By: Geeta Thakerar, Co Convenor of SCCA’s Wellbeing Chapter, December 2023

As Shi Yuan Yeo and I, joint conveners of the SCCA’s Wellbeing Chapter relaunch this wellbeing chapter, we both want to reflect back to when SCCA initially set this Chapter up in late 2017 with our voluntary support. SCCA’s Wellbeing Chapter was officially launched in 2018. The conversations on the wellbeing for the in-house counsel as well as the broader legal community in Singapore have continued to evolve.

Since 2017, there has been an improved awareness on overall wellbeing and especially mental health for lawyers. However, today this still remains something often both ignored, as well as neglected. The narrative of surrendering to a tense pace of work in the belief success can only be achieved this way - needs to change.

It remains a journey which has started to MOVE.

Taking a looking at some root causes, common among legal professionals, here are a few things to think about:

Firstly, the nature and type of work is monotonous. Mechanical work can sap motivation. Alongside tight deadlines, sending documents back and forth, dealing with umpteen rounds of proofreading contracts, to name but a few, are being done at the expense of more high-value tasks, draining the lawyer’s energy and motivation.

Secondly, the over worked inbuilt culture. This is a huge issue the legal profession has been facing and trying to tackle. Both private practice as well as the in-house communities share similar challenges on this front. In private practice, this is largely driven by the billable hours and rates. Here, reward and recognition are largely driven by client billings. For the in-house legal community, it is largely driven by being a cost centre, non-sales generating for the business. Additionally, often being under resourced or limited investment into departments with tiny budgets allocated - indeed if any budget at all. The focus should be on working hard but smart.

Thirdly, lawyers just tend to stress too much. There are many stressful conditions with pressures of tight deadlines and inevitably having to deal with difficult clients. Everyone wishing things to be done yesterday.

Fourthly, prioritization and in particular the inability often to say “no”. The stigma particularly around pushing back and asking if the matter is actually important, and urgent, so as to establish what sort of deadline it is. Is it hard or soft? Having a real understanding about what kind of deadline it is critical otherwise it is impossible to prioritize. The right management of time and the ability to map this out is critical for the mental health of lawyers. Time management and the way time is allocated will have an impact on determining lifestyles, including inter alia, length of sleep and sleep patterns, how much one works and importantly how efficient these efforts are on the work product and quality at the end of the day. Additionally, this may also help to establish if you stress, because of the constant struggle to keep up with deadlines. Start each task on time, work on it without interruptions; and end each task on time.

Fifthly, the inability for many lawyers to focus on setting clear and healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries will help to establish healthy professional practices. This in turn, can assist in remaining productive and happy at work. This also enables the separation of work life and personal life more effectively. This impacts inter alia, productivity, lowers work-related stress, the reduction of the risk of burnout, setting an example for others, maintaining a reasonable workload. Boundaries can be physical, mental, and emotional respectively. To expand a little and clarify, physical boundaries relate to physical workspace and to the body. Emotional boundaries help in the processing of personal emotions at work. Helping separation of feelings from how someone else may feel without negating the need for empathy. Mental boundaries support mental energy and help focus when working. It is thus important for lawyers to understand how to set boundaries.

Lastly, the legal communities’ respective culture of people-pleasing, perfectionism, and procrastination also adds to the stress and anxiety factors. The underlying behaviours of avoiding the most immediate discomfort.

There are many issues, and this Wellbeing Chapter on behalf of SCCA members will help to facilitate an ongoing dialogue for in house lawyers and create a forum and safe space for such discussions. Having conversations, sharing best practices and experiences will help create an empathetic legal community that is supportive and helpful to each other.

Meanwhile, copies of the Mindful Business Charter White Paper, the Mindful Business Singapore Lawyers Sustainability Report 2023 and the BeingWell In The Law are attached.  

The SCCA Wellbeing Chapter will arrange more regular dialogues so as to continue, these important conversations, sharing best practices and providing tools through the Wellbeing Chapter’s “Wellbeing Wednesdays” starting in January 2024 and beyond.