Professional advisers are often in a position of privilege, so it is easy to underestimate or overlook the impact of the work they do on their wellbeing. Mental health issues impact people at all levels and in all sectors. Changing working practices – including work across multiple time zones in an ‘always on’ era – have increased those pressures significantly. Working with Barclays and law firm Addleshaw Goddard, we formed the view that it is not enough to just accept that as the price that our people simply have to pay. We have a responsibility to make change.
Mental health and wellbeing had become a frequent topic of discussion between Barclays, Pinsent Masons and Addleshaw Goddard. The Mindful Business Charter was borne out of those conversations. There is lots of fantastic work that takes place in the legal sector that supports and raises awareness about mental health, but we wanted to develop something that would help to tackle the causes.
In 2017 we settled upon the idea of approaching other financial and legal institutions to develop a set of principles designed to change the elements of workplace culture that caused the most unnecessary, avoidable stress.
It was a genuinely collaborative project. Following consultation with a range of industry associations we began to define the Charter, seeking input from lawyers at all levels from across our businesses. The real test came with our first presentation of the Charter to a range of senior stakeholders from Financial Institutions and law firms. The positive reception was astounding. Motivated by their support, we finalised the Charter.
The Charter has been developed in such a way that it is flexible enough to be deployed across a wide range of professional and financial services, not just commercial banks and legal advisers. Our hope is that others, such as audit firms and investment banks, will also adopt the approach over time, leading to an altogether more healthy approach to working across the City and beyond.
The Charter establishes Rules of Engagement to govern the relationship between law firms and their clients, encompassing wider aspects of diversity and inclusion and focussing on the elements of working practice that cause the most difficulty/stress. This includes mental health and wellbeing as a key component.
Whilst much of our MBC-related work has focused on engaging external stakeholders and developing shared thinking, we have also been working hard on embedding the MBC within our own firm. At Pinsent Masons, we are focussing on driving a culture which encompasses the Mindful Business Charter principles.
We decided to start with our UK Banking and Restructuring Teams across the UK, to ensure that we have the opportunity to finesse our approach and learn lessons before rolling out the MBC to the whole firm.
Our approach to date has included the development of a Code of Conduct in conjunction with feedback from junior lawyers and the establishment of a Mindful Business Charter Working Group made up of Partners within our Banking team, junior lawyer representatives, and other professionals from across our Responsible Business, D&I and Business Development teams.
In line with the core commitments, our Code of Conduct has been put together to govern the relationship between supervisors and those they work with (be they partners, fee-earners, or PAs).
We formally introduced the MBC to Pinsent Masons in October 2018. We decided, before launch, to take the temperature with
a brief set of questions that we would be able to repeat every six months to assess progress. In the first six months after signing
the Charter the number of respondents to our pulse survey, who “agree or strongly agree” that they can adequately communicate concerns re timescales/deadlines increased by 21%. The number who “agree or strongly agree” that they feel adequately supported regarding mental health, stress and wellbeing has increased by 6%, and the number who “agree or strongly agree” that they can work flexibly has increased by 4%.
We have also worked hard to keep communicating with our teams and held a Panel Event in July 2019 to launch our Code
of Conduct. The event was an opportunity to build interest, answer questions, and gather feedback on areas to focus upon. We were delighted to hear anecdotal feedback on the impact of the MBC, including the fact that the phrase “that’s not very MBC” has come into common usage!
To ensure we are living the MBC principles, we always consider the venue of our meetings. The Panel Event was held via VC, to allow all of the Banking and Restructuring Team to join from their own locations, with a Panel split between London and Manchester.
We recognise that improving mental health and lawyer wellbeing will not happen overnight – it is a programme that will take sustained effort over a number of years. However, this initiative has already helped teams to accept we can do things differently and, when we do, service quality and delivery will improve. We are excited to see what›s next for the MBC within Pinsent Masons.