While the legal industry as a whole has started to adopt mental health prevention and anxiety support, there are many small firms that argue they cannot afford to lose the billable time that lawyers and teams get to invoice by working long hours.
“Lawyers, paralegals and legal support staff are all under tremendous work pressure and need an outlet for prevention and support” says McClenahan.
“The biggest source of lawyer stress is actually their firm’s culture. They are made to feel like they need to manage their deadlines and stress by themselves as admitting they cannot meet a deadline is considered a sign of poor job performance”.
Lawyers in distress now have a contact to reach out to in Downtown LA for mental health stress relief and coaching at Dr McClenahan’s therapy practice.
Long before the American Bar Association challenged the country’s law firms in September 2018 to do more to support attorney mental health, legal industry experts had been sounding the alarm over high rates of depression, substance abuse and suicide in the profession.
But saying “counselling is offered to those who ask” is often just “token”, so firms can say they support mental health initiatives without truly having to change their billable hours policies.
“One of the unintended effects of billable hours is that law firms end up drying up their most valuable resource: the mental health and performance of their lawyers” argues McClenahan. “When a lawyer is working past 5:00, on weekends, without true rest or self-care, there’s a guaranteed effect of burnout and exhaustion.”
The core business model in consulting, law and other professional services businesses drives everyone from top to bottom in a practice to work long hours, which forces many talented professionals to find other jobs when work-life conflict arises.
Some staff will choose to suffer rather than admit weakness or judgement from friends and family which means all the mental health discussions, lectures and meditation apps are just window dressing and the stigma about admitting a problem will never go away.
Large firms may be able to afford programs or even hire “Wellness Managers”, but individuals must take ultimately take responsibility for their own successful mental health.
Dr. Connor McClenahan offers solutions for both prevention as well as crisis management.
“I advocate for lawyers to invest in themselves to protect themselves from burnout, and to help them improve not only their work life, but their sense of overall health. Solutions like mindfulness can improve both productivity and relieve stress at the same time. Learning to recognize anxiety and express feelings are skills that can be learned quickly, and can make the difference between burnout and healthy work-life balance.”
“Just like a star pitcher in baseball where you would invest in physiotherapy to keep them in top shape, a legal firm can protect its’ mental performance by investing in psychotherapy to keep brains in top shape”.
Distinct from meditation, the concept of mindfulness means going off autopilot reaction mode and being aware and tuned in to one’ body, one’s environment or task.
“Mindfulness is not about analyzing your time and concluding that if I just need to push harder for a bit longer, I know I can get this project done and then relax.” Dr McClenahan guides his patients to consider a small slice of time in their day as sacred space, that is phone free with no pressure to check email. Most professionals fear the unknown of not being immediately responsive to client needs. Dr Connor can help them recongnize that starting with as little as 5 minutes will not have a long term impact on the success of their day or week.
“People are smart, and if they step back to look at the long term benefits of mental health care, they can weigh the short term impact of on demand stress versus the long term health benefits of learning how to better manage that stress. Proactive professionals like lawyers realize that investing in themselves is a very good long term investment. Even so, taking the first step to reach out is sometimes the hardest part.”
On Meditation Mondays, law firm Dechert encourages employees to step out of their roles for 30 minutes for a guided meditation led by a certified teacher.
“If that firm can see the benefit of creating a 30minute space, then the average professional should respect themselves enough to also try to meet that goal” says Dr McClenahan.
Preventative mental health also means recognizing the legal profession’s impact on personal relationships.
A broader view of helping lawyers and legal staff means recognizing that the struggle with depression, anxiety or substance abuse is likely to touch loved ones.
“This can help motivate someone in the legal profession to realize their actions have an impact. Our practice helps professionals to reconnect with the values and purpose they want for themselves and their families.”
In conclusion, progress rather than perfection is the key to mental health program success.
The law industry especially in downtown L.A. has a very long way to go. But it is critical that individual professionals know that they have the power to make changes and that there are safe spaces and coaching available to support them.
To learn more and find a counselor that can guide one to reduced stress, please visit https://connormcclenahan.com or visit their office in downtown Los Angeles in the financial district, on 5th and Grand at 520 S Grand Ave #671, Los Angeles, CA 90071. Call 323-580-6711 for consultation.
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