Mind and Mood

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In January this year, Lawyer 2B reported that calls to LawCare advice helpline, a service which offers support for lawyers, had risen by 12% last year. Half of those calls were related to stress and depression. But actually, I was really disappointed in what little I could find out on the internet about mental illness in the legal profession, and some of what I did find suggested that mental well-being is still very much a ‘taboo subject’.

 

“If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand.”

Prime Minister, Theresa May

A noteworthy omission from the recent Queen’s Speech were the provisions for furthering support for the country’s mental health services, as the Prime Minister had failed to renew her pledge given in the election campaign. I am critical of the Prime Minister who, last year, pledged to “deal with Britain’s longstanding productivity problem”, even though there are credible reports going back over fourteen years which have indicated, time and time again, that mental health is detrimental to productivity in the workplace. 

My underlying intention in this article is to highlight to my readers that mental well-being is a very important cornerstone of our lives, and it can hinder our ability to succeed. Coming from my own personal experiences, I put it to all of my readers that opening up and sharing our experiences can be hugely beneficial to our mental well-being – so here is my story.

My story

 I was feeling very nourished coming back from my experience in China, and that made me feel very confident about my third year and as a result I was setting myself a number of very ambitious goals: I was involved in a Mentoring Scheme with Aspiring Solicitors; I was making a start on my training contract applications; I had a roster of opportunities with the University and London law firms to look forward to; I took on an extra two hours of Chinese language lessons a week; whilst working at Greggs one day a week – I was taking on a lot! My ‘old life’, which I now call it, was described by my counsellor as a “bucket full of water just waiting to overflow”.

It was around November last year that it all started to crumble. I was stood at the train station and had just been informed that my train to London had been cancelled. Bear in mind that the week before hand I was ’stung’ by Virgin Trains when I had to travel on materially the same train from Preston instead of Lancaster.

I had become increasingly worried about what impression this would give to the people who had offered me those opportunities. I started to become very anxious and constantly on edge: I was struggling to sleep because I was worrying that I was losing traction, and I felt that my attitudes were hindering my ability to build healthy connections with the people around me. Eventually I reached a point where I had enough of pleasing people when I couldn’t even please myself.

Keeping life balanced

I thought that “taking water out of the bucket” would help me to eradicate the problem completely, and whilst it did help, it actually opened up a whole load of doubts that I had about the direction of my life. I was saying to people “What am I going to do – I am this ‘Solicitor To Be’ that doesn’t want to be a solicitor anymore!” and I felt like I was disappointing all of the people around me that were rooting for me.

I realised that it was time to take care of me first, but being unaware of what the next nine months would bring, I became very isolated and started sitting by myself in lectures. I hated having to interact with other students, and being isolated allowed those negative thoughts to snowball over time. Toxic thinking made me very ill and I was becoming even more withdrawn from the course. The only gratification I had was the money I was earning in my new job with the University’s Student Recruitment team – and I enjoyed spending that on ways to distract myself from my problems.

Getting help

My course leader, Stephanie Jones, invited me to go over a personality test similar to those which many commercial firms have incorporated within their recruitment processes. This was one of the additional opportunities that I had signed up for about a month before my issues had begun, and I was in a much clearer mind-set when I had completed it. As I said, I did not actually want help at first, but my course leader had chased me up on the appointment to go over the results so that I could get a picture of what kind of profile potential employers might see. I think Stephanie could tell that there were significant changes to my attitudes since I last saw her – I believed that she understood me and what I was going through, and this had given me an opportunity to reflect on the ups and downs.

We spent almost all of the lunch period going through each area of my personality, and afterwards, reconciling this with my friends and family was helping me to make sense of the negative behaviours I had adopted. When I started sharing my problems with the people who knew and understood me, it translated to healthy positive thoughts. My thoughts were clearer and I was becoming less passive and more active. I do still really regret becoming socially withdrawn from studies, and I am still struggling to reintegrate with the cohort.

Take back control

Now that I am thinking more clearly, I have had to make some tough decisions, but they are the right decisions for me. My ambitions meanwhile are to return to China to start a one year teaching post after graduation – this a similar route that trainees I have met in London firms have also pursued.

Since then things have been falling in to place. I have been invited by the British Council to be the University’s Campus Ambassador, which I am told will increase my success in an application for the teaching post. In the other hand, I have my Immigration Law and Practice module coming up this year.

Although it is not the most conventional career aspiration, I am hoping that with all of these opportunities under the belt, I can find a career which will satisfy both my love for the law and my love for China.

Helpful Links:

Young Minds

NHS – A guide to mental health services in England

Special thanks 

My family, including my mother and sister who are outstanding contributors to the Mental Health profession.

University academics, including Stephanie Jones and Fiona Bledge, for their compassion during difficult times.

University of Central Lancashire Counselling Service.

