‘Wellbeing & Mental Health for Law Students’; an interview with Elizabeth Rimmer of LawCare.

Words by Liz Barrett, Mature Students Representative for The Dickson Poon School of Law. This post originally appeared on Liz’s personal blog, Silks and the City. The original post can be found here.

As part of the ongoing student/young lawyer wellbeing series on this site, I am very excited to say that Elizabeth Rimmer, the CEO of LawCare, agreed to answer some questions about student mental health, how to support your wellbeing and strategies for when you’re struggling. If you would like to explore the support LawCare offers, click here, and read on for some nuggets from Elizabeth…

This piece is also especially relevant today, Thursday 1st March 2018, as we mark University Mental Health Day, a national campaign to focus efforts on promoting the mental health of people who live, work and study in Higher Education settings.

  • Where did the idea for LawCare come from?

LawCare has its origins in the Lawyers Support Group, a group of lawyers from all walks of the profession in recovery from alcohol addiction. Formed in 1983, the group met regularly in London.

In 1995, partly prompted by a letter in the Gazette, Charles Elly, President of the Law Society, set up a working party to look into helping members of the profession affected by alcohol misuse. SolCare, as it was then called, was established in April 1997 and Barry Pritchard, a solicitor living in North Wales who was a recovering alcoholic with 13 years sobriety, became the first co-ordinator. He was given a modest grant and a surplus-to-requirements Law Society computer, which he set up in a corner of the kitchen in his renovated farmhouse. During that first year, he took 60 calls from lawyers with alcohol problems. Members of LSG were among those who became the first LawCare volunteers, offering ongoing personal support to these callers.

LawCare has now grown to cover all the jurisdictions in UK and Ireland and all legal professions, support staff and families; supporting wellbeing and mental health. We are also trying to raise awareness about student mental health. Wellbeing has become especially important in recent years, as people have become more aware of mental health issues and the fact that last year, the Health and Safety Executive found that lawyers were the third most stressed profession.

Yes, we do receive calls from students, pupils and trainees. The figures vary between countries and professions, but last year we received between 9% to 20% of the proportion of our calls from students, pupils or trainees. We have seen a rise in phone calls, and we are working with our partners across the legal community to raise awareness about why mental health matters.

Law can be a pressured industry to work in with long hours and a heavy workload which can lead to stress and mental health issues. LawCare is here for all legal professionals and through our helpline, we offer one-on-one peer support and we also work with employers to promote wellbeing at work. We would encourage anyone in the legal community worried about a professional or personal issue not to stay silent and to contact us for support if needed.

Call the helpline on 0800 279 6888 in the UK and 1800 991 801 in Ireland.

  • Do you feel there is enough support for students and young lawyers to aid wellbeing?

My sense is that programmes to promote wellbeing are becoming more common and this is something we encourage and welcome. There are growing initiatives around student wellbeing. For example, BPP and University of Law have started providing more support and resources to students.

In Ireland for students taking the equivalent of the LPC they have a module called ‘Shrink Me, I’m a Lawyer’ – where students get a session to help them understand some of the pressures they may face in practice and the strategies they can use to help. We would like to see a mandatory module on wellbeing at all law schools in the future. This could take the form of signposting – teaching students to recognise the signs that their wellbeing may be compromised and what positive steps they can take to maintain their wellbeing. I think it’s important to flag up that understanding your own wellbeing can help you thrive and be the best lawyers you can be. What should be key in any education programme is to frame this positively. We want to encourage the legal community to be open about mental health which will make it easier for those in need of help to seek it.

  • We are heading into exam and revision season – what do you think helps people most during this time?

Your vocational, professional legal training is the first step towards what we hope will be a rewarding and successful career, but many law students sometimes feel daunted by the pressures of legal study, sweating about deadlines and worrying about exams.

If you are experiencing stress or anxiety, or feeling low, listen to what your body and mind are saying and try the following:

  • Talk to teaching staff or your Personal Tutor
  • Organise your study time and deadlines into a manageable plan
  • Go to your GP and get an MOT, as you would for your car, to see if there is any underlying condition that could be treated
  • Consider the counselling that may be offered by your college, law school or university
  • Become more self-aware, and recognise when you have a stress trigger – the symptoms are different for each of us – and immediately after the episode take a few minutes to recover. This prevents the body storing stress chemicals, minimising their impact, and also helps you to avoid being wound up like a spring at the end of the day
  • Take time for exercise and activities that you enjoy; long hours are sometimes unavoidable, but don’t let them be the norm
  • Call LawCare: talking through what is worrying you can make you feel better

These feelings can develop at any time of the year, and not just during exam season, so it’s always important to stay tuned-in to your mind and body, and acknowledge what is happening to you. And if you notice someone on your course or a friend who may be struggling to cope, have a chat with them and let them know there is support.

