Lee Davies on IP Inclusive’s Mental Health Survey

I am sure I am not alone in feeling a great sense of sadness reading IP Inclusive’s most recent survey into mental health awareness in the IP professions.

It felt to me, spurred on by the challenge of mental wellbeing during the pandemic and a seemingly more open dialogue around mental health, that we were making progress. The survey suggests otherwise and points to particular areas of concern where we need to be doing more.

I urge everyone to read the report and reflect on the findings, particularly those of us who have leadership roles in IP and for whom the evolution of mentally healthy workplaces is in our gift. So many people working in IP continue to experience stress and anxiety to the degree that it leads to significant mental health difficulties, as evidenced by IP Inclusive’s survey. IP is a rewarding sector to work in, but it is obvious that the pressures of the job can and do lead to people experiencing high levels of stress. CIPA has a role to play here, helping those who lead IP firms to be aware of the issues and to adopt workplace practices that attend to the mental wellbeing of their staff, and ensuring employees have ready access to the support and help available to them in times of need.

IP Inclusive carried out the survey in partnership with Jonathan’s Voice, a charity set up in memory of Jonathan McCartney, a patent attorney who tragically took his own life in 2017. Jonathan’s Voice is doing some amazing work across the IP sector to promote mental wellbeing and mentally healthy workplaces and I am proud of the relationship CIPA has with the charity. We have supported Jonathan’s Voice in its production of guides for senior leaders in IP and patent and trade mark attorneys and a future guide aimed at IP paralegals. These are essential reading for all of us working in IP and I recommend that you make the time to read the guides and share them with peers and colleagues.

Clearly there is still much to do. Producing the guides is not enough, we need to promote these and the other resources and support that exist for those responsible for making IP a mentally safe space to work. We also need to signpost those who may be experiencing difficulties to the support that is available for them. CIPA is proud to be a funder of Law Care, a mental wellbeing charity offering free, confidential, emotional support to anyone working in the law, not just attorneys but also students, paralegals and legal sector business support professionals, as well as concerned family members.

Importantly, the stresses and strains associated with qualifying as a patent attorney have been highlighted by the survey. With much of the training happening on-the-job, delivered by firms, students have to balance the demands of examinations alongside a growing workload. We also have the factor that students are working towards parallel examinations for both UK and European registration. In such a competitive and rewarding area of law, the demand and desire to qualify at pace bears heavily on trainees.

We are fortunate to have an organised student community, the Informals, which exists to provide a supportive network for students to learn together. The Informals have introduced trained mental health first aiders, as a first point of reference for students who may be worrying about their personal wellbeing. We are pleased to work with the Informals, embedding sessions on managing personal stress into the new student induction day and the student conference. The Informals also provide a range of mental health resources and can signpost students to the help provided by Jonathan’s Voice, the Charlie Waller Trust and other agencies.

Perhaps one of CIPA’s best kept secrets is the Benevolent Association, which exists to provide financial support to our members and their families in times of need. So often, financial worries form part of the mental health challenges we face in our lives and the Benevolent Association is there to help.

On reflection, we are doing lots, but there is so much more we can do. I think CIPA needs to systematically remind its members that mental health, just like all health and safety, is a shared responsibility; something that we need to talk about. I felt a little guilty reading IP Inclusive’s report as I know I can do more and will try to do so in the future. We tend to centre our activities around key points in the calendar, such as Mental Health Awareness Week, then move on to the next issue. This is not good enough and I will ensure that we use our regular membership communications to highlight our work on mental health and wellbeing and keep the conversation going.

If you have thoughts or ideas on how CIPA can help the IP sector be a more mentally health workplace, I really would welcome that conversation.

Lee Davies 

Managing IP spoke to Lee Davies, Andrea Brewster (IP Inclusive), Penelope Aspinall (Jonathan’s Voice) and Elizabeth Rimmer (LawCare) and published an article on the Mental Health Survey. The article highlights that the IP industry has an unsustainable level of stress and anxiety, and levels have only increased compared to the last survey in 2019. Read the full article.

Date Published: 26 October 2022

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