outside, to what he was really feeling on the inside.
As well as reflecting on his own experience, Ian presented some hard-hitting stats, “According to Lawcare, 69% of legal professionals have experienced mental ill-health, 22% has experience bullying or harassment and 6% has experience suicidal thoughts…but Happiness is the key to everything.”
Explaining that this is the reason behind setting up Legal Studio, “we’re trying to help lawyers enjoy work again, we let lawyers keep up to 90% of their turnover and we give them the flexibility to run their profession the way they want to, on their terms and in a way that fits round their personal lives.”
Ian finished his talk by stating, “happy workers with a purpose are 30% more productive and are likely to stay at organisations a lot longer and at Legal Studio, we’re looking to get clients served by lawyers who are happy and fulfilled.”
Our penultimate speaker was Alessandra La Via, Founder of Live More Offline, who started her talk by asking the audience “who here has experienced video call exhaustion, distractions that mean you can’t get stuff done and not being able to switch off?” – to which the majority of the room raised their hands.
Alex reflected on her own experience working in a high-stress, fast-paced corporate environment, revealing that even though from an outside perspective it seemed as though she was extremely successful, in reality, she was suffering from a severe burnout.
After realising that she needed to totally disconnect from work and the associated stress, Alex took a trip to Spain alone where she spent 34 days walking 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago. Alex immersed herself in nature and discovered a healthier balance with technology, “I started to wonder about the impact digital habits had on my wellbeing and on society. I realised tech is not the problem, but many of our ways of working with tech don’t make sense. They lead to overwhelm and distraction.”
This led to Alex founding Live More Offline in an effort to help businesses achieve and realise healthier digital habits. Alex put some stats around the importance of this stating, “57% of workers find it difficult to stay focused on important tasks because of digital communication and 73 minutes is the average time lost due to ineffective video calls each week.”
Alex finished her talk by giving the room 4 steps towards achieving a healthier digital culture:
Our final speaker of the day was Dr Jan Smith, CEO at MindYourself App. Jan began by outlining the key challenge facing the legal sector in that mental health of lawyers is getting worse. Jan evidenced this through research by stating:
Jan spoke about the stigma attached to mental health and how it can be difficult for lawyers to admit they need support in fear of it affecting career progression. Jan stated, “there isn’t one solution to solve all mental health issues, you need to give people a variety of options and make support accessible from wherever they are, at all times of day.” This led to the creation of MindYouself, an app that offers technology that combines AI and real people to provide affordable clinical grade mental health interventions at scale.
The event concluded with a panel discussion featuring all of our speakers where we explored some of the themes that arose during the presentations. In summary, we spoke about how terms associated with mental health can often be misused and overused and some of the dangers that come with this, highlighting the importance of education and training around the language used within the workplace.
We also touched on how the profession has changed over time with regards to mental health and how the increasing pressures from clients mean that lawyers have to balance their workload alongside meeting client needs which means it can be extremely challenging to disconnect, particularly with the introduction of home and hybrid working.
Lastly, we addressed how technology can provide solutions to many of the challenges discussed throughout the session and that although tech plays an important role within a law firm, the human element of the profession is equally as important, and prioritising the happiness and wellbeing of lawyers can help to better serve client needs and deliver a better service.
Overall, the event was extremely insightful and played an important role in raising the awareness of burnout across the profession. LegalTech in Leeds would like to say a huge thank you to the speakers for speaking so openly and honestly about their personal experiences.
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