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Farrer & Co | The snowball effect: positive news for wellness and mental health of family lawyers

I always look forward to the summer; to the sunshine; and to the Edinburgh Festival throughout each August, and the annual gorging on culture that it offers.

This year’s festival included Richard Gadd’s Baby Reindeer, which has just transferred to the Bush Theatre in London. I saw it last week.

In it, a man is brought to the edge by the actions of a chance encounter which takes its toll on all aspects of his life. A female stalker tracked his every move.

Towards the end of this brilliant monologue play, Gadd says:-

I think, as audience members, we expect art to be virtuous and tell the truth, but the truth isn’t always virtuous. Sometimes the truth is messy and morally complicated. It wouldn’t be fair to paint myself as the perfect victim because I wasn’t. It wouldn’t be fair to paint her as a remorseless psychopath because she wasn’t. It’s somewhere in the middle”.

As an audience member, I reacted with horror to this man’s one hour descent into despair, and with admiration for his powers of perception in the midst of personal chaos.

As a family lawyer preparing to chair a talk on the growing awareness of mental health issues at the Law Society I used the artistic experience as a prop for my own understanding of the issues.

Every day of our working week – you could without exaggeration score it as an imperfect 7 out of 7 – we family lawyers immerse ourselves in the sometimes dysfunctional personal lives of our clients.

So how are we serving them, and how are we serving ourselves?

On the basis that other people are always more important than oneself, let’s start with our clients.

In the 31 October (Halloween) 2019 talk, the President of the Family Division noted that the system of English family law is actually in quite a good place now in the way that it deals with mental health issues. At least, compared to say 30 years ago.

  • A much broader, kinder and more interventionist view taken by the courts of family dysfunction and how to remedy what can be bettered, repaired or helped.

  • All 52 family law areas in the country required to write blueprints on how best to promote the mental health of clients and of all users of the system. With the President himself to abstract a best practice document from all the 52 locally produced versions.

  • Encouragement of all possible help to be given to those who need it most, to clients who can’t afford to purchase the advice of lawyers and who therefore depend on the sticking-plaster help provided by the charity Support Through Court and other agencies.

  • The President’s personal championing of those issues, and his behind the scenes attempts to persuade Governments of any complexion to restore some form of legal aid to family law.

All of these developments are wonderfully positive, and the optimism is founded on solid reason.

As to the wellness and mental health of family lawyers, clients will be relieved to hear of countless programs introduced by solicitors’ firms and barristers’ Chambers to promote balance and good practice. Healthy living and enjoyable non-work based pursuits to mention just two examples.

More proactively, pioneering lawyers introduce mentoring programs to provide regular, structured and confidential support for their employees.

There is plenty more work to be done. There always is, but it’s a great start.

My maturing reflections on the role of empathy and/or compassion in the provision of family law advice will be written on another day. Together with some dispassionate reflection on the degree of objectivity that us family lawyers must retain.

There is a snowball effect of support for clients and lawyers trying to deal with mental health issues in a positive and life-affirming manner.

Sure, truth is never absolute. Sure, as family lawyers we often find that a truth of sorts lies somewhere in the middle. And sure, the fact that the family law system is full of lawyers who want to make a difference and who care for their clients is as true as the fact that, even when it’s raining, there will always be sunshine one day.

If you require further information about anything covered in this blog, please contact Simon Bruce, or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Farrer & Co LLP, November 2019

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