How Inclusive Is Your Mental Health Initiative?

August 19, 2019

Two of the most pressing issues in law—equity and mental health—intersect in a recent piece on the two-tiered system for providing mental health and wellness resources inside law firms.

While firms are paying more attention than ever to toxic workplace cultures that impact mental health, their focus has been almost exclusively on the experiences of attorneys and not law firm staff, such as professionals in legal operations, pricing, marketing and administrative support. These folks experience the same stressful culture as attorneys, but often they have less power to impact policies or advocate for themselves within firms. The organizational structure of law firms itself is the elephant in the room—how can such a severely hierarchical place truly treat everyone the same? Without change from the top, this caste system will persist across every aspect of employee experience.

According to the piece, studies of depression, anxiety, addiction or suicide among law firm professional staff are practically nonexistent, but anecdotally these professionals report feeling stressed, devalued, and at times abused. Their “non-lawyer” status means more powerful members of the firm are rarely held to account for bad behavior.

Reporting on such a bald double standard is a wake-up call for firm leadership at more “enlightened” firms who want to make the case to clients and recruits that they can adopt healthier work cultures. It may be time to triage your approach and communications on this issue.

Who within your firm is eligible for mental health supports, and can your policy be expanded to be more inclusive? What systems are in place to hold all members of the firm to the same standard for behavior? And, on the ground, do employees feel safe making use of these systems and safeguards?

Just as important, how are you talking about these programs in you internal and external communications? Is your language inclusive, and does it reflect your firm’s stated values and mission?

When it comes to issues of mental health and equity in this current moment, your firm cannot afford to get it wrong. The health of your people is at stake—not to mention your credibility.