Guest blog: A wellbeing strategy for chambers

4 May 2017

Joanna Chatterton, Partner, and David Murphy, Legal Director, Fox Williams LLP look at what makes a good chambers wellbeing strategy 

J Chatterton Fox Williams LLPDavid Murphy FOX WILLIAMS

In our blog published in March we explored why a strategic approach to wellbeing was beneficial for Chambers. In this blog we suggest the things you need to think about when formulating your strategic approach.

Leadership

To really effect change there needs to be a senior individual with the authority and influence to spearhead the wellbeing agenda and be a strong advocate for it.  This may be the Head of Chambers or someone on your Executive Committee.

We suggest a small team approach with representatives from each of the main constituencies of your Chambers (e.g. QC, Junior, Pupil, Clerk, Practice Manager, CEO/Chambers Director, member of Administration Staff).  How often they should meet will depend on your particular Chambers but for many, meeting once every two to three months will be appropriate.  Set an agenda to avoid meetings becoming a talking shop and to make sure it is given due priority.  Have clear action lists to ensure responsibility is taken for delivery. 

Analysis 

Once you have identified your team, identify:

  • How do things stand now: what wellbeing issues and areas of concern do you need to address?

  • What are you doing already? Many Chambers will be doing things which will be addressing wellbeing issues - adopting a strategic approach does not necessarily mean reinventing the wheel.  Incorporate what you are doing into your strategy.  And badge it as being related to wellbeing.  For example, robust reviews and social events feed into wellbeing.

  • Where do you aspire to get to? Identify your goals. 

  • Set SMART objectives: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed. 

Prevention and Crisis Management

Any strategy needs to look at two aspects:

  • Prevention: things you can do to keep members and employees well and resilient.  Bear in mind that supporting wellbeing can include steps such as helping members develop BD skills or arranging guidance on managing personal finances, not just steps with an obvious link to physical or mental wellbeing.

  • Crisis management: given the personal nature of each situation, it is not possible (or indeed advisable) to seek to put in place a one size fits all flow chart type of approach for managing such issues.  However, given the potential risk for the individual and for Chambers as a whole, it is worth considering as part of your wellbeing strategy what principles will guide your approach to handling such a situation and who within Chambers might need to be involved in managing the situation.  Reflect these in appropriate policies and procedures which are designed to help you contain, keep confidential as far as practicable and manage issues effectively and with minimum fall-out.  For example, providing a grievance process for members or a protocol for speaking up about concerns about colleagues.

In our experience of advising Chambers which have managed challenging mental health situations, a collaborative, flexible approach in which the key stakeholders are involved and participate can go a long way to minimising risk and insuring an outcome that is beneficial for the individual and Chambers as a whole.

Also look at your constitution and tenancy agreements.  Do they give you the right tools to encourage appropriate participation by individuals in their own wellbeing issues.  For example, do they give you the right to require a member to undergo a medical (a right routinely included in employment contracts) which will help you to understand the nature of mental health issues, the needs of the individual and Chambers' potential risks, all of which are essential to help you formulate an appropriate approach to manage an ill-health situation and these risks.

Reinforement 

No strategy is going to work unless you keep reinforcing the message that wellbeing matters and that you're engaged in managing it.  Think about training; think about badging things that you do under the wellbeing banner to keep it on the agenda for everyone in Chambers.  It may seem trite, some will roll their eyes, but ultimately they need to understand that engaging in these issues is important for the wellbeing of Chambers' business and not optional.  

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