Herbert Smith trains staff to spot stress

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  • How about training senior managment in law firms not to cause it. There is no way in the current climate that anyone from partner down can safely put their hands up to any perceived weaknesses even "legitimate" physical illnesses. Anyone foolishly encouraged to do so will soon see what happens to them.......

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  • Why don't more firms do this? Too often, law firms view stress and depression as someone else's problem or as a signs that staff 'can't cut it'. Most people, including partners, will suffer some sort of mental health issue at some point in their lives.
    It's time employers faced up to their responsibilities in this area.

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  • I would love to see a caring motive behind this but I suspect its nothing more than a cynical "arse-covering" measure suggested by insurers looking to defend themselves against the first test case on stress and the deluge that will inevitably follow. They know full well that no one in their right mind would admit to suffering from stress unless they are happy to never be in a position to get life cover, medical cover or any sort of insurance cover from the Firm itself. It's a ploy dressed up as a principle - wheeling out the PC gals with their right on sister moustaches doesn't change that...

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  • why not just treat staff as you would wish to be treated yourself?

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  • Maybe this is protesting too much, but can I encourage reflection on three suggestions: first, that the motives behind this and similar initiatives in other firms and organisations are not completely dismissed, or that'll just undermine their effectiveness: the second reader above has the issue in a nutshell- a huge proportion of the population suffers at some time or other from mental health problems; if these can be alleviated and employers be supportive, in most cases the individual can quickly return to good health and work; second, it seems self evident that work in law firms can be stressful (for lawyers and for those who support them) and that excessive stress can lead to physical and mental health problems; the training is designed to help partners and others to be increasingly aware of stress problems, so something can be done about them whether the stress relates to work, to something else or to a combination of factors; often stress from overwork is a result of under-resourcing of particular tasks, or lack of clarity as to what is expected of someone; third, if people are suffering from excessive stress they should raise it with someone who they think will be sympathetic: many partners at some stage in their careers, particularly when associates, have felt they were struggling with demands they could not meet and many have also seen the effect of mental health problems when not properly addressed. This is a complex issue and there are not always simple solutions, but if we can stop treating it as a taboo, can recognise that many staff and colleagues will suffer from mental health issues as well as physical health challenges, then there is a chance of some improvement. People tend not to shout about it, but there are plenty of successful lawyers (and clients) who have had to deal with depression or other mental health problems at some stage in their own careers. Recognising that these need to be addressed and cannot be ignored is I suggest not a bad thing, even though we will not emerge with perfect solutions or answers.

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  • Blah blah blah James. Put down your guitar, brush the lentils outta yer beard, hunker down onto your haunches and listen. Nobody doubts that the problem of stress exists or that the need for support exists - your sentiments are all right as far as I'm concerned. I'm just not buying in a climate like this that there is any sincere motive behind this "Road to Damascus" appreciation of the problem by Firms. Insurers are behind this, not Esther Rantzen or Miriam Stoppard.

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  • Why so cynical, Krusty? I am sure that management, tender and caring individuals that they are, are simply concerned about the wellbeing of their staff.

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  • Other firms have done it. My MC firm has a confidential helpline in place for all staff internationally (since Q1 this year) which offers counselling for staff. Given sensitivities, however, justified or not, the initiative has not been widely trumpeted to the press...

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  • If your business model is such that you expect people to work 80 hour weeks on a frequent basis to ensure that you meet your profitability targets, then you will cause stress as people give up their "normal" lives and focus all their efforts around work. Fundamentally, and inevitably, this will trigger damage. If James Palmer can confirm that he appreciates this, and that Herbert Smith are actively taking steps to deal with it, then there would be less cynicism around Herbert Smith's initiative. As it stands at the moment, this initiative looks little more than an effort to minimise the damage the firm has already caused, rather than to tackle the etiology of stress.

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  • I am a worker with previous career in mental health work and having left the sector am now back somewhere in 1950. The irony is that out of the 15 Partners I work for, at least 2 are going to experience exactly what it's like. Good luck.

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  • As someone who has been invited to help with the complex issues following three separate suicides in law firms in the last nine months I know only too well how desperate some people can become. In every case none of the colleagues of the individuals driven to take their own lives had any idea how fragile they were and had they known, it is doubtful they would have known how to ensure they had professional support.

    We work increasingly in silos and fail to share our stresses with others and law firms are particularly prone to this.

