Ruth Crawford QC: Wellbeing strategy will ensure advocates and staff get the help we need
Ruth Crawford QC writes on the measures the Faculty of Advocates has taken to protect lawyers’ wellbeing beyond the pandemic.
The past few years have been characterised by constant, ongoing change for everyone due to the pandemic. Life at the Faculty of Advocates has been no exception. With the strict impositions of the first lockdown, considerable effort and expense was required to ensure legal practitioners could continue to provide access to justice: an essential service to citizens. The profession as a whole deserves to be commended for the many innovations put in place to make sure the courts remained open for business.
With social distancing rules now a thing of the past the Faculty of Advocates and its staff are again having to rethink their daily personal and professional routines. Many of the operational arrangements put in place during the pandemic have or are in the process of being dismantled. Others – in line with a shift to hybrid working – are being retained. In addition, although progress has been made in reducing court backlogs, there remains considerable work to be done in this regard. So while many among us had envisaged that the lifting of restrictions would see a return to some semblance of ‘normality’, this has certainly not been the case.
As is to be expected, the significant and continued changes in the way people interact with each other – both at home and in the office – impacts on their overall wellbeing. Recent surveys among legal professionals have shown that the levels of stress, anxiety and depression have increased considerably since the onset of the pandemic. Although Faculty has always taken the wellbeing of all Advocates and those that provide support services to them seriously, we quickly realised that more needed to be done to help alleviate the pressures and stresses.
Accordingly, we have ramped up our investment in a wellbeing strategy centred around the four wellbeing pillars – mental, social, financial and physical – to make sure that Advocates and our staff have easy access to the right resource at the right time.
Our Mental Health First Aiders are on hand as a point of contact and signposting for anyone experiencing emotional distress. Through LawCare, the mental wellbeing charity for the legal community, advocates, our staff and their immediate family can access and receive advice and support from trained staff and volunteers. Our Employee Assistance Programme offers free 24-hour telephone counselling and information services, including structured counselling programmes. Advocates also have access to a confidential counselling service, where they can choose to interact with trained personnel in person or online. The resources offered via our medical aid scheme are also regularly communicated to all those in the Faculty of Advocates and to our employees.
The collegiate atmosphere at Faculty has always been a source of support for advocates and we are currently repurposing some of our internal work spaces to provide even more collaborative areas.
Our wellness committees are also developing a calendar of events centred around mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing and Faculty members and staff are being encouraged to participate in these. Among these are established fundraising events such as the annual legal walks. Their involvement here will not only improve their own wellbeing but also assist in raising much-needed funding to help charities offset the not inconsiderable challenges and stresses being fuelled by the current cost-of-living crisis.
All of these initiatives are part and parcel of an overall wellness strategy that seeks to enable everyone to not only access help when needed, but also to positively encourage the proactive management of individual wellbeing. I, along with my fellow Faculty office-bearers, am well aware of the difficulties presented by mental health issues. We have actively encouraged those needing help to reach out to us and other members should they require support and will continue to do so. No-one should feel that they are unsupported or that there is no place to turn to.
We are conscious that we are not alone in our efforts here. Many organisations in the legal profession, and indeed in other sectors, have also moved swiftly to increase the wellbeing resources available to support their teams in these challenging times.
Moving forward, Faculty will continue to invest in wellbeing, with a view to ensuring the Scottish Bar is well-placed to continue promoting access to justice in Scotland and beyond our borders.
- Ruth Crawford QC is Treasurer at the Faculty of Advocates. This article first appeared in The Scotsman.