Newsletter – July 2020
Spotlight on… emotional competence
Working in the law can be difficult. Long hours, a heavy workload, demanding clients can all take their toll on mental health and wellbeing. We are also all struggling at some level as we work and live through this global pandemic which is testing us in a variety of ways. It is more important than ever to be aware of how we are affected mentally, physically and psychologically.
We all know that to be a lawyer you need to be intelligent and competent. As a lawyer your most important asset is your brain and legal training has always focused on the ability to think, reason and analyse. However these are not the only skills you need. To be a successful and happy lawyer you also need to be emotionally intelligent and competent, to be able to recognise and identify in yourself and others emotions that drive your decisions, your reactions, your interactions with others, and how you feel about yourself.
Some think there is no place for emotion in the law and believe emotions interfere with rational thinking. In fact there is a huge body of scientific evidence which proves cognition and emotion are intertwined. If we consider that emotions affect your actions, decision-making, reasoning, thought processes and judgement, we can clearly see the relevance of emotion in the law.
Often lawyers enter the workplace without the emotional competencies needed to meet the demands of an evolving profession. You will spend much of your time as lawyers dealing with people, clients, managers, colleagues – yet most will have little or no training on the complexities of dealing with different personalities or managing people.
In addition the perception of a lawyer is often that they are tough, professional, resilient, diligent, hard-working, perfectionists – and so lawyers mirror these traits, cultivating a professional persona that projects strength. It can be very difficult to admit you are struggling when things aren’t going so well. You may fear admitting you have made a mistake, or are feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. We will all go through difficult times and we cannot suppress our emotions long term. Our emotions exist because they are trying to tell us something, and if we ignore them it can be debilitating and ultimately lead to stress, anxiety and depression.
It is clear to us that lawyers need more support and training in emotional competence, which can help them deal with some of the stressful situations they are likely to face. In response to this LawCare and academics at The Open University and the University of Sheffield have developed a free online resource on emotional competency and professional resilience for the legal community.
The interactive resource, called Fit for Law, is part of an on-going project to promote psychologically and emotionally healthier ways of working within law and was developed based on evidence from focus groups with legal professionals across the UK and Ireland. The course takes 2-4 hours in total to complete but is broken down into smaller sections, and includes videos from legal professionals discussing wellbeing issues as well as a range of interactive activities.
Providing legal professionals with resources to enable them to understand and develop key emotional competencies such as emotional self-awareness, self-reflection and better strategies for emotional self-regulation is one way to equip them more effectively for practice, enhance their wellbeing and potentially reduce levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
The goal is to foster enhanced wellbeing, to support legal professionals to not just survive, but to also thrive, within a challenging work environment. By learning how to deal with stress, recognise our emotions and reflect on our behaviour we also give ourselves a better chance at coping with and adapting to the challenges posed by Covid-19.
In addition to providing resources aimed at individual practitioners, we are also developing a further course on Working with Others and a toolkit for employers, to encourage positive organisational and cultural change in the legal workplace.
The resources are available to everyone studying law or working in the legal profession. For more information visit www.fitforlaw.org.uk.
If you need emotional support, call LawCare on 0800 279 6888 or visit www.lawcare.org.uk to access webchat, email support and other resources.
Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO, LawCare