Skip to content

Help a colleague

As a clerk, pupil supervisor or fellow barrister you are in a unique position. You understand the pressures of a life in the legal profession. It may take months or years to get to know the typical behaviours of colleagues and peers. If you stay with a particular set or organistion for many years, you might be fortunate to build up strong friendships and support networks amongst like-minded professionals.

Talk to someone

There are a range of organisations which can help with specific issues. Click here for some advice on seeking help and for a list of organisations and their contact details. BarristersClerks & staff

What can I do?

A colleague in difficulty may display very few behavioural signs or symptoms of undue stress and those they show may be extremely subtle. As human beings, we are remarkably adept at masking concerns and worries. We might use techniques such as humour as a distraction or deflection technique. Someone with depression or anxiety may not appear sad or upset.

It is a good idea to keep things in perspective. A one off situation of lateness or shortness of temper does not necessarily indicate that a person is feeling unduly stressed or is experiencing psychological ill-health. If you make it your business to know your barristers and other members of staff, you are more likely to appreciate when their behaviour is unusual.

If you’ve observed some negative changes in behaviour over a few days or weeks it may be time to approach the person. Depending on the individual (and the situation) this may be a relatively straightforward discussion or it could be more complex. Remember that you do not have to be an expert on mental ill-health to offer support and signposting.

#
Sometimes it might be enough for the person suffering from stress to know that their discomfort has been noticed and that there are resources available to help them. You can point them to this website which has information specifically aimed at both barristers and clerks. Remember, most people find it difficult to open up. Sometimes it will have to be you who will have to initiate the conversation.

Occasionally, you may find that the person suffering from stress just wants to offload their problems or concerns to you. This is fine and may be therapeutic for the person doing the offloading, but you must be aware that you are not there to act as a counsellor, merely as a support and guide. If at any time you feel that matters are becoming too intense for you to deal with, the you should refer things on to someone more senior (either barristers or staff) at the earliest opportunity,

Wellbeing is becoming more prevalent in our society, so whatever is going on, you will not have to deal with it alone.

For further information, go to our Policy & practice page or read through the FAQs.

“I had surgery some years ago and was cut no slack on work or chambers rent, so worked through my recovery which was quite prolonged. There was no one I felt safe to turn to. By the following year depression had set in and I felt suicidal. Luckily I was able to take good advice from a senior member of the Bar which included taking better care of my physical health. I am still grateful to this senior barrister who took time out of his weekend to meet and talk to me. It meant and still means the world to me. I am now well, in new chambers and enjoying my career”

Barrister

How can I be helpful to my colleague?

The support you offer may simply be allowing your colleague to offload his or her concerns. To be listened to is empowering. You may be the first person who has fully listened to your colleague in a long time. Approaching conversations from a position of kind enquiry is a great place to start.

Will this benefit chambers?

If your colleague is in distress and needs support this may mean [everyone] rallying round to offer practical help. Team work will ensure that your colleague is enabled to manage their wellbeing whilst chambers/your organisation maintains continuity of service to clients. Talking about mental health openly reduces stigma and normalises mental health.

Am I ready to listen without judgement?

Avoid the temptation to ‘solve’ issues and be open to hearing things that may be surprising or concerning.

I have no experience of mental health issues, am I the right person?

It is common to feel unsure of what to say or out of our depth when faced with issues of mental ill-health. Be assured that you don’t need to be qualified in psychology or counselling to offer your listening skills. Being heard without judgment is a powerful thing to offer your colleague.

Practical tips to help your conversation:

  • “How are you?” is a simple effective opening question. The important next step is to wait and listen fully for the response.
  • Find a suitable time and quiet place for your discussion.
  • Mind (the mental health charity) advise avoiding comments such as “I’m sure it will pass”, “cheer up” “things could be worse” or anything else which minimises the concerns of the person. During periods of high-stress we tend to lose rational thinking and fatigue may lead to an inability to think clearly.
  • Listen without making comparisons to your own experience (such as “I know how that feels” or “when my friend / family member was depressed, he / she found X/Y/Z useful”).
  • Ask “What can I do to help. The person may not have an answer immediately and simply knowing that there is someone willing to support them (in whatever way) is often a huge relief. Practical offers of assistance can be very welcome. This may involve helping clear a colleague’s diary to enable recuperation or simply buying them lunch during a busy period. When deadlines loom we may have the tendency to work longer hours, skipping meals causing energy levels to plummet.

#

  • Unless specifically asked, try to avoid problem solving statements seeking to provide solutions. Often people just want reassurance and knowing you will be there for them is enough.
  • Be patient – people may not want to open up immediately, but knowing that you are open to listening is likely to encourage discussion when they are ready.
  • Mind also advise staying calm. When faced with tears, frustration or anger it is natural to feel uncomfortable or feel the need to provide comfort. It can also be upsetting. Emotional expressions can be a very cathartic and it is advisable to simply allow the person to express themselves without interruption. Let the person know that it is okay.
  • Maintain confidentiality. Except for ethical situations where you may be obliged to disclose concerns, reassure your colleague that the discussion is in confidence.
  • Try to avoid taking too much on yourself. If you are overloaded with work or personal demands, it is hard to provide space to support others.

“I have to say I have had fantastic support from my clerks and colleagues, but it does require openness and understanding and a recognition that taking time off because you are ill is not a sign of failure or weakness.”

Barrister, 25+ years of call

The information and resource packs on this website are designed to help you and your colleagues to work as a community for better wellbeing and professional resilience. If you want to provide feedback on these resources, or to get involved in promoting wellbeing please get in touch.


Get in touch Policy & practice

It can be difficult to make a living from law and it can be pressurised and demanding. Competition and an adversarial approach to everything can make collegiate relationships difficult. This website aims to provide you with the knowledge to manage these stressors, make emotionally informed, wise professional decisions and thrive in your chosen profession.

A simple expression that sums up wellbeing is ‘travelling well’

2 in 3 barristers feel that showing signs of stress equals weakness