“If you are trying to take a difficult decision and you’re weighing up the pros and cons, you have frank conversations. Everybody knows this in their walk of life.”
Even though the journey to becoming a lawyer is a long and hard one, and even though they are often an integral part of the economic and social (and obviously legal) fabric of society, they aren’t generally liked or recognised by the public in the same way. Lawyers have an image problem. In fact, a 2014 Pew survey found lawyers last among ten professional categories in “contributions to society.” That’s a tough fact to swallow and a tough act to follow when it comes to changing how lawyers are perceived in future.
However, it’s somewhat ironic that perceptions change sharply when a person needs one. As soon as you need a lawyer and you need one fast, opinion changes. When you are in trouble and you are sat at your computer, with the words “how much will it cost to hire a lawyer” typed into the Google search bar, lawyers will become your saviors.
So, is being a lawyer a blessing? Or a curse? This article explores a few sides of each argument.
Flexibility – there are a huge amount of career options available to you in the legal field. With a broad variety of practice areas – from criminal to corporate, or prosecutor or defence lawyer, there’s a huge swathe of variety when it comes to the work lawyers do.
Who employs who – lawyers have the freedom to either work for themselves, set up their own firm, or join a multinational organisation to name a few!
Opportunity – lawyers have some of the best opportunities when it comes to secondments, both domestically and abroad, remuneration and the ability to work with a huge variety of different industries.
You get to talk, a lot – if you love a debate or an argument, you literally get to do this for a living! I can’t confirm or deny if this was one of my main reasons…(hint: it was).
Intellectual challenge – it is a job that demands and promotes intellectual growth. Lawyers are expected to find creative solutions to problems and remain up to date regarding changes in the law.
Expectation – at times, you will be expected to work long hours and have slightly unpredictable hours for particularly busy weeks involving deadlines.
Qualification – law school is very expensive, regardless of where you study. In the UK, you can expect to pay tens of thousands of pounds to ensure you meet each step of qualification in order to practice.
Restricted choice – for some areas of law, you may have little choice on who to take on as a client.
At the end of the day, as with any career, you ultimately need to balance the pros and cons of pursuing a certain career to decide if it’s for you. This article touched on just a few of those – no doubt there are many more!
“The beauty of law is its diversity and variety – from the people you meet to the sort of responsibilities and tasks that you’ll do.”
Lewis Alexander Baxter.
Today’s #LawyerOfLinkedIn is student, aspiring lawyer and The Blurred Line Group (TBLG) founder Lewis Alexander Baxter. Lewis founded his organisation with an aim to change the way local mental health charities are funded across the UK, whilst still studying at university. With TBLG, Lewis has organised and hosted his own launch event, as well as delivered a TEDx Talk titled “Mental Health: Where do we go from here?”. I spoke with Lewis about his current ambitions as an aspiring lawyer, the why, who and what of TBLG, as well as his thoughts on how firms need to change their approach to mental health in the workplace.
Why do you want to be a lawyer?
LAB: “I think the beauty of law is its diversity and variety – from the people you meet to the sort of responsibilities and tasks that you’ll do. With certain career paths, there can be days and even weeks where you do the same tasks, day-in and day-out. I know the same can’t be said for law. I’ve always been someone who thrives off being busy and working in a fast-paced environment. Working in a commercial setting seems a natural fit for me; but I’m still a couple of years off full-time employment and there’s certainly a lot of hard work between now and then.”
What inspires you?
“Young people do. Young entrepreneurs, young activists, young sports stars, young musicians – all of whom have such huge responsibility but are under the spotlight and constantly scrutinised by the public, due to their age. I’d like to think I am growing up in a world where young peoples’ voices are being heard more and they are getting the recognition they deserve. Change is coming but not quick enough – I aim to make my mark within the law and in the charitable sector too, but also provide opportunities for other young people to join my mission or provide support to their endeavours.”
So what then inspired you to start The Blurred Line Group?
“In late 2015, I battled with the dehumanising disease of depression which controlled every part of my life. In March 2016, after suffering from a mental breakdown, I considered suicide – seeing it as the only route to end the pain. Fortunately, with the help and support of mental health professionals, my family and friends, this tragedy was avoided and I began to see that my life was worth living and I have things to offer to this world.
