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True resilience

February 2022

Resilience is often described as the ability to bounce back from difficulties. We think that is slightly misleading as it suggests the person enduring the difficulties ends up in the same place as they were before they faced those respective challenges. We prefer the view that true resilience is the ability of a person to rise to the challenge presented by the pressure of difficult situations and to learn and develop because of it.

Retired US Army General David Hackworth regarded each person’s individual resilience as being like a cup. He noted from his experiences in combat that some people’s cup was naturally larger than others from the outset but on any given day each cup may vary in size. This may be because of all sorts of background factors such as ill health, poor nutrition, lack of sleep and issues with personal relationships.

This has led many people to question whether you can you teach better resilience? As David Hackworth noted there is clearly a level of innate resilience in each of us that we are either born with or that we develop during our childhood. However, there is a clear body of evidence that people’s resilience can be worked on and strengthened. The US military for example run a course for all new recruits that seeks to help them resist combat stress and there are several UK charities that work in schools to help children improve their resilience given the most challenges posed by social media.

Law firms have come a long way in recent years in relation to the issue of mental health. The topic is now openly discussed by management and HR professionals of the leading firms. There are myriad support structures within such organisations if lawyers are struggling or feeling burned-out from helplines to mental health first aid responders. In our experience however, fewer firms are undertaking resilience training to help their lawyers avoid mental health issues developing in the first place.

At LTN & Partners we have developed a bespoke course working alongside a former UK Special Forces operator. At the latter stages of his 16-year career in that elite world he was intimately involved in the development of a resilience training course for those specialist regiments to deal with the challenges posed by the operational tempo of the War Against Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the events of 9/11. That course was developed alongside medical professionals and focussed on practical skills that could be employed daily to help in the development of better resilience.

The Covid pandemic presented unprecedented challenges for law firms and their staff. We have heard numerous heart-breaking stories of young lawyers being isolated in small apartments during the initial lock-down whose mental health suffered greatly without the support structures and daily routine of attending an office with colleagues. This was the genesis of the LTN & Partners resilience training programme. We felt that younger lawyers, whilst being taught many skills on their way into the profession such as drafting, advocacy and legal research, were poorly prepared and ill-equipped to face the day-to-day rigours of working in a busy private practice law firm, such as receiving an avalanche of emails on a busy transaction or case. Our course explains the physiological response of the human body to pressure and stress and how to recognise that reaction in our own bodies. We then go on to provide practical habits and tips that can be employed to improve resilience. Whilst aimed at young lawyers the course is equally applicable to all seniority levels within the profession albeit that some of the causes of stress vary.

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