Fixing the Lawyer Mental Health Crisis: In conversation with Moult Coppin

To celebrate World Mental Health Day this Thursday 10th October, we publish a conversation with Jonathan Moult and Jonathan Coppin of Moult Coppin. Both former City lawyers who have retrained in psychology and psychotherapy, they offer us their insights about how best to address the mental health crisis in law.

“We established Moult & Coppin to help on a bigger scale” explained Jonathan Coppin, former Head of Corporate at Hogan Hartson (now Lovells) and qualified psychotherapist. “In the UK, there has been a lot of outsourcing of mental health to employers, through seeking private counselling or the involvement of charities. We wanted to offer a more coherent, joined-up approach to what law firms are able to deliver currently”.

Indeed, the state of lawyer mental health in the UK is a cause for concern. Official figures published by the Health and Safety Executive rank the legal profession as the third most stressful professional job, due to the level of work-related stress, depression and anxiety reported. This year, the Junior Lawyers Division Wellbeing Survey found that 58% of respondents felt unable to cope at work, and 38% had experienced mental health problems in the past month. Calls to charity helpline LawCare reached a ‘record high’, with 65% of calls coming from women and 45% from trainees or those who had been qualified for five years or less.

The reasons for this are multi-faceted, ranging from the anxiety-inducing culture of legal practice and qualification, poor work-life balance and high client demands, the cultural stigma attached to poor mental health in law and a lack of line manager training in dealing with mental health matters when they do arise.

“The law firm mental health model is currently based on three strategies” clarifies Jonathan Moult, a Chartered Psychologist and former Head of Banking for Simmons & Simmons in Hong Kong. These include:

  1. Education and/or training
  2. Support of internal teams (Champions, Ambassadors, Mental Health First Aiders)
  3. Availability of counselling / psychotherapy through Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP’s)

“The problem is that many lawyers are often too far along when they try and seek help” says Moult, with training not going far enough to address the causes of poor lawyer wellbeing. “Education and ambassadors are definitely helpful in making people think and addressing stigma, but it does not solve the problem of poor mental health” agrees Coppin. “For example, many internal teams don’t feel necessarily equipped and supported to deal with issues of mental health when they do arise”.

Instead, Moult & Coppin challenge the time that firms should intervene on lawyer mental health. “The problem becomes ‘medicalised’ when referred to an outside agency” says Coppin. “This makes you feel as though something is wrong with you, and even requires a need to prove you are sick to access treatment.” Rather, offering interventions earlier that are accessible to everyone, would normalise and de-stigmatise mental health in law firms. Taking this view, anxiety and stress are considered as an occupational hazard that should be expected when working under the challenging conditions present in law firms. “People suffering only ever think that this is happening to them, where it is not credible to say this” Moult adds. “We need to positively fame mental health experiences in law firms, such as obstacles lawyers should strive to overcome.”

Their solution is for firms to offer individual psychotherapy sessions to lawyers at different points in their careers. Such sessions would be strongly encouraged as the default setting and provide lawyers with an opportunity to discuss their experiences with an external psychotherapist. “This will help overcome stigma and address individuals thinking that they have a personal problem, rather than their feelings being a result of their working environment” says Coppin. “It will stop the self-selection of people into EAP’s and provide equal treatment to everybody” agrees Moult. “Ultimately, it is a more humane approach to addressing this issue”.

However, it is hard to provide law firms with evidence on return of investment needed to implement such a scheme. “It might help if law firms could do more to normalise the situation so people could be more realistic and practical about what they’re dealing with” says Jonathan Coppin. “Things have got a lot worse than how they used to be. People’s prospects have got worse – financial stability, job security, promotion potential – all of which lead to added anxiety”. Jonathan Moult agrees: “Institutions could do more to engage with these issues. They are not going to self-solve. Law firms could engage with this now in a more realistic way”.

‘“It seems that people want to do something but at the moment leadership on mental health in law firms is largely limited to being an ambassador. It doesn’t look as if firms have found a meaningful response to the mental health crisis yet” concludes Coppin.

Jonathan Moult and Jonathan Coppin are co-founders of Moult Coppin, offering psychological support through counselling and psychotherapy to City professionals. You can find out more about them here.  

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