Mental ill-health is a huge issue facing modern Britain; more people have mental health conditions than ever before, but are often unable to access support due to under-funded services and huge waiting lists. The Blurred Line Group is the UK’s first funding hub for local mental health charities and community projects. In 2020, we strive to provide easily-accessible grants to initiatives nationwide, and provide mentorship to them too. We want to see these charities and projects not only survive but thrive, so they can help more people get the support they deserve. With prior experience on the Board of small mental health charities, I have seen first-hand the challenges associated with trying to access funding. We know this mission won’t be easy, far from it, but we won’t stop until we have reached communities across the UK.”
How did it then feel to complete your first TED Talk on those topics?
“Amazing! I must admit, I do quite a lot of public speaking now and have learnt to deal with any ‘pre-talk nerves’, but I don’t think any amount of experience prepares you for a TEDx talk. The bright lights, the large audience and having to stand on the stage with the TEDx letters behind you is daunting but exciting. It’s never easy sharing my story about my battle with depression, but knowing it would resonate with someone in that venue makes it worthwhile.
My topic was ‘Mental Health: Where do we go from here?’, as I explored what we can do as a society to build upon the increased ‘awareness’ of mental health conditions, and turn this into action. Raising awareness is so important, but we haven’t yet seen the improvements in mental health provision that we need! I’d encourage anyone who has a story to tell to share it. Share it with a small group of close friends and family first, and then who knows, the TEDx stage may soon welcome you.”
If you want to check out Lewis’ TEDx Talk, you can watch it below.
University is a learning process in more ways than one. What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt so far?
“Time-management, being able to juggle various commitments and learning to say ‘no’ – which all link together. Doing a law degree isn’t easy, I’ve learnt that by now, but it’s even harder when you find yourself short-of-time or having to rush your work. I’ve learnt over the last 13-14 months to make a personal timetable, which includes not only my academic commitments, but other commitments too (such as The Blurred Line Group work, public speaking / talks, writing vacation scheme applications and socialising). This has allowed me to keep in control of what I need to do and most importantly, when I need to do it. Like I have said before, I like to keep busy and I know I’m not alone when I say that. Being able to demonstrate that you can continue with other extra-curricular interests, clubs or societies AND do well in your studies, is a huge selling-point to recruiters – both legal and non-legal.
One of the hardest things I have had to learn is saying ‘no’ – whether to friends, employers or family. Obviously it is important to spend time with people, to socialise and to earn some money, but it comes down to your priorities. I try and set myself some time per week aside for this (well…I call my mum daily), play football once per week (if I can) and always find a couple of hours for Netflix.
You just have to work out time-management yourself; what works for me, won’t work for you. I’m confident that employers are looking for the ‘all rounded’ individuals, those that secure strong academic qualifications, but have other interests outside of their degree.”
What other ‘moment’, or mistake, do you feel you learnt a lot from?
“I don’t know whether I would call it a mistake, but not speaking to someone earlier about my mental health certainly taught me to be more open, honest and transparent. Talking about our mental health is never easy and hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing, but failing to speak sooner about my battle with depression nearly cost me my life. Today, I have learnt not to keep my worries internal, but instead to share them, in a confidential setting, with someone I can trust. Some of these worries have been very minor, whilst some haven’t been – either way, I have been able to find a solution quicker and get earlier support.”
How about career advice? What’s the best and worst you’ve ever received?
“The best advice I received from someone is about asking questions. I think we can all be a bit apprehensive about asking questions or thinking we look ‘stupid’ for not knowing the answers straight away, but we shouldn’t be. If we don’t ask questions, how can we get a more complete picture of X firm, X vacation scheme or X training contract. Admittedly, I am still torn between the solicitor route and the barrister route – it is not an easy decision to make. But by asking questions to solicitors and barristers alike, in addition to HR representatives and careers advisers, I feel I can make a more informed decision.
As for the worst, a trainee solicitor who said ‘follow the money’. I don’t think that can even be classed as advice…”
Speaking of advice – if you were in charge of a firm for the day, what’s the one change you’d make today to prepare it for tomorrow?
“Mental health and wellbeing programmes for all employees. Law firms are prioritising mental health in the workplace more than ever before; however, I feel there is more to be done. Sleeping pods, 45-hour shifts, 15 cups of coffee per hour – these things aren’t ideal for our mental wellbeing. (Not all law firms are like this; possibly very few to this extent)
I firmly believe that a (mentally) healthy workforce is a productive and happy workforce. Ensuring excellent pastoral and emotional support for staff, creating a culture of compassion and investing in the newest wellbeing technologies and programmes will lead to great improvements in the legal industry. This is not an overnight change, but rather a long-term culture change.”
And finally, any advice for aspiring solicitors?
