Guest blog: Joanna Chatterton, Fox Williams LLP

17 November 2016

Chambers' organisational structures and working practices can make wellbeing issues harder to spot

J Chatterton Fox Williams LLP

The launch of the invaluable wellbeingatthebar.org.uk portal is a significant step towards removing the stigma associated with mental health at the Bar and towards encouraging chambers, their members and staff to tackle this challenging issue. The fact that calls to LawCare from the Bar have risen from 11% of LawCare calls in 2014 to 19% in 2015 indicates that the Wellbeing at the Bar initiative to encourage acknowledgement and openness around mental health is really working. Whether or not you think opening this particular Pandora's box is a positive step, the fact is that if these issues are being talked about, there will be a growing expectation that chambers will actively look to provide an appropriate framework for mental health problems to be prevented and, if prevention is not possible, appropriately managed, with members and staff properly supported.

In our experience, however, the organisational structure and working practices common to most sets of chambers can make wellbeing issues difficult to spot, challenging to manage and an area of considerable risk.

We recently identified some of these challenges at an event run by the LPMA aimed at equipping chambers to understand the legal implications if wellbeing is not appropriately managed.  Our conclusions can be summarised as:

J Chatterton DIAGRAM

These are not easy challenges to overcome and whilst one-off initiatives such as running clubs, mindfulness classes and wellbeing checks really can make a difference to some aspects, what will really start to change things is a strategic and holistic approach to mental wellbeing, which includes:

  1. Developing a programme which aims to prevent mental health problems by introducing measures which address all of the 5 drivers of mental health wellbeing: Take Notice, Be Active, Connect, Learn and Give;

  2. Steps to create and encourage a culture of openness and collaboration to support colleagues in need, for example through training and awareness raising; and

  3. Provides a framework for chambers for the effective management problems when they arise which balances the interests of the individual and that of chambers as a whole in terms of risk management.

This might seem a big mountain to climb especially in smaller sets with limited resources but that's where the wellbeingatthebar.org.uk portal comes into play and provides an invaluable source of ideas and help.

However, it seems to us that whatever the size and resources of your chambers, progress will not be made to tackle this important issue, unless a genuine focus is given to it, unless someone or a few within chambers are prepared to really lead, drive and keep alive the agenda and unless there is vocal buy-in and support from the Head(s) of Chambers, other senior members and staff. 

Joanna Chatterton, Partner for and on behalf of Fox Williams LLP, Solicitors