Mental Health and Wellness at Gilbert LLP

According to ALM’s annual Mental Health Survey of the Legal Profession, lawyers are increasingly dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression. The 2023 survey results revealed that about 71% of nearly 3,000 respondents experience anxiety—a 5% increase from 2022—while about 38% of respondents reportedly experience depression—a 3% increase from 2022. More than 75% reported that their work environments contributed to their mental health and increased feelings of self-doubt, cynicism, exhaustion, and decreased sense of accomplishment. Given the increasing demands of a profession that is driven by high productivity and perfectionism, it is no mystery why in 2023 the Washington Post reported that the practice of law is among the “single most stressful occupation[s].”[1] Juggling the pressures of performing—meeting billable hour requirements and the demands of clients, colleagues, and the judicial system—with the day-to-day obligations of family and personal life, lawyers may struggle to find a healthy balance and prioritize their own mental health.

I graduated law school in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to graduating, I was eager to start my career by joining a law firm and putting my legal education to use in the real world. But I didn’t know that I’d be entering the profession at such an unprecedented time and how exactly that would impact my mental and emotional health as a developing attorney. As the pandemic and its consequences unfolded, I quickly decided that it would be important for me to join an organization that prioritizes the wellness of its attorneys, which is one of the things that drew me to Gilbert LLP. As an associate at Gilbert, I’ve been able to see and appreciate the ways in which the firm is continuously finding creative ways to provide resources and support to alleviate some of these pressures for its attorneys.

Gilbert LLP has been a pioneer among law firms in devoting its resources to creating a sustainable and healthy environment for its attorneys. In 2018, even before the pandemic, Gilbert transitioned from a traditional in-office work model to more flexible hybrid work arrangements involving remote work and hoteling office spaces. The hoteling model of in-office spaces, having no seniority or hierarchy-based selection, relieves certain pressures that allow all attorneys to work more collaboratively on matters. Additionally, Gilbert attorneys have in-office fitness equipment at their disposal for physical wellness, including under-desk treadmills in some of the offices, and teams of lawyers have selected artwork for each individual office so that attorneys can see themselves and their experiences reflected in the workspace. These sorts of resources and activities among the firm’s attorneys and staff help to boost morale and cultivate a culture of collegiality.

Gilbert has also found other ways to support attorney wellness. The ALM survey found 68% of respondents reporting that law firms’ billable hour requirements negatively contributed to their mental health, while 44% reported a general lack of support for personal work-life balance. In contrast, Gilbert’s flexible billable hour requirement and hybrid work model both allow attorneys to create better work-life balance. Attorneys at Gilbert are encouraged to use time intentionally, and by setting availability boundaries, do not have to feel bad for tending to their personal needs—dropping children at school, attending medical and therapy appointments, taking much needed time off, and so on. Gilbert also contributes to family support, day-care, and maternity leave programs which eases burdens for attorneys with young children.

Other challenges were identified in the survey—28% of respondents reported that their anxiety stemmed from dysfunctional firm culture while 20% also reported a lack of mentorship. Meanwhile, Gilbert encourages the integration of its employees, irrespective of position or level of experience, through mentorship and collective administrative committees that shape and carry out the firm’s core values and mission. As a junior associate, I have both a partner and associate mentor and am involved in both the firm’s Training committee and its Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging committee. Both the attention and involvement help me to feel more “seen” by my colleagues and motivate me to meaningfully contribute to the firm’s day-to-day operations in addition to doing the legal work. Gilbert also utilizes an anonymous website, “All Voices,” and firm-wide town hall meetings to solicit feedback which encourages associates to address any concerns confidently.

Now, several years after the worst of the pandemic, the legal profession—and the world—are still adjusting to the new norms of remote work and reimagined social and professional interaction. There are new, and perhaps countless other ways law firms can address attorney wellness, and Gilbert, like many other firms, is still improving. By exploring creative and innovative ways to “soften the blow” of the practice of law on mental and emotional wellbeing and work-life balance, law firms can reduce feelings of anxiety and burnout among their associates. Lawyers must prioritize self-care and their mental health needs such that they can feel better than just alright, but actually well! Well-adjusted lawyers are an asset for clients and colleagues alike.