“I think most aspiring solicitors are constantly told that it is crucial to show teamwork skills and communication skills; after all, when working in any firm you have to demonstrate this on a daily basis. However, it’s far too easy to show how you’re great at working in teams and fail to focus on your ability to be an independent thinker and be self-motivated.
Perhaps highlight times when you had to conduct research (such as a university project or essay competition), talk about your experience in sports such as running or boxing, or bring attention to the fact you played a musical instrument for many years. These activities demonstrate independence and often, lone-working.
My main piece of advice would be: to be authentic. Everyone’s lives, skills, interests and experience levels are very different and you should be proud, not sceptical, of what you have achieved. On application forms to law firms or chambers, show off your personality and share what is unique about YOU. I think the moment you start pretending to be someone you’re not, you’re heading into very dangerous territory.”
I’d like to extend a big thank-you to Lewis for contributing to my #LawyersOfLinkedIn series. If you’d like to get in touch with Lewis, or learn more about the great work he’s doing with TBLG, you can do so below.
“Everything is created twice – first in the mind and then in reality.”
It’s no secret that the legal profession is a mentally taxing one. A 2016 study of solicitors found that “28%, 19%, and 23% were experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress, respectively”. Late night working hours and high-pressure scenarios – particularly within transactional, London-based firms, where hours can be at their most intensive – can be a frequent reality for many lawyers with time-pressured tasks to meet their clients’ needs.
Meditation is increasingly being viewed as an answer. This week, I spoke with meditation consultant and Commercial Partner, Hannah Beko, and Dentons’ newly appointed Europe Chief Mindfulness Officer, Karina Furga-Dąbrowska, on how the use of meditation can help tackle mental health issues within the legal sector.
Mental Health in the Legal Industry
As touched on above, law can be an extremely stressful profession. Whether you’re a first year law student, or seasoned Equity Partner with decades of experience, you will have or have had your fair share of stress-inducing moments. Keeping up with regulatory changes, continuously trying to meet clients’ needs and managing your physical or digital workload of forms, paper and documents are all contributory to stress. That’s not even accounting for the non-work-related pressures that life brings – it can too often feel like we’re juggling too many facets of life at once. This has sadly resulted in worrying levels of mental health issues within the industry, substance abuse and burnout – particularly in comparison to other professional roles.
So how can law firms, or rather the entire legal sector as a whole, combat this? Hannah and Karina give their thoughts below:
HB:“Really – a whole culture change! But that might be a bit radical for now. We’re starting to see firms including yoga at lunchtime and introducing the odd meditation lesson, or maybe offering massages at desks. The ideas there are good, but I think there needs to be an adoption of a more of a joined-up approach, focusing on a better understanding of happiness and wellbeing is important. Being able to switch off outside work is also really important. The fact that having autonomy, responsibility and flexibility improves performance and job satisfaction should be considered more often. It’s not about time spent at the desk, it’s about being productive during the working day. Employees also need to take some responsibility themselves as well and not just rely on their firms. Of course, bringing in a wellbeing coach to run workshops is something they can do right away – I happen to know a good one…”
KFD:“Some firms are already introducing wellness programs that help people to become healthier, happier and more engaged, through mindfulness and yoga classes, or subsidies toward gym memberships. I believe the next, more sophisticated step is the implementation of employee assistance programs to give people access to confidential professional counselling. More and more firms are also beginning to offer flexible working arrangements, such as flexible or part time hours, or occasional home office work, to help people better balance their work and personal responsibilities.”
The point of flexibility has come increasingly to the forefront of firms looking to alter their traditional business models and approaches to productivity. The billable hour, a volume-based productivity metric, has been historically and traditionally been relied upon by firms as a staple for measuring the effectiveness and output of its employees. But are the mental consequences and emerging alternatives now starting to challenge that view?
KFD:“There is discussion that in fact a more fundamental change is needed. I recently read an interesting blog post from a Dentons Partner in the US, who shared an argument that law firms’ use of billable hours as the basis for compensation is creating a culture of burnout. In her opinion, our profession needs a new approach to compensation.”
As the above points demonstrate, any approach to mental health issues in the legal sector will inevitably require a multi-faceted review, raising questions about a firm’s approach to everything from economic performance indicators through to paternity policy. Karina’s recent appointment as Europe’s Chief Mindfulness Officer might be indicative of this ‘whole culture change’ slowly taking hold within the industry. It’s one of the first senior roles of its kind dedicated to a specific approach to addressing mental health concerns by a firm.