 

 

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My first week in China

Ni hao! I left the UK about a fortnight ago in search of new and exciting opportunities in China. I was selected and interviewed by a domestic law firm for a role which would require me to offer my knowledge of UK and EU law. One week in and I am absolutely loving it!4

At my firm, I have been put to the task of preparing a report for the client who runs their business in a very complex and highly regulated market. They operate in multiple jurisdictions, and so I have had the responsibility of analysing law from multiple legal systems across Europe. I would love to tell you more about the research I am undertaking, but of course I am bound by a non-disclosure agreement.

My colleagues have been so kind and friendly to me throughout my first week. On my first day, I was taken out for lunch with my colleagues and received one of the firm’s leather note takers. Going to lunch with colleagues is a regular occasion in the business world in China. Already I have tried a number of authentic Sichuan dishes suggested by my colleagues, including (very spicy) pig lung.

313821305034462833I currently share an office with my supervisor who I am yet to meet. As the firm has offices across the country, I have been anticipating his return from Beijing this past week. We speak frequently on WeChat, and he is looking forward to teaching me how to play Majong! One of my other supervisors has brought in gifts to share around the office on numerous occasions, such as mango jelly and mung bean pastry. Sadly, she has now left for her trip to America will be sorely missed by all.

649329003939556951WeChat is such an important social platform for individuals. It is used to communicate with friends, colleagues and potential clients. It is a little bit like Facebook, where you can make pages, groups, post photographs and updates. Also, because many of my colleagues do not speak English, they find it really useful to communicate with me as it allows them to translate from English.

The receptionist has invited me to try a different tea each day, and has shown me how to prepare it the Chinese way. Tea is a valued commodity to the Chinese people, it is the nation’s favourite drink and the Chengdu office is home to a wide variety. It is unusual given the hot and wet climate to be drinking a scalding hot cup of tea, but it does somehow make you feel much more refreshed than bottles of cold water. Tomorrow I will be trying a type of Oolong tea!

721098956538475928So far I am getting on really well with my colleagues. They have said that I am ‘very friendly’ and have been told that the boss has been ‘looking forward to [my] arrival for a long time’. I have found mutuality with my colleagues – they are impressed by my knowledge of Chinese history and politics and they enjoy discussing the BREXIT ordeal. They are also pleased with my open-minded approach to their culture.

InternChina has given me all the materials and support I need for my first week, including a SIM card, a travel card and even a personal introduction to the firm. The orientation was most useful for preparing for those nuances between western and eastern business culture well in advance. You can find out more about the agency and their internship opportunities at www.internchina.com.

There is so much more I want to share about the experiences I have had here already, but there is just too much to do in the little time that I have out here. The agency regularly organises events for us whilst we’re out here, so I am eager to get involved with as much as possible! Meanwhile, I will continue to share photos of this beautiful country on my Instagram account ‘SolicitorToBe’, so please go ahead and follow that. In the meantime, Zai Jian!

Business & Law Workshop

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Just as Preston College had thought it had seen the last of me, I returned again this year with long-established friend with whom I had also studied law with at the College. It was all thanks to a fantastic team effort that we managed to successfully deliver a quality workshop in a bid to persuade business students into the legal profession.

The afternoon session took place in the college’s new STEM building. I was camp as pink when I found out that we would be given the opportunity to use the new facilities to deliver this workshop.

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We’ve got some useful brochures courtesy of LawCareers.net

So the plan for the day was to first outline the role of a lawyer, break apart all of the LPC GDL BPTC jargon and then talk a bit about the practice areas. There was a heavy emphasis on the distinction between personal and business services, so as to cater for our students with a particular interest in business.

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What does a lawyer do?

 

We wanted to come up with a practical activity for the students so that they could get a real feel for what being a lawyer or law student is really like. So after hours of brainstorming on all sorts of topics which fall within contract law, we came up with this idea of a ‘frustrated contract’ scenario.

The students were provided with the abstract of some relevant case law, a general outline of the principles of contract law (Offer and Acceptance, Privity and Consideration), a Practical Legal Research template, and a bundle of documents with which we weaved our scenario into. In a nutshell, this was a hypothetical dispute between a college and a supplier as to the sale of furniture which was delivered late.

 

CaptureThe students had to analyse an email from a partner, a telephone attendance note, a letter before action, emails between the claimant and defendant and a purchase order. We wanted the students to use their skills of analysis and work with attention to detail to figure out what exactly had gone on. We moved around the groups to talk about some of the potential legal issues; we helped them to extract the ratio of cases and experiment with the potential outcomes each precedent might manifest.

The students had really engaged with the scenario and cases. In fact, we were so impressed with some of the discussions we had engaged the students in, to the extent that we really could not pick an overall winning team!

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Expecting 30 people at our Business & Law Workshop today!

It was so rewarding to see students engaging in material that I had created for them. They were provided with everything which I felt that I would have needed had I been in their position. We were able to outline LPC, MLaw and GDL routes and provided them with some practice of the basic skills expected of a lawyer.

