Improving mental health in a small firm

Mental health has been a trending issue in recent years, and for good reason. We have all come across cautionary tales about the importance of mental health and the dangers of depression, burnout, and substance abuse within the profession.

Kevin Cheung

With 2019 newly upon us, it is not too late to identify some personal priorities for this year. Mental health has been a trending issue in recent years, and for good reason. We have all come across cautionary tales about the importance of mental health and the dangers of depression, burnout and substance abuse within the profession. With mental health on the minds of many lawyers and the stigma behind the issues slowly fading, there is no better time to dedicate some energy towards this in your own practice. A few simple actions can form the foundation of habits to give you the best chance at maintaining positive mental health.      


Acknowledge the value of positive mental health 


Sometimes being a busy lawyer means putting personal health on the back-burner. But appreciating the value of positive mental health is the first step to improving it. Take some time to consider how this contributes or detracts from your practice. You may go so far as charting out factors that impact the success of your business, add mental health in there and assign a measurable value to it.


An example of how mental health affects a practice is that it has a direct impact on staff. If one is coming in every day in a bad mood or extremely stressed, staff are going to feel this. This will create a negative work environment that will eventually drive away good staff . Help yourself attract and retain talent by dedicating some time to improving your mental health to create positive work environment. Staff will appreciate the positive environment created and may even follow your lead in improving their own lives.


Love your local law association  


Isolation affects all lawyers operating in a small firm or sole practitioners setting. By virtue of our practice, we may not have colleagues around us that we can easily approach or enjoy downtime with.  


One way to nip isolation in the bud is by getting involved in activities put on by your local law association. These associations are not just there for you to throw membership fees at simply because you live in the jurisdiction. Rather, they offer valuable opportunities to connect with colleagues, develop skills and promote the interests of lawyers in the community. A byproduct of this is an improvement to mental health. Whether it is a trivia night, a social gathering after work or more formal events, knowing that you are part of a community and engaging in that community goes a long way to keeping you sane. 


Get out of the office  


Take more breaks. Yes, being in a small firm or running your own business may make it difficult to get away from the office, but there are schedule hacks to allow you to maximize potential down time. For example, if you have an out-o- town examination for discovery, conference or meeting on a Friday or Monday, take advantage of that by making it a weekend getaway. The stimulation from a different environment will contribute to improving mental health.  


Along the same lines, make time for strategic planning sessions. Firm retreats are not just for big firms, but for the little guys as well. Schedule time for this two to four times a year – whether it is a weekend or a couple of days during a week. It will help force you to take a step back from your practice, look at it from a distance, and develop objective strategies to improving what you do.   


Stop procrastinating 


Procrastination. We all do it. But it is not good for our mental or physical health. We end up feeling guilty for not getting the work done sooner and we stress out over the amount of work we need to cram into a short amount of time. Give yourself the gift of time by scheduling a plan for completing the task in your calendar.  


Lawyers are human and are affected by factors that degrade mental health. Disregarding our health allows these factors to expand their influence. Dedicating even just a little bit of time to creating an environment that fosters good mental health will go a long way to battling these negative factors.   

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