KFD: “My main responsibility as Europe Chief Mindfulness Officer will be to ensure mindfulness is an integral part of Dentons’ culture, thus supporting our vision to be the law firm of the future. I will contribute to our global NextTalent program by using mindfulness to develop the essential skills of the lawyer of the future – emotional intelligence, increasing resilience etc. – and to help our people thrive, both personally and professionally. We aim to position Dentons at the leading edge of this emerging field. Our mindfulness initiatives will help to nurture a culture in which high performance is founded on compassionate leadership, authenticity, honesty, respect and teamwork in order to drive productivity and innovation. It’s important to remember this is still an emerging field. For Dentons, it is a matter of open-minded leadership and innovative organisational culture. Mindfulness cannot be just a ‘nice addition’. It has to be truly embodied in the culture. It is not just simply creating a role for the sake of it – moreover its about reorganising a workplace. I don’t think all firms are ready for it right now.”
So, what exactly is meditation?
I have been meditating in my personal life for over just over a year now. As I’ve gotten more accustomed, comfortable and experienced with it, I’ve felt it to be a great way to tackle the stress, anxiety, tiredness and distractions we all face on a day-to-day basis. Hannah explains the science behind these transformative effects below:
HB:“When we get stressed, the brain produces cortisol – a stress hormone. Cortisol causes the fear and anxiety centre of the brain to increase in size, whilst decreasing the size and function of the part of the brain that deals with memory, learning, stress control and rational thought. As a result, we feel more anxious, damage our memory, ability to focus, concentrate and make good decisions. Meditation reverses these effects of cortisol – decreasing the fear/anxiety centre, improving memory and concentration – whilst helping you manage your everyday activities, sleep and even work!”
One of the main reasons I was personally so apprehensive about trying meditation was due to the fact I didn’t really know much about the process outlined above. To me, meditation used to be an inherently ‘spiritual’ or religious act, often conjuring novel images in my head of an old-age monk with decades of experience humming on a mountainside. In reality, however, meditation is a straightforward everyday tool for anyone to use at anytime. Such misconceptions are one of the biggest barriers to seeing the greater incorporation of meditation in our day-to-day lives. Karina and Hannah explain:
KFD:“There are many misconceptions about meditation, especially among some lawyers. The first one that comes to mind is that meditation is about ‘getting rid of thoughts’ or emptying your mind completely. There are also some others, such as meditation being ‘lazy’ instead of working toward billing hours, it being irrational, changing your religious beliefs or being selfish. For some lawyers, meditation seems antithetical to the professional culture that traditionally places great value on logic and reason. Furthermore, giving yourself permission to have downtime and unplug can feel scary and challenging in the legal world where time literally means money. I can also see a problematic approach to the idea of ‘compassion’ in the legal world – some lawyers seem concerned that this practice will make them go ‘soft’ or lose their edge. Whilst in reality, one can be stern or assertive whilst still being compassionate.”
HB: “People assume it isn’t for them, or try it once and believe that they “can’t do it” or they aren’t doing it right. It’s a muscle that needs exercising.”
So how do I meditate?
Taking that first step into the world of meditation as an absolute beginner can be a confusing, difficult or short-lived one without proper guidance or help. Karina and Hannah share their tips for beginners wanting to encompass meditation into their daily routine below:
KFD:“Nowadays, there are a lot of very good books and apps addressing the topic of mindfulness in the workplace. There is also a lot of advice freely available on the internet. Following posts from http://www.mindful.org or some other similar websites may be a good starting point.”
HB: “Try closing your eyes and taking three deep breaths. Focus on how you want to feel that day – happy, calm, or perhaps successful. Repeat to yourself “I am ….” and the way you want to feel. Keep repeating that thought in your head for 10 minutes. Your mind will wander off, but when you realise it, simply acknowledge it and come back to your thought of “I am…”. As you practice, eventually you’ll find that you’ll wander off less frequently and come back to your focused thought more quickly.”
For those of you looking wanting to give meditation a go, you can receive 2 weeks free of Premium access to my favourite meditation app, Simple Habit, with my promotional code below. It’s completely free and you only need your email address to get started – no credit card or confusing subscription cancellation required. There’s a huge variety of topics available, you can download meditations to take with you on the move and its a really beginner-friendly way to get started. I’ve tried many meditation apps, such as Headspace and Calm, but this has been my firm favourite by far.
I’d like to extend a big thank you to both Hannah and Karina for agreeing to contribute to this article. I hope you’ve found their levels of insight into the world of meditation and how it applies to the legal sector both educational and useful. If you’d like to learn more about Hannah or Karina, or hear more about my own experiences of meditation, check out the links below.