  • There’s a trend going around that daily meditation helps maintain one’s mental health and stress levels, a lot of my friends have tried to practice mindfulness as a way to help deal with stress, and I wrote a piece on how I felt yoga is beneficial for mind, body and soul especially for lawyers. With so many ‘trends’ around – what do you think is really the best for creating good mental health and a sense of wellbeing?

It’s all about trying things out and what works best for you – and these are all great options. We created a top ten list with some suggestions.

  • Law is highly competitive – do you feel it is important to cultivate a community of supportive people within the industry to counteract this?

It is absolutely essential. Data from America suggests that the biggest issue for lawyers seems to be stigma; that coming forward for help will be perceived as a sign of weakness.

We want to get the legal community talking about mental health – encouraging those who feel able to share their stories of mental health concerns, to challenge the stigma and make it easier for those in need of support to find it.

There are also some incredible initiatives, like This Is Me – run by Lord Mayor of London Appeal, and the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society of England and Wales has just launched a guide on resilience, which we recommend students read.

  • In the modern world, where we are all rushing about – do you think it is harder to find time to look after ourselves? What would be a way to make time?

It can feel like we are too busy to look after ourselves; when we are busy with work we tend to ‘chuck out’ the things that we feel aren’t work-focussed, like socialising with friends or getting home in time for a meal with the family. They are often the first to go. Whereas these are actually the sorts of activities that can help us manage stress and improve wellbeing. I think we sometimes don’t value them enough, and recognise what a difference they can make.

If you think about professional athletes – they have a huge team around them. These teams help the athlete to rest, eat well, exercise and recover – as well as train. Think about how you will build your team around you, and find the time to make social connections.

  • You run campaigns to help reduce stigma and raise awareness of mental health. What can we, as students and junior lawyers, do to help? And if we, as students and young lawyers, wanted to get involved in LawCare to help others, how can we do that?

We are looking at expanding our volunteer roles, and maybe creating ambassadors for LawCare, and students will be key to this. We are looking at how we can widen our reach. Keep an eye on our website for opportunities.

  • Law students are often perfectionists at heart. Do you have any advice on how to let perfectionist tendencies go?

It can be hard to admit to making a mistake, or to admit that you may be struggling – but talking really helps. We advocate sharing with your friends, family and fellow students that you may have made a mistake or are feeling overwhelmed, it can be reassuring to discover that you are not the only one who feels this way. It can be hard to let go of perfectionist tendencies, but opening up helps.

  • If you could ‘prescribe’ one remedy for students who are suffering with stress, what would it be?

To talk to someone about how you’re feeling. This starts you on a journey to help and reassures you that you’re not alone. Many people feel the pressure of what they’re doing; this is not uncommon. Making that time to look after yourself is also key: enjoy yourself, eat well, and get some sleep!

As this is the last point in the article, it just leaves me to say a big thank you to Elizabeth for taking the time to talk with me. I think the main takeaways are: you are not alone, it’s important to share how you’re feeling, there are support systems both in and out of university/the workplace and it is vital to take the time to look after yourself – however busy you feel.

A little more about Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare: Elizabeth has been managing and developing charities in the mental health sector for over 20 years.  She joined LawCare in September 2014 from the Institute of Group Analysis, a membership and training organisation for group psychotherapists. Before that she headed up Alzheimer’s Disease International, a worldwide federation of Alzheimer Associations. Elizabeth started her working life as a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence, practicing at Leigh Day.

LawCare, a registered charity, supports and promotes good mental health and wellbeing throughout the legal community in the UK and Ireland. LawCare provides emotional support, information about the mental health issues that can affect lawyers and works to raise awareness about why mental health matters. www.lawcare.org.uk 

‘You Do Law’*

Words by Melissa Vance, Wellbeing Representative for The Dickson Poon School of Law.

I know, that should be obvious, shouldn’t it? Admittedly, your Law degree is probably going to be one of the most challenging, but significant, achievements of your life so far. You already know this: you gleam with pride at the mere mention of your degree subject (I mean, I know I do). But whilst you do Law, do you remember to do you?

I’m talking about remembering to be yourself in this cloud of reading cases and too-heavy-to-carry textbooks (although the knowledge within those we do so often love). You ask your friends, your fellow lawyers, your parents (please remember to phone home) but how often do you ask yourself “how are you”? It can be easy to get into the routine of university life, focusing on the academic and the absolutely essential, without remembering to look after you and your own interests. We become so focused on the best grades and competitive applications, we forget what we were ever interested in before KEATS and Westlaw.

