City law firm tackles graduate stress

A look at a top firm's new wellbeing programme

Leading City law firm Clifford Chance has set up a new initiative focused on the psychological stability of its junior lawyers.

Called the Performance Optimisation Programme (POP), it's "aimed at developing more resilient individuals who are able to sustain their performance with the capability to cope and adapt when faced with periods of pressure and challenging situations."

POP has been incorporated into the firm's LPC and new trainee inductions and the firm is considering offering it to other groups of employees.

In its current form, it includes workshops and other forms of training incorporating techniques drawn from cognitive and behavioural psychology.

Addressing the issue

The initiative was welcomed by the Law Society's Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) that represents and supports all student members of the Law Society, trainees, and solicitors of up to five years' active post-qualification experience.

"The JLD commends Clifford Chance for addressing this issue and opening debate, and would welcome it if further training was provided across the junior levels of the profession," said chair Sophia Dirir.

"While some firms have excellent training programmes, the industry standard is unfortunately quite diverse. In addition, the emphasis on training is often in relation to the specific job which is being undertaken."

"Many firms do offer training on time recording and prioritisation, which does go some way to alleviate the stress of junior lawyers.

"However, often very little guidance is provided in relation to managing or dealing directly with stressful situations."

Taking the load off

But with long hours and busy days being major contributors to stress, City law firms that want to address mental health problems effectively should arguably be looking at working practices across their firms as well as the approaches of particular lawyers.

"Regardless of the extent of training provided," said Sophia, "if a trainee has too much work, the training on stress prevention will be of little assistance.

"At their level (when they're still learning) they cannot be expected to work as fast as someone at 5 years post-qualification experience, by which time it has become second nature. So good training and managing the workload of trainees would be the best way to reduce stress."

Responding to issues with workload-related stress among junior employees in their industries, some investment banks and consulting firms have trialled some new workload-related initiatives, including rethinking how tasks are allocated and guaranteeing employees time off on particular evenings or weekend days to ensure they get to switch off from their jobs.

POP is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but there's scope for City law firms to take things further.