How Law Firms Can Show Up for Struggling Employees, Clients, and Colleagues

We all, at some point, need comfort and care. We all need to be nurtured. So the question isn’t whether we need to be comforted, but when? And how? And who will show up for us when we need comfort and care?

The pandemic and its lingering effects have wreaked havoc on our lives. But, meanwhile, life and its myriad challenges didn’t stop happening. Divorce, aging parents, sick children, work stress, burnout, parenting worries, relationship struggles—none of that stopped while we’ve been navigating the “new normal” of living through a pandemic.

Additionally, we are in the midst of a mental health crisis. In 2021, over 5.4 million people took a mental health screen—a nearly 500% increase over the number of people who completed a screening in 2019 and a 103% increase over 2020’s numbers. In December 2021, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory highlighting the urgent need to address the country’s youth mental health crisis. 

In the workplace, these challenges can manifest as burnout, “quiet quitting,” missed deadlines, absences, and out-of-character behavior. Sometimes employees, clients, and colleagues will tell us they are struggling; other times, they will struggle in silence.

This isn’t meant to be a “doom and gloom” warning but a reminder of how important it is that we show up for each other.

Most people want to help their colleagues and clients, but don’t know how to show up for them. Jen Marr, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Inspiring Comfort, and her team have found a devastating “empathy-to-action gap” prevents people from showing up for others in helpful and meaningful ways. The vast majority of people surveyed (80%) reported that they could see when someone is struggling, yet less than 20% said they felt equipped to know what to say and do to show care to those in need.

“Most people don’t show care because they don’t know how to show care and fall prey to what we call ‘the Awkward ZoneTM,’” Marr says. “We need to remember that empathy, sympathy, and compassion are all emotions. What we need is intentional action, concrete skills, tools, and strategies to show care and comfort to those suffering.”

Not only is showing up for people who are struggling the “right” thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. For law firms and other service providers whose product is client service, showing up for people is critical to their business. When you rely on people for revenue generation, supporting their health and well-being is paramount.

Whether a person is struggling with mental health challenges, physical illness or disease, personal struggles (such as a divorce), or caring for an aging parent or a child, law firms need to show up.

What law firms can do to show up for employees

  1. Provide leadership training and communication tools. Invest in training and development programs focusing on personal skills, not just professional skills. Jen Marr’s book “Showing Up: A Comprehensive Guide to Comfort and Connection” is a great place to start.
  2. Nurture an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their struggles. Invite people to share their struggles by reinforcing that they want to know if anything is getting in the way of productivity, even if it is a so-called “personal” problem.
  3. Create a psychologically safe workplace by making resources available so there is no suffering in silence. Move away from clichés and empty slogans to  providing specific resources to struggling employees.

How lawyers can show up for clients and colleagues

  1. Train yourself to respond and communicate when someone is struggling. Jen Marr has identified two common barriers  preventing people from supporting each other: mindset barriers and responding barriers. Mindset barriers include doubters who don’t know how to help and deflectors who don’t think it is their place to get involved. Responding barriers include fixers who believe that giving advice is helpful and avoiders who avoid the situation entirely in an attempt not to get it wrong. You can move past these barriers by adopting a “showing up mindset” and training yourself on how to respond and communicate with someone struggling. When you practice what to do and say, you can move through the discomfort and really show up in meaningful ways when clients and colleagues need it.
  2. Remember that client experience extends beyond legal advice. Even though you get paid for billable hours, your work product is second to the relationship capital you are building and how you steward the relationship.
  3. Take a broader inventory of the problems that you can solve. When lawyers take a myopic approach to client service, they are less resourceful to the client. Instead, consider ways you can be a resource to clients and colleagues on issues related to personal struggles that go beyond your legal expertise. Perhaps you had a parent who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, or you have a child with special needs. Everyone has a unique vantage point to offer support outside of legal advice. Use these perspectives to show up for others.
  4. Have the courage to engage in conversations about topics outside the scope of your legal engagement. Talking about things that are unfamiliar to you can be scary. Approach these conversations with respectful curiosity and a willingness to learn more about your client or colleague.
  5. Stay attuned to what clients are trying to achieve in their whole life. Consider how you can be a connector, convenor, or bridge-builder to help them achieve these goals or solve these problems. For example, did you have a child who recently applied to college, and you can help another parent who is overwhelmed with the process? Do you struggle with anxiety, and could you offer a referral to a therapist? When you know your clients’ and colleagues’ needs beyond the law, you can better show up for them.

Sales as an act of service = Showing up for others.

At GrowthPlay, we believe sales is an act of service. This means showing up for each other – not just professionally or in times of success but showing up in times of personal struggle too. As I wrote in a recent article in ALA’s Legal Management magazine, when we know how to show up, we can help ourselves, and others struggle less, heal faster, and activate positive mindsets and behaviors. There has never been a greater need for us to do so.