In recent years, we are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of physical and mental health. The latter has been a topic of discussion among people and experts for many years, especially after the two-year-long pandemic. Poor mental health is a silent but complex issue which still has a lot of stigma, especially in competitive industries like the legal industry. However, when it starts affecting many people – as it has in the recent years, it becomes a social problem that needs to be dealt with communally.
Now, you might be asking yourself why you are reading about mental health in a blog about legal technology. The answer is very simple. LegalTech is a tool and cannot be only used in different ways but also serves different purposes – one of them can be to improve mental health of legal professionals.
If you`d like to know more about LegalTech in general, we recommend you read the article Legal Technology: Defining Scope and Usage for Meaningful Discussion prepared by Marcel Hajd.
II. Mental health in the legal sector
A global study on the mental health in the legal profession prepared by International Bar Association has found that mental wellbeing within the legal profession is an important issue which requires global attention and action. Over a third of legal professionals surveyed feel work negatively affects their mental wellbeing. On the WHO-5 Mental Wellbeing Index Scores, which concludes that a score below 52 per cent is an indicator for a health professional to screen for depression and suggests a more formal assessment of mental wellbeing problems is warranted, the average overall score of respondents in the legal profession was 51 per cent.
Key issues contributing to difficulties with mental wellbeing include the stressful nature of the work, intensive work/time demands, poor work-life balance and high levels of pressure. Factors relating to time pressures were most commonly perceived as having a negative impact on lawyers’ mental wellbeing.
Not only do above-mentioned factors impact lawyers` mental health they also take a serious toll on their efficiency. If a legal professional is extremely stressed, they are unlikely to be performing at their peak. This means that they are more likely to make mistakes that can ultimately put their clients at risk. The poor mental health of legal professionals can also lead to an increase in widespread sick leave and decreased productivity which will ultimately affect long-term profits.
To put it differently, good mental health of legal professionals’ results in higher turn-over, better client satisfaction, increased productivity, and profitability. It is therefore clear we should be putting effort into their well-being, not only for their sake but also for the sake of their clients, their employers, and the legal industry as such. The question is, how to approach an issue that is very individual to every person and does not have a simple “cure” for all. One of the ways to do it is with the help of legal technology. Why? Because, as the survey found, time pressure was one of the biggest factors contributing to poor mental wellbeing and the purpose of technology is to relive people of such pressures.
III. How can LegalTech help
Let’s look at some ways LegalTech can help legal professionals to better cope with mental health issues:
1) Create a supportive environment: to make onboarding process less stressful for new starters as well as providing valuable support for existing staff.
2) Save time which is usually wasted on frustrating searches: file digitalisation, storing all case data in a single location means eliminating the stress involved in hunting for physical documents.
3) Help people share the load with collaboration technologies: LegalTech tools that feature multi-user access, which allows lawyers to share information about specific cases in a secure way and to work together on documents in real-time and more effectively.
4) Automating repetitive aspects of work: reducing the admin burden and freeing up time for meaningful tasks with smart templates for all manner or forms of correspondence, automated electronic billing features within case management systems, language recognition technology to flag up potentially relevant segments of information within vast quantities of text, legal chatbots, etc.
5) Technology can create a more transparent work culture: with the right tools, you can easily track the performance of each legal professional, so you can give away more freedom to decide when, where and how each employee wants to work.
6) Using technologies specially designed to help with mental health: for example, tools like Liminal VR which is a tool that aids in reducing anxiety, elevating your mood and even reducing pain, Sanvello app for reducing stress, Calm app for meditation and other apps like TalkSpace that enables online therapy with licensed therapists at budget prices.
IV. Things to consider
What we need to consider before using LegalTech is, that technology is like a knife – it can be used for chopping vegetables and cutting meat, or it can be used to hurt someone; meaning it can be used to help us or it can be used in a harmful way. The way of using it depends mostly on the user. Legal professionals can use LegalTech as a tool to lessen their work burdens or they can use it to speed up their working process while piling on more work – which does increase their profits for at least a while, however it does nothing to improve their wellbeing. The latter option is unfortunately very likely to happen; namely there is a socially accepted culture of overworking and being perceived as a robot in the legal sector.
The CEO of Avoteca, Ana-Maria Drăgănuță Briard, in her LegalTech podcast Legal Tale suggested that this culture of overworking derives from legal education. Law students are thrust into a competitive environment where they are pressured to perform well, which means pulling all-nighters and putting their mental and overall health on the back burner. This mentality diffuses to the legal industry, where working excessive hours and being a high achieving perfectionist is seen as a badge of honour. This intense ambition results in great stress for many legal professionals, who end up burned-out and with a plethora of mental health issues.
The use of legal tech by itself can therefore not improve the mental health of legal professionals. Applying LegalTech in day-to-day tasks must go together with changing the perspective on the legal industry and its culture in a more balanced way.
Productivity and taking time to take care of one’s wellbeing aren`t mutually exclusive, in fact they go hand-in-hand. Especially in the legal profession taking care of the professionals` mental health is essential as neglecting it effects not only their productivity and profits, but also their clients and the legal industry as such.
LegalTech can be a useful tool to make legal professional`s lives easier. It can save time, eliminate routine and administrative tasks, help them share the load, create a more transparent work culture and a supporting environment. However, it can only work when used properly.
The perception of people in the legal industry as robots needs to change. People should not be valued by the hours they work, but the quality of their work and the value they create. Some might perform by working long hours, others by grinding focused for a shorter time. We are all different, and with the right technologies, we can let people decide and express themselves without losing grip of the business and their mental health.
This article was prepared by Ines Polak.