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Wellbeing at the Bar: Reflections from the outgoing Chair

I am writing my final blog as chair of the working group in the last days of December, juggling festive planning in between deadlines and preparation of new trials for 2019, amid this panic and chaos I stop to write this blog!

Pausing to take a breath and reflecting, prioritising the wellbeing blog deadline amongst all other responsibilities would have been considered an anathema a couple of years ago.  When we find ourselves under pressure we often cut out the very things that would actually provide respite and calm to our situation; and when we are under these pressures the clarity and control to which we all strive to achieve drift further. Simple exercises to manage panic, find calmness, and regain clarity can be found on the portal.

I have learned many things since I started the Wellbeing at the Bar journey in 2012, and I hope that most of them can be found within the host of resources created with the collaboration of specialist consultants, adapted under careful consideration of the Bar, clerks and other stakeholders interested in supporting the profession. I would like to end this year by reflecting upon some of them, their creation, use and future development.

The power of research

Practice informs research and research informs practice. Lawyers work with evidence, and for me, a turning point in addressing the culture towards mental health and wellbeing commenced when we gathered data via the resilience framework assessment back in 2014/15. It is important to keep these findings in context, as with any snapshot they can be time sensitive and so I encourage individual groups and leadership to keep ‘taking the temperature’ of the profession to monitor ‘how they are travelling’.

Gathering data in a collaborative and inclusive way with the support and oversight of professional experts to gather credible statistics is key to aid our future work.

Knowledge Sharing

Our work is proof that we can achieve far more together than individually.  The Bar has always been a collegiate profession. We have demonstrated that when we share our knowledge, experience and create resources adapted and shared with others, this can create a strong basis for success, trust and future use.  The portal has been accessed over 218,000 times since it’s October 2016 launch and it has inspired Bar Associations in the US, Canada, Singapore and Australia.  We shared our research experiences with two states in Australia to support the initiation of this work for their membership and our leadership initiatives have been adapted for methodology for others trying to navigate the challenges within their organisations.

Champions & Leaders

From the students who told us of their fears, the juniors who spoke to their challenges, the silks who shared their darkest worries and the judiciary who supported and reflected on their shared and lived experiences; I truly believe we may actually begin to displace the research finding that “2 in 3 felt that showing signs of stress would be perceived as weakness” when we next assess the profession.

In fact, as we have seen from our work of those who have shared their story, this is evidence of the normality of the pressures and pains of our working environment and the challenges faced on a daily basis. Raising awareness and educating those around you to incorporate physical and mental health into self-care and practice management shows positive leadership, strength and never weakness. The link between our physical health, wellbeing and performance is now irrefutable.

It is testament to all past and current leaders who have supported this important initiative that their visibility has provided reassurance and positive role models to those who when historically surveyed suggested that only 9% felt that there was a positive visible leadership. Since then we have seen: The Bar Conference, Specialist Bar Association Conferences, all Inns of Courts presenting the findings, their response to the research and individual initiatives to support the profession. This is in addition to joining the Bar Council working group to collectively support a program to be effective in evolving and responding to members needs, and safeguarding the future health and wellbeing of the profession.

It has been a huge privilege to found and lead the initiative, there are too many people to thank individually, but without the bravery of the 2,458 original responses to the Bar wellbeing survey we would have never gathered the data to found evidence for our work. The leaders and clerks who stepped up to support this and those early voices who continued to encourage despite the naysayers have laid a strong foundation for future Chairs to build upon.

As I step back into practice, I am indebted to the working group members over the years and all those who have supported us. I will do my best to continue to practice what I preach!

Remember the basics: Sleep, Diet, Exercise. Finally, reflect positively not negatively, we have come such a long way, we will continue to evolve and focusing on the triumphs rather than the tribulations makes the journey slightly kinder.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2019.

Rachel Spearing Chair WATB 2014-18