Legal Business Blogs

Stressing the positives – why opening up about the demands of City life helps everyone

If you knew nothing about City law and the gender diversity problems it has at senior levels, you certainly wouldn’t think there were any issues when reading our feature on dealmakers and stress.

In our in-depth feature, ‘Stress test’, we quote no fewer than five leading transactional lawyers who happen to be women. And four who happen to be men.

Now – shock publishing revelation here – as journalists we always try to ensure we’re being as diverse as possible in the people we quote, even if this means that the ratios don’t match the reality of the profession.

Feeling the weight of stress at work isn’t weak, it isn’t a personality flaw, and it isn’t incompatible with life as a successful deal lawyer.

In this instance though, we didn’t have to try. Because for this feature, multiple male dealmakers declined to speak to us about the stress of working on deals and how they cope with it. Thanks to HSF’s Gavin Davies, Latham’s Paul Dolman and McDermott’s Aymen Mahmoud and Chris Kandel for bucking the trend.

The line between long hours, stress and mental health is more than a little bit blurry, but it’s important to point out that this article focuses on how to cope with the chronic stress of transactional law across an entire career; not a mental health crisis.

But the latter can follow the former, even if the reasons for a crisis are likely to be far wider, as so tragically demonstrated by the death of Pinsents partner Vanessa Ford after a period of intense work on the Everton sale.

Of course, the adrenaline and excitement are what drive many M&A lawyers, but I just don’t accept that even the biggest deal junkie doesn’t sometimes find it all a little bit much – or at least need to fall back a few personal coping mechanisms.

Which is why, here at LB, we think it’s important to be open about this. Recent years have seen increasing numbers of lawyers bravely opening up about their own mental health struggles to show others that they’re not alone and that it is possible to be a successful lawyer while living with conditions such as depression or anxiety. (In fact two partners share their stories in this issue.)

But in the same way that anyone can experience both good and bad mental health, anyone can feel stressed by work – and, in all likelihood, at some point everyone will. It certainly isn’t more likely to affect any one gender or gender identity more than another.

So let’s not pretend. Feeling the weight of stress at work isn’t weak, it isn’t a personality flaw, and it isn’t incompatible with life as a successful deal lawyer – or indeed success in any other career. And nor is talking about it.

In fact, arguably those that do talk about it, seek help or devise their own coping mechanisms are in a stronger position to keep working under pressure than those that don’t.

Dealmaking at a top commercial law firm isn’t going to be a career path that works for everyone, but it’s a career that attracts huge numbers of new recruits year-after-year, with or without the new Magic Circle standard starting salary of £150k.

The profession owes it to those already working and those yet to start their careers not only to try to change things for the better in terms of client demands, but also to talk openly about what people feel and how to cope.

Only by doing that will lawyers of all levels be able to stop putting so much pressure on themselves to deliver perfectly at any cost.