Herbert Smith trains staff to spot stress

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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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