Put those textbooks down for just a moment and take a look at my 7 tips for self-care:

  1. Allocate time for yourself – one of the best things that I learnt over the course of my first year was to schedule my time efficiently. I’m not just talking about scheduling classes and study time, but also the time in which I could do as I wished. By setting myself a time to stop working each night, and making sure I could stick to this, I found that I worked more effectively. Knowing that I could be back in my flat watching Netflix or catching up with my friends later, I always got the work done during my study slots within the time I had allocated myself. I got better at Law and at still having a social life!
  2. Get outside – this isn’t just me drawing on my own experience, fresh air and physical activity can have a proven positive impact on student wellbeing and productivity! It can be tempting to hide away in your flat, the library or the gym. Not only will spending more time outside allow you to get away from your work and your busy schedule, but it will also improve your mental-map and appreciation of London! From Waterloo or Strand campus, you can be at St. James’ Park, Buckingham Palace (visit near 11am for the Changing of the Guards!), the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park or Trafalgar Square, all within the hour (can you tell I turn my running into a sightseeing opportunity?). We are so lucky with our location at King’s, so we must take advantage of it! Go for a walk for no purpose at all, you never know where your feet will take you.
  3. Make things happen – this brings me onto the feeling of loneliness a lot of people might experience during first year. You meet so many wonderful people during Fresher’s week and swap social media details, but that’s often the last you see of them. Make the most of these contacts – it’s never too late to get back in touch. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and you can even incorporate it into your regular schedule. Instead of sitting alone in the library, invite someone to walk to the library and work with you (you don’t even have to be studying the same subject, the company is always nice); instead of doing your own thing at the gym, invite someone to a class with you. Simple changes and contact with friends can really positively affect your mood.
  4. Re-connect – the same as above goes for old friends. My best friend from High School lives an hour away, but we made sure to call each other and took the effort to visit each other regularly: it can be so lovely to have the chance to talk about home with someone and to take a break from university life. Don’t forget to check in with your family too; it can sometimes be so easy to send a simple text that we actually forget to send them at all. Speak often if that works for you and your family, and be inventive with how you communicate; my Grandma and I even send each other letters, as a way of purposefully keeping in touch!
  5. Find your space – when I first came to King’s, I assumed I would have far more focus working alone in my flat. In reality, I would spend hours on tutorial and seminar preparation, and would never feel an end to my work. When I started exploring new places to work, I found that I could separate study time completely from my leisure time. I tried many places and still use a variety based on what type of work I’m doing. Coffee shops can be great (and are often so full of students you feel like you have your own study group), in the most part though, personally, I prefer the libraries. Not only is the Maughan beautiful (and reminiscent of Hogwarts) but it is a great place to focus and separate yourself from that carpet that needs vacuuming, your singing flatmate, or the food shop that needs doing.
  6. Reach out – so simple, yet so often forgotten. On busy days, I could go from my flat, to the lecture theatre, to a library, to a tutorial, to a run, back to my flat without speaking more than some answers to the Professor and an “excuse me, sorry” whilst whizzing past a tourist along the Thames. Find someone you can connect with and ask them about their day, physically meet up with them and show them that you care (not just a quick Whatsapp message), more often than not they will ask the same about you. This might seem ridiculously simple, but it can always act as a sure-fire way to make me feel happier and more in control. Friends at university aren’t always free? Then by all means call your friend from school, your parents or Facetime your cat and talk to them; there’s a life outside of exciting London too.
  7. Remember to love – not just the people around you (although this is v. v. important). Love what you do with every single day of your life. You might not enjoy all the aspects of your course, but make sure to remember why you enjoy some aspects of it! Importantly, remember what you loved to do before you came to university, such as sports, a certain type of music (hello Spotify student discount), reading, shopping, photography (even if just for Instagram). Remembering to love everything that you do will leave you much more fulfilled and leave you a much more interesting person for your applications! (I used to watch tons of YouTube, but completely ignored this for the majority of my course, allocating time to yourself as in self-care tip 1, will allow you time for what you like doing).

Look to this list for inspiration on where you can improve your wellbeing across the next year. Not only will you feel better, but in you doing you, you’ll hopefully be more content, energised, and able to give more of yourself to what you’re working on. Yes, you do law, but if you are ever struggling to do you, stop and take some time for you. Self-love and happiness is the most important key to success.


*The title of this post was inspired by “You Do You” the third instalment of self-care trilogy by author Sarah Knight – I highly recommend checking out these books for more tips on how to live your life with happiness at the centre!