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  • Years of experience of lawyers have shaped my view... its easy for people outside the profession to delude themselves that they have found a diamond at the bottom of a krackerjack box (Meatloaf, Rock on Dude)

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  • As someone with first hand experience of serious mental illness both personally and that of close friends and family; I also worked in a mental health unit for several years in my twenties, I therefore think I am can comment on this - I joined HS ten years ago and have found, that although not perfect, most of the partners, managers and HR are genuinely sympathetic to individuals when for whatever reason they struggle to cope. This initiative is a good way to try and combat the stigma associated with depression, stress and other forms of mental illness - cynicism is pointless - what are you honestly hoping to achieve by not at least giving firms a chance to do something that just might help give the right support to their staff?

    There has been a confidential telephone support service in place for several years and recently they introduced a free city based GP service for all staff. These new workshops are another way of offering support and help people to actually discuss the issues and not feel shame or embarrassment.

    It's very easy to comment anonymously about things like this but seriously, why should we feel the need to do that? I was off work with serious depression for six months and made a decision not to cover this up to my peers when I returned to work - I was fully supported by my then manager and the partner for whom I worked (I was a legal PA then) and although it was difficult, I found my feet and have since been promoted to a PA Manager's role, with responsibility for 40 legal PAs. I have never felt that my illness has held me back, perhaps because I am open about it, that makes it easier - but if I ever feel that I am having a wobble, I can recognise it and speak to managers who genuinely give a damn. I know I am not a lawyer, and therefore the demands on me are different, however stress and pressure are all the same, no matter what role you play and it's irrelevant whether it's within a law environment, public sector, or whatever - when you crash, you crash and it's about how those around you help to pick you again.

    I have no problem putting my real name on this and admitting to the issues I faced because I hope in some small way that might help - anonymous, albeit sometimes witty comments, serve no real purpose do they?

    Herbert Smith may not be perfect, but at least they are trying, and I honestly believe their motives are more genuine than the cynics amongst you might think.

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  • "It's very easy to comment anonymously about things like this but seriously, why should we feel the need to do that?"
    Because we want to express our views but know what would happen to us if we revealed to our employers what we really think of them?

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  • I think we've struck a nerve here fellas...how much management time went into that commercial???
    Samantha Jones best "verballed" answer to sincere criticism is I used to work in mental health - that less an endorsement of HS than a living example of someone taking the "you don't have to be crazy to work here but it helps" adage as a life maxim!
    Forgive me but isn't this article geared purportedly at showing how solicitors are being supported.
    The fact that the janitor feels that he always has a new mop whenever he's feeling blue doesn't really address the fact that what we have here is a situation where the hostages are being offered "hostage awareness counselling" by the hostage takers.
    Even if this "initiative" has been on the go as a scheme for some time its funny how it is only now (in a world of declining solictor/equity relations) that we have an announcement that is designed to head off civil claims arising from stress inducing work environs.
    Then again how seriously are we to take the view that an Equity Partner identified as the source of the stress being induced is likely to throw his arms around the complainant and thank him for giving him a chance to see the error of his ways...geddout

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  • Krusty, your post is too cynical. Associates in these firms are free and sentient beings. They are not working at t'mill on the cotton looms. They are not being oppressed by the nasty capitalist partners in top hats.

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  • Well Britomart I know where I'd put my money as to the outcome of a vote on this. Incidentally, the regional slur is not appropriate in a modern age and betrays a distinctly Dickensian view of anyone outside Watford. If this is the sort of prevailing view that permeates firms in the City then what value can anyone place on the claims of this particular City firm towards safeguarding staff wellbeing.

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  • Well, the debate is interesting. My pennyworth ( more or less depending ..) is a mixed bag ;Medium and large firms have long appeared to encourage and almost flaunt stressy working lives and competitive behaviours, a lot within each firm, and often clearly beyond the point of anything that could be described as congenial or healthy. For some folk I suspect the downturn has not so much increased stress levels as just shifted the source.. I would applaud any initiative which airs the issue and informs the individuals concerned about stress, its causes, its symptoms and its remedies. Again full marks for any actions that encourage a better culture in these firms. But I also find it hard to forget that the "sufferers" are to a man and woman educated, capable talented and articulate adults who have in earlier days ( pre downturn) mostly has other options and could have walked away for more congenial lifestyles, but presumably the bang or the buck were just too good. Perhaps the downturn will bring a healthy refocus on personal priorities and a reassessment of the work place.

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