Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

What to do when psychosocial risk is inherent in the job?

Sometimes, the nature of legal work means psychosocial risks are unavoidable. Here, a Maddocks partner discusses how we can navigate this trying issue. 

user iconJess Feyder 11 January 2023 Big Law
expand image

Recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, Maddocks partner Catherine Dunlop spoke about the duty of care employers owe to employees in protecting them from psychosocial risks. 

Workplace structures can sometimes be an issue for psychosocial health, but sometimes they merely reflect the reality of the job, Ms Dunlop mused. 

There is a growing focus on job design in addressing psychosocial risks, yet for some legal jobs, there can be possible downfalls that are unavoidable, Ms Dunlop posited.


Certain kinds of work involve long hours and late nights, which is the way the work is designed, “if you’re a barrister and the judge says, ‘I need all of this tomorrow’, you have to do it. The demands of justice require it.”

“When a client needs something urgently because there’s a due diligence and they have to review the documents, it needs to be done,” she stated. “In such situations, I don’t think we’ll see wholesale reform, but there’s going to be more question around the support we give to people working long hours — are they comfortable that it is part of their expectation?”

“Some people are fine with looking at traumatic content; some people thrive on high work demands,” she noted. 

“Some people want to work in litigation because they thrive on deadlines, they love long hours,” she said, “but if you find that someone doesn’t want to work long hours, finds it fatiguing, finds the timelines exhausting, then the conversation might be — ‘is litigation for you?”

“Sometimes, people are in the wrong job so that they are doing a job that perhaps they’re not able to do safely,” she explained. 

“It’s about education about the job and working within the job, there may be other parts of the jobs that can be changed for specific circumstances, but this will also need to consider business needs and the like.”

The issues associated with long hours and late nights can be alleviated by good communication, Ms Dunlop posited: “Whether you are an in-house lawyer, or you’re dealing with barristers, it’s all about good communication and trying to plan as much as possible.”

Conversation is a preventative measure

Whilst the conversations that might have been had standing next to one another getting coffee, the informal discussions, don’t tend to happen to the same extent when people meet online, work-from-home arrangements have played a role in blurring the “artificial distinction between the professional and private”, explained Ms Dunlop. 

It became possible to see what was going on for people at home, she observed, and “during those dark times of lockdown, we were much more able and willing to have that conversation that said ‘You look like you’re struggling. I’m struggling. How are you going?”

It’s important to preserve that and be prepared to take an active interest in colleagues’ lives as they relate to work and ask active questions regarding their state of health and workload, explained Ms Dunlop, “then we will be in a better position to try and prevent the harm that sometimes arises out of legal work”.

Ms Dunlop reiterated the importance of this new culture that has emerged: “[It] is a real opportunity and one that I would hate to see us lose to go back to simply having very formal interactions and not taking the time to care and ask how people are”.

Where are we going?

“We are on the start of a journey,” stated Ms Dunlop.

“Often, from a health and safety perspective, we look at the system of work. We look at it really from a top-down approach, but I suspect that we will get to a world where we look at both. 

“We look at what leaders are doing, what systems are there, what job design looks like, but we also encourage people to take the steps that they need to take to look after their own health.”

You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member for free today!