Why the lockdown should be a tipping point
for a better way of working

Setfords Solicitors has 250 consultant lawyers that work remotely and in 2018 won the Lexis Nexis Legal Award for Wellbeing.

I’d like to start this blog by saying thank you. Thank you to those who have made untold sacrifices to protect our health. Thank you to those who’ve adhered to social distancing rules to help protect our most vulnerable. And thank you to all of those I work with – those who have shown such tremendous resilience and adaptability to allow us to continue to serve our thousands of clients safely.

Thank you is a not a word we say enough, particularly in the legal profession.

Too many are too busy working too hard to meet targets that are simply too high.

It comes at a cost to work-life balance, a cost to happiness, and a cost to client care. An unhappy lawyer does not perform at their best; in fact, one whose mental health is suffering is most likely at their worst.

The shocking statistics

Research by Lexis Nexis in 2019 found 76% of solicitors feel stress and their mental wellbeing in the legal profession is a major issue. That is a shocking statistic.

And so is this one: in a Resilience and Wellbeing Survey carried out by the Junior Lawyer Division in 2019, 77% said they thought their employer could be doing more.

I’ve certainly witnessed enough to believe these statistics are accurate. I have sat down to interview too many lawyers who were at the end of their tether – highly talented professionals who had lost their passion. Not just for their job, but for their family, friends and life outside the office. Years spent in a presenteeism culture with unrealistic targets and no control over their working hours had battered them into submission.

Time for change

We need a shift in how lawyers work, and we should use this unprecedented moment in history to instigate long and lasting change.

It’s my belief that COVID-19 and the lockdown that followed, allowing millions of workers to experience home-working for the first time, has been a ground-shifting moment for the legal profession. Tens of thousands of lawyers have seen what it’s like to experience a modicum of work-life balance. No commute, no one sitting over your shoulder, no office politics. Yes, I’m sure there’s still been pressure and deadlines and targets. But this different way of working, and a changing economic landscape, will inevitably have calmed the mania that often surrounds the working life of many lawyers.

Now, with this new perspective in their minds, is the perfect time for those in our profession to demand a better way of working.

It shouldn’t be a hard sell.

Over 15 million working days were lost in 2019 because of work-related stress, according to the Health and Safety Executive. On a financial level alone, it makes sense for businesses to protect the mental health of their employees. And of course, as human beings, it’s the right thing to do.

I believe this taking stock is why we saw applications for consultant roles at Setfords more than double in March, and saw a similar increase in April. Yes, we offer more than just home working – consultants decide their own hours, set their own targets, and they take home a much greater percentage of their fees – but this is about more than just that. This is about a shift in expectation, and it can’t come too soon.

A better way of working

I make no apologies for promoting Setfords and what we have long called a better way of working. I want lawyers to be happy, and I want our entire profession to thrive. Happy lawyers means happier clients and enables our industry to make a greater contribution to society.

Of course, I’d love hundreds of lawyers to join Setfords tomorrow and begin a life-changing journey. But I appreciate not everyone is ready for that level of change.

But please, wherever you are, be conscious that a great legal career and great mental health aren’t mutually exclusive. You can, in fact you should demand, that the two go together. It’ll be better for you, better for your clients, and therefore better for your employers.

Trust me, eventually, they’ll thank you.

Guy Setford
Co-CEO, Setfords Solicitors

For more information about becoming a consultant lawyer you can visit www.consultantsolicitor.co.uk