Stress of the job takes toll on divorce lawyers Women in family law `at risk from stress'

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The Independent Online
YOUNG FEMALE divorce law-yers are most at risk from stress, says the legal profession's counselling service. Some have threatened suicide and others suffer enormous strain on their relationships.

Figures released by the service today show that cases of stress among lawyers have doubled in the last 15 months. Forty per cent of women who contacted SolCare, the helpline and healthcare advice service funded by the Law Society, worked on divorce or child custody.

Most were under 30 and said that their firms failed to provide day- to-day support. Barry Pritchard, the SolCare national coordinator, said that many had to deal with "enormous pressures" from clients as well.

One 27-year-old woman from a high street practice in the Home Counties said that "horrific" workloads meant her marriage to her non-lawyer husband was "on the rocks".

She told the helpline: "I workto 9pm every night and have to come in at weekends. The work is much more emotionally demanding than I had expected." Another said: "If I go to my partner [in the firm] for help, he tells me he'll deal with it later. But usually it's something urgent that can't wait."

Susannah Haan, chairwoman of the Trainee Solicitors Group, said the group's own helpline had received 214 calls from young solicitors in the last year, two-thirds of whom were women. Two had threatened suicide and some said that their supervising partner had bullied them.

Gillian Bishop, who helped set up self-help groups for stressed lawyers, said it took a particularly hard-heartedlawyer not to be affected by the troubles of distressed clients.

Rosemary Carter, chairman of the Solicitors Family Law Association blamed the Government for the problem. She said that the last year had seen a high level of government-generated family law reform, which lawyers had to come to terms with. Last month, the Lord Chancellor backed down on plans to scrap legal aid for family law cases. "I have no doubt that contributed to lawyers' worries," she said.

What SolCare cannot explain is why so few male family lawyers contacted its helpline. Ms Carter said: "It is probably a macho thing where men don't like to admit to their emotions."