Guest blog: Joanna Chatterton & David Murphy of Fox Williams LLP -

9 March 2017

 J Chatterton Fox Williams LLPDavid Murphy FOX WILLIAMS

Wellbeing is "trending" right now with mindfulness apps and books proliferating and yoga classes booming.  But achieving good levels of wellbeing amongst those who work in Chambers, be it members or employees, is not possible with meditation and exercise classes alone.  As the Bar Council's wellbeingatthebar.org.uk portal advocates, you need to think more strategically about wellbeing to really manage this important aspect of any Chambers' business.

Is wellbeing really that important?

Our experience suggests it really is. Good levels of wellbeing contribute to the success of Chambers' business and poor levels represent a serious risk management concern. Well and happy members and staff create the conditions for good revenue generation - productive members focussed on their work and happier instructing solicitors and clients help maintain a positive reputation which generates work. 

If members and employees have low levels of wellbeing they are likely to be less productive.  Managers and Heads of Chambers will be spending time managing problems, juggling employee and member absence and engaged in management processes around health and performance. All of this is a distraction from focusing on the business development and promotion of Chambers' practice. 

In extreme cases, they may be dealing with potentially high value discrimination or personal injury claims.  Chambers are usually small compared with many employers and yet some members can earn substantial sums.  This means that if a member is unable to work due to an act of disability discrimination by Chambers or another member, the potential liability for Chambers or that individual can be significant and yet the number of individuals in Chambers to shoulder that liability is usually small.

Like any key element contributing to business success, wellbeing needs to be considered as part of your business strategy and objectives, not treated as a one-off project that is optional for those who wish to participate. 

Wellbeing also touches on many elements of Chambers' life and business, not least of which includes its regulation. Andrew Walker QC, Chair of BSB's Ethics Committee (2016), has made it clear that the BSB's expectation is that managing the wellbeing of members is an issue that should be handled internally by Chambers themselves and only escalated in serious cases to the BSB.

There is a duty to manage Chambers competently and effectively and to have appropriate risk management procedures in place. There are health and safety duties to staff and members, duties to ensure employees have a place to work which is safe and managed in a manner which does not cause them harm.  You need to think about the fact members of chambers and employees can be sued personally for disability discrimination relating to their treatment of colleagues and management decisions they make relating to them, for example, work allocation. 

Chambers may also struggle to attract and retain top talent if you don't keep up with what your competitors are doing.

There are therefore many reasons why wellbeing should be taken seriously and managed at the highest levels as a strategic issue, and why you should equip yourself with the management tools to deal with it. 

That sounds like a lot of work, cost and resource

Not necessarily. We aren't talking about grand schemes at great expense. We are suggesting that the senior leadership of Chambers factor wellbeing into Chambers' business objectives and planning, that they have a joined up approach to what prevention initiatives will be undertaken to maintain good levels of wellbeing and that they oversee the introduction of policies, procedures, tenancy agreements and constitutional documents to support the business in effectively managing the risks associated with wellbeing issues.

A strategy or framework driven from the top will have a tangible impact and be genuinely effective, will help sustain focus and attention on wellbeing and should achieve better buy in - the best foundation for really making a difference.

In our next blog we'll explore what you should think about when considering your strategy for wellbeing.

Joanna Chatterton, Partner, and David Murphy, Legal Director, Fox Williams LLP