With the help of multiple organisations, we were able to disseminate leaflets, brochures and information which would really help them to make an informed decision about a career in the legal profession. It was also a pleasure to have students come and talk to us at the end of our workshop.

We received some positive feedback from our liaison – formerly our law tutor (pictured below). We were pleased to receive an email shortly after our departure; “Thank you so much for today, it was wonderful […] I will get you back in next for the next A levels!”.

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Expecting 30 people at our Business & Law Workshop today!

I am hoping now to streamline our workshop, make the necessary improvements now that we move into a BETA stage, and ultimately return next year to deliver our workshop in front of the next cohort of students.

In summary, this has been an experience which has really paid dividends in respect of all the effort that we had collectively put in to the project. We look forward to our return – see you next year Preston College!

A special thanks to Humera Patel for all the support in this endeavour and to Rukhsana Ahmad for facilitating this event.

 

VIDEOS: EU Trip

Luxembourg

My first video captures some of the sights we saw during our guided tour of the city. Whilst it was a brisk morning, the sun was out and we got some brilliant shots of the small city!

The EU Legislature

Our second sunny day was spent in Brussels, on our visit to the European Parliament and European Commission. We were fortunate to see the Parliament in session, which you will see in the video. Just note the sheer scale of the place.

Chasing the Council

I am sure all those euro-sceptic individuals out there had noticed that just last week the European Council had met in Brussels to discuss Britain’s position in the European Union. We were fortunate enough to be in Brussels, just around the corner from the Council building in the hours before the arrival of François Hollande, Angela Merkel, David Cameron and many more.

This video presents exciting footage which was taken 15 minutes before their arrival. There were many blacked out vehicles with police escorts and helicopters. Perhaps one of the vehicles which passed us was Cameron himself?!

Brugge

This very quaint little location was our last stop before the long journey back to Preston. Though there were no European Union origins to see, this was a joyous end to a busy week. There were an array of Belgian Chocolate shops to visit, the smell of waffles around every street corner, and an array of big high street names.

City of Brussels

Brussels is, albeit not everyone’s cup of tea, one of my favourite locations on this trip. Whilst there were parts which brought memories of a night at Canary Wharf, there was much heritage and culture to this city. There were plenty of things to do!

I hope you enjoyed these videos as much as I enjoyed producing them.

Guest Speaker at Preston College

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Visitor coming through!

Well this has been quite a busy few weeks for us all. Settling back into university, adjusting to an increased work load, taking on extra hours at and then those dreaded applications for vacation schemes and open days! Never mind, I am sure the hard work will pay off in the end. I hope all are well, and my apologise for not keeping in touch recently!

Me and my former law tutor
Selfie time – Me and my former law tutor

On the bright side, I was delighted to be invited to return back to Preston College, where I studied my A-Levels in Law, Accounting and IT. I just can not describe how nostalgic it is to be stood in front of a group of students in a position where I was once just two years ago. I had the opportunity to catch up with four of my previous tutors who had all given me the best guidance in pursuing my career trajectory.

Public speaking is an ‘ad hoc’ skill which a lawyer could expect at any point within their career; whether it involves pitching to clients or reporting to partners. This was the perfect opportunity for me to put my skills to the test and really submerse other students on a topic I felt confident on.
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That aside, finding confidence when you are stood up infront of 15 gazing eyes can be a quite difficult. Naturally, adrenaline is rushing, a thousand thoughts are running through ones head and then the legs suddenly turn to jelly; just what happened to me. Meanwhile, you’ll have to be concious of the time, the tempo and volume of your voice, keeping everyone in the room focused and operating a digital presentation.

I admit, I did feel foolish when 10 minutes after that I had forgotten to explain to the group what BPTC stood for. But thankfully my efforts shined through and my tutor described the presentation as “fantastic”. I spent an awful lot of time on preparation, and here were some tips that helped me the most.

  • Practice until you feel confident in yourself, this is the best opportunity to ‘iron out all the creases’.
  • Notes are distracting, they should contain minimal information like statistics.
  • The adrenaline can only last for so long, push past it and the next thing you know you’ll be a born natural.
  • If you make a mistake or if a word comes out the wrong way, do not be afraid to laugh it off and hastily move on from it.
  • Take a bottle of water, this is brilliant trick if you need to buy yourself some thinking time or you get a croaky throat after the first 10 minutes of talking.
  • Do not lecture at the audience, instead keep them engaged by making eye contact and encouraging questions.
  • Be concious of time, if you need to move it along then just simply say “I’m concious of time”. It is far better than rushing through.

Remember that there is always room for improvement, so if you missed something out or you made yourself look like a bit of an idiot, just make sure you can learn from it. The more experience you gain, the easier it becomes.

Over all, this was a brilliant experience. It was emotive, nostalgic and reaffirmed my career ambitions. I am thankful to my host and I will be back again to speak to a larger group of business students, so watch this space!