Dealing with loneliness as an in-house lawyer

Originally published in RPC's Regulatory Radar June 2024.


Rebecca Cater on 09/07/24

There is much focus on work life balance and wellness, and rightly so. But one area that is often overlooked is loneliness and in turn the part it plays in our overall health and conduct.

The loneliness of working within in-house legal is something regularly raised in conversations, events, and the training that the Centre for Legal Leadership (CLL) holds.

How often have you worked on a project, even those within a large team, and not been able to discuss it with your fellow in-house team members, let alone other colleagues within the company?

Many lawyers move in-house to get closer to the action; to see the company's strategy come to life as it progresses through its many stages and assist with the "behind the scenes" work of the business as usual in keeping the company positively ticking. It's a privilege to play such an integral part, but this has a flip side. It's confidential and can't be discussed.

The dreaded "crisis” has not been mentioned here, which could and does of course crop up, and fully involves in-house legal teams, but oddly this can bring the team and key stakeholders together as it usually needs “all hands on deck” with collaboration being essential.

Loneliness can also increase the further up the pyramid you climb, with less peers around you to provide support.

But an in-house team is an unusual place where seniority is often hard to define, for example one can be new to working in-house but be ex-private practice with extensive PQE however is not a generalist, or alternatively may have been working in-house for a few years within a small team and therefore have a lot of condensed but valuable experience. 

What can be done? 

Awareness, as with everything, is vital. Ask yourself about your own wellness, do you have a trusted individual or network around you where you can voice worries or just share/vent in a safe environment? Those in more senior roles may find it best to reach out to coaches and mentors.

Consider what networks you have access to, and also what resources your company provides; many provide a wide range of support often run by external providers giving the comfort of remaining separate from your employer.

“It may all seem overwhelming initially, but by taking small steps, with the support of others, each challenge becomes easier and bigger steps can be taken driving you forward.” 

Supporting your team

Do you have line manager responsibilities? Leading a team at any level can be a tough gig with tone within the team being set by you. Think about how you can support those in your team, perhaps having a "coffee and how are you chat" can become a regular opener before WIP conversation starts. Just being visible can have a huge impact. Look out for networks you can recommend to your team (CLL has a great junior and mid-level lawyer network). You probably can't share the in-and-outs of what you do, but other in-housers are definitely in the same boat and will offer a life-ring to stop that sinking feeling.

No matter your level, it's never too late to start reaching out and building connections, there is much media buzz around networking, bringing to mind huge rooms filled with awkward individuals sharing business cards or the QR code. But this certainly needn't be the reality, joining smaller interest groups can be equally, if not more, inviting or perhaps reach out to the host and ask for a few introductions. You have not missed the boat! 

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