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Mental health in law: looking after our employees and clients

Over recent years, the legal sector has worked to prioritise mental health.

After research from the Junior Lawyers Division showed that over 93% of respondents feel under too much emotional or mental pressure, and over 77% admitted their firm could do more to support stress at work, firms have reframed the way they look at the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.

 

October 10th marks World Mental Health Day, a global initiative set up by the World Federation of Mental Health to help further education and awareness and advocacy to end the stigma around mental health issues. With long hours, challenging workloads and rising expectations, it is unsurprising that stress and anxiety can factor into the life of a law firm, but how can companies ensure they are prioritising their employees’ mental health, and subsequently see that roll out to their clients?

 

What can firms do to ensure good mental health? 

 

Here at Hampson Hughes, we ensure that advocating good mental health is integral to the daily running of our offices for both our clients and colleagues.

 

Often we work with clients who have been through traumatic experiences, and our team of highly experienced legal experts have acted for clients who have been victim to sometimes life-altering circumstances. As a result, it is incredibly important to us that all of our staff are trained to support clients who are struggling.

 

Every member of our team go through annual training in mental health and suicide awareness to ensure that no matter what the claim, from the moment a client makes an enquiry right up until their case has been settled, we provide the appropriate advice and access to support services. This aids in not just getting the compensation our clients deserve, but also to help them seek a sense of justice and closure.

 

However, it is not just our clients we have a duty of care to, and supporting our employees’ mental health has always been a high priority for us. To do this, we have implemented a number of initiatives such as providing training for our entire team in mental health and wellbeing, as well as appointing mental health first aiders to provide support to anyone who needs it, and paying for our employees to have their own plans with Medicash, offering up to six sessions of face-to-face counselling should they require more than just a friendly ear.

 

Recognising the need for mental health first aiders allows companies to open up effective communication around the subject and reduce the overall stigma of struggling with mental health. Our four mental health first aiders are on hand for a chat, and to create a positive work culture within the office. The course, which was provided by MHFA England at The Liverpool Law Society, also helps our mental health first aiders spot the warning signs of mental ill health and empowers them to signpost an individual to where they can get help, before those symptoms develop into something more serious.

 

We also have links to internal and external support contacts on our intranet, which are highlighted for all employees on their induction, in exactly the same way first aiders and fire marshals would be. These include access to Law Care, an organisation that supports good mental wellbeing within the law sector, and the MediCash stress support number, which the team can utilise anonymously.

 

Dottie Fairbrother, HR Business Partner & Head of People Management, and mental health first aider at Hampson Hughes, said: “We have worked hard to cultivate an open and friendly working atmosphere at Hampson Hughes. As mental health first aiders, our door is always open and we are never too busy to listen to people who might be struggling.

 

“It is so important that the team know they have access to one-to-one support by someone they trust within the office, and this has worked well in maintaining honest dialogue around mental health, and continuing a positive work culture.”

 

Future-proofing mental health during a pandemic

 

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown presented a unique set of challenges for firms. At Hampson Hughes, we were able to move our entire workforce to working from home in only 24 hours, something which we are very proud of.

 

However, the isolation that comes with lockdown restrictions, as well as anxiety around job security and the pandemic in general, is something that firms shouldn’t ignore. We wanted to be transparent with our workforce and therefore set up regular catch-ups and team briefings to keep everyone on the same page, as well as to give people the chance to ask any questions, or to let us know if they have any concerns.

 

We also made an effort to remind people to look after both their mental and physical health whilst working from home, encouraging regular walks and breaks away from their computers, so they were not becoming overwhelmed.

 

One of the more surprising effects we have found navigating our way through the pandemic, is the feeling of being underwhelmed that has been felt by some staff members. Feeling disconnected from the office environment, and without regular face-to-face contact with colleagues, otherwise vibrant and outgoing members of the team may start to feel the negative impact of isolation.

 

In order to tackle this, we took action to transform our offices into the safest environment possible, installing screens between desks, and implementing routine cleaning of office surfaces. This enabled us to allow people who may have been struggling with isolation to return to work safely.

 

Supporting clients throughout their claims 

 

Ensuring your place of work is thriving rather than simply surviving will have its own knock-on effect to clients, and this is something we have worked hard to provide at Hampson Hughes. From the first response team, to the administrators, from the solicitors to the directors, nurturing a positive and supportive work culture ultimately effects not just the staff, but the clients too.

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