Why flexibility in-house is crucial for mental health

By Jerome Doraisamy|21 May 2019

Flexible working is fundamental to one’s sustainability over a decades-long legal career, not least of all because of its accommodation for mental health needs, according to one general counsel.

Speaking on a Lawyers Weekly webcast discussing flexible working, Canon Oceania group general counsel David Field said that over a 20 or 30 year period, lawyers are not necessarily going to have the ability to operate at 100 per cent every day of every week in the legal marketplace.

“So, I think that's already a very important aspect in relation to sustainability, understanding that we’re the product, our cognitive function is the product that we’re bringing to market. And so, we have to look after it and we have to make sure that we run it sustainably for the career,” he argued.

Mr Field sits on the board of Minds Count (formerly Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation), the foremost legal advocacy organisation promoting optimal health and wellbeing for legal professionals.

Referencing the Best Practice Guidelines, which were produced by the foundation for the purposes of optimal workplace wellness in legal firms and teams, Mr Field said that setting clear expectations and sustainable workloads were paramount in ensuring not only the health of a legal counsel, but also the productivity and success of the broader team.

Reflecting on his own experience, he noted that he has, at times, worked either three or four days a week depending on his and the business’ needs.

“[Then, it is important to have] the leadership actually make sure I’m giving three days a week of work, or four days a week of work, not seven. Obviously, we always understand there’s a give and take involved in there as well.”

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In allowing for such arrangements, it will also be important for leaders of legal teams to make sure that staff do not feel guilty for working flexibly. Such arrangements are for the benefit of one’s mental health, Mr Field said, and thus they should not be burdened by apprehension about doing what is best for them.

“[When a legal counsel is] only working three days a week, [they cannot be made to feel that they] are they letting the team down when you load them up with seven days a week of work and just expect them to sort it out themselves. That’s not going to work, that’s going to be a very stressful situation for them.”

“The leader needs to take responsibility in relation to the client conversations, the business conversations that need to be had,” he said.

During the webcast, Mr Field also argued that trust is “absolutely critical” if legal counsel are to be able to effectively work flexibly.

“For a business, for a manager, particularly in the sorts of businesses that we work in, understanding that actually you’re trusting people with much bigger decisions than basically how they spend this hour or that hour. I think that trust aspect is fundamental,” he posited.

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Why flexibility in-house is crucial for mental health
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