The GRL Blog

Managing Stress in Chambers

Why is stress so bad?

Stress is the body’s natural response to threat: real or perceived; physical or mental.  In responding to threat our bodies produce large quantities of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.  These hormones and chemicals increase our heart rate and our breathing as they enable greater blood flow to our muscles to ready us for flight and to make us more alert.  Other bodily functions such as the digestive and immune systems slow down.  Our blood pressure may rise and sleep might become elusive.  The greater and more frequent the negative response to stressors the more extensive the physical and psychological impact.  Stress is mostly invisible until over time chronic stress often leads to hypertension, hypo-immune dysfunction, cancer, structural changes to the central nervous system and early death.  Stress disempowers, causes anxiety, leads to mood disorders and gives rise to mental illness.

What makes Chambers vulnerable to stress?

There are many work place stressors.  Most workers are faced with a few of them, the Chambers’ world is littered with evidence of many: Lack of Control (cab rank rule, difficult client),

Insecurity and Uncertainty (the  next case, fees unpaid), Workload: too much or not enough (peaks and throughs, all-nighters), Unrealistic deadlines (urgent, late in the day), Isolation (self-employment, same-set opponents), Big Changes (ABSs, Legal Aid cuts, Solicitor-Advocates, Direct Access, Consultations), Worrying, Perfectionism, Lack of sleep, Panicking, Rumination, Stressed about stress the list goes on.  Chambers’ staff, custodians of their sets’ welfare help shoulder their barristers’ stress burden as well as carry their own.

What can Chambers do?

Ask, Listen and Act: be interactive.  Find out what stresses Members, Pupils and Staff.  Communicate your findings and adopt a policy and action plan.  Remove the stigma and face down the fallacy of believing that stress drives performance and is to be worn as a badge of honour.

Most causes of stress in Chambers are inherent to the business model.  The resulting direct stress is very often amplified by thoughts and emotions.  Chambers can equip those within with a stress busting toolkit.  Aim for initiatives which reduce negative pressure: teach coping strategies, help barristers and staff regulate their emotions and engage in wellbeing-enhancing initiatives such as Chambers’ support networks and mentoring schemes.  Aim to be proactive and stress-preventing.

Clerks, Practice Managers, Chambers Directors and Executives are crucial to managing Barristers’ stress as they have direct contact with Members and are often the first port of call.  They should: be trained to spot it and; know how to respond and what to do.

Reducing psychological distress at work contributes to a positive work culture.  Train your staff leaders: staff and barristers, to engender commitment, trust and engagement.

Your Heads of Chambers, E&D Committee Members and Officers, Pupil Supervisors, Pupillage and Recruitment Members have responsibility for welfare and should be approachable.  Make training available to them too.

Exploit Chambers’ strengths and what unites it.  Masters of the written and spoken word, Barristers join a set for its vision, shared practice areas and values.  Adopt resilience as an incisive part of your Chambers’ vision and declare it.

What’s in it for Chambers?

Support provided by and within Chambers communicates openness and a collegiate outlook to its Members, Pupils and Staff and will greatly facilitate the development of greater resilience, more quickly.

Tenants, Pupils and Staff prefer Chambers which care about their wellbeing and will look for evidence of this.  Pupils and Staff recruited from the Millennials and those that follow: the Gen Zers (Generation Z), no longer consider wellness a luxury but rather an active pursuit and a priority.  The best are choosy.

There is a positive correlation between wellbeing and quality outcomes: more resilient barristers and staff: happier clients, improved results, lower rent.

If you would like to talk to an expert in wellbeing and resilience for your chambers or law firm then please contact Ann Langford.

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