Hard-Partying Culture At London’s Elite Law Firms Is Ruining Lawyers’ Mental Health, Study Finds
What do you do with a drunken lawyer? Advise them to seek professional help.
Or at least that’s what one recent study from the UK’s professional body for UK lawyers determined.
According to the FT, law firms’ hard-charging, hard-drinking culture is having a negative impact on the mental health of many attorneys by encouraging harassment and bullying.
For who aren’t familiar with the legal world in the UK, this is probably the most important thing to remember: Five massive multinational London-headquartered firms dominate the landscape. The firms – Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May – are collectively referred to as the “magic circle”.
These insanely profitable white-shoe law firms set the tone for the practices and culture of the legal world in the UK, and after a series of high-profile sex scandals rocked the industry last year, the industry has become somewhat more introspective.
Reports about an event that portrayed Freshfields’ drinking culture and featured an event involving drinking champagne at 10:30 in the morning.
In October, former Freshfields’ partner Ryan Beckwith was asked whether the “magic circle” firm had a “drinking culture” following revelations about an event which began with lawyers drinking champagne at 10.30am.
Last month Baker McKenzie’s former London head Gary Senior was also forced to discuss his consumption of alcohol at a work event during the course of an ongoing hearing into allegations against him.
Mr Beckwith and Mr Senior denied any allegations of misconduct.
In response to this finding, the UK’s Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society of England and Wales on Monday released guidelines on how firms can foster a less permissive climate that prohibits harassment of both the sexual and physical nature.
On Monday, the young lawyers’ division of the Law Society, which surveyed almost 2,000 junior lawyers last year, said unhealthy approaches to alcohol consumption had a potentially negative impact on health, bullying, harassment, diversity and productivity, and argued firms needed to come up with inclusive alcohol policies.
Recommendations included offering better low-alcohol or alcohol-free alternatives at firm events instead of “a warm jug of orange juice or something fizzy”, and considering other times of day for networking and social events, as well as alternative activities such as sports.
In the survey, which stemmed from an annual mental health survey, 93% of lawyers reported feeling stressed in their roles, and turning to alcohol and other unhealthy coping methods because of it.
The guidelines stem from an annual survey examining the mental health and wellbeing of junior lawyers, launched three years ago in response to fears over the levels of stress suffered by lawyers and conducted most recently last year.
Of the young lawyers surveyed between January and March 2019, more than 93 per cent reported feeling stressed in their role, and many said they used alcohol as a coping mechanism and that it was a contributing factor to mental health issues.
The report said it was “often reported that juniors or those at recruitment events particularly feel pressure to consume alcohol to show that they can fit in with the team, socialise well and secure their future career progression”.
The same study in 2018 found that of almost 1,000 junior lawyers, more than 82 per cent of respondents had experienced stress in their role and 26 per cent experienced extreme stress and anxiety.
It’s only January, but we have a funny feeling that this year’s round of holiday parties will leave a little something to be desired…