As of February 2023, Tom Keya finds himself fully focused on his corporate wellness company Soulh Tech – a new corporate wellness company and software focused on managing workplace happiness.
Although he has almost completely transitioned away from the legal industry, he consults with the legal profession and international law firms on improving their wellbeing practices.
Tom Keya is as passionate a supporter of preventing breakdowns at work as you will find.
However, Tom originally pursued the traditional legal career path like many of us have. He lived and breathed the life of a high-flying lawyer in the slick city of London, which as we know, comes with brilliant highs (money, client wins) but often with some very harmful lows. He had a real track-record and extensive experience across a number of London firms, holding many senior legal roles.
But after years of pressure as a lawyer, his mental and physical health took a real hit (both pressure from his firm and self-induced pressure). Tom Keya began to make mistakes which he found extremely hard to deal with and ultimately, they led him to a career change.
Tom now wants to give his advice to help fellow lawyers who may be struggling and provide some real advice on how to transition out of the legal sector into a new career if you are having thoughts that practicing law may no longer be for you.
Tom Keya speaks to Bytestart to discuss in more depth …
Constant high pressure on lawyers is a real cause of mental and physical health issues
“At some point, perhaps more in the senior stages of their legal career, most lawyers think about leaving the profession,” says Tom Keya. “Perhaps with better employee mental health support, this wouldn’t happen so often. But as it stands, the legal profession is one of the most stressful within professional services, and it takes its toll on their mental health.
“There is a very real need for systemic change and to raise awareness of the urgent need for more strategic work surrounding stress management and better mental health support in the legal profession. However, there are also a number of realistic pathways that legal professionals can take outside of law to provide a better balance for their mental health.”
Mental health issues can provide an important catalyst for change
According to Tom Keya, some of these career paths include shifting in-house, moving into consultancy, taking a senior directorial role, becoming a business development consultant, undertaking charitable work where they can work with like-minded business leaders, a move into insurance, business development within emerging markets or going into philanthropic and strategic work.
“For me today, there is nothing more important than good mental health in the workplace,” says Tom. “I regularly contribute towards various online publications on mental health, employee wellbeing and the often-catastrophic effects of business leaders refusing to take responsibility for the stress levels of their workforce.
“Law is a high stress environment for the whole team. Work in this sector – as with many different sectors – takes its toll and I want to place a strong emphasis on the fact that legal professionals who have hit a mental roadblock do have options.”
Ask yourself the right questions
“Anyone who is feeling pushed to their limit needs to ask themselves the right questions,” explains Tom. “It can be extremely difficult to have sunk so much time, money and effort into developing a specific career path and then contemplate leaving it.
“In fact, it’s this that can trap people in the legal profession and continue to harm their health. I certainly made some of the wrong choices along the way. For example, rather than slowing down and taking some proper time to consider what was right for me, I joined a very fast-moving practice in the City. I ended up putting more and more hours in and it all came to a head.
“The reality is that the skills practising lawyers have been eminently transferable to a number of different roles and sectors. Obviously, that doesn’t mean making a leap without a proper plan in place, but there are paths you can take.”
High levels of burnout recorded within the legal sector
Tom says: “During Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2022, LawCare published a report looking closely at the culture within the legal profession and its impact on mental health problems suffered by its workforce.
“The Life in the Law report made for sobering reading, with 69% of respondents reporting mental health issues during the 12 months before the survey was taken in 2021. This means that they reflect the increased pressure on employees from the global pandemic working remotely
“Reports like this allow us to gain a better understanding of the challenges facing employees within the legal profession. There is a significant problem with the current culture within law. Often, for example, the individual is expected to deal with their own wellbeing with little to no support from the business.
“And while taking responsibility for our own actions is obviously still important, every business leader should be working to improve employee wellness and encourage employees to take time when they need it. I recently wrote something in Finance Digest around this: Tom Keya on Burnout.”
Take the time to make the right decision for you
Tom regularly communicates with likeminded professionals around the world about how best to support professionals dealing with mental health issues, as well as several other topics.
He regularly writes for various online publications about this and, as this interest has developed, Tom Keya is in a position to speak from experience. He says: “The key to getting my career and professional life back on track was taking the time to do so.
“Time feels like a luxury you just don’t have when you’re working as a legal professional. The deadlines, the pressure and the work piles up until it can be extremely difficult to properly analyse your work life balance.
“The most important piece of advice I can give is that, as soon as you begin to have any doubts or start to feel like your mental health and wellbeing has become delicate and under threat, take time to really think about what you need. You will never regret taking a well-timed career break, but you may well regret the consequences of not doing so.”
Tom Keya’s mission to raise awareness of the importance of mental health
Tom continues to work as a mental health advocate and regularly writes about his personal experiences.
“Managing the high-performance expectations in law leads to burnout for far too many people,” says Tom. “For me, this eventually morphed into a mental breakdown, a total career change and a move to the Middle East.
“Not everyone’s journey towards wellness in the workplace will be so drastic, and there are plenty of other topics that could be covered here. But for those employees who are finding law too much for their mental health, it’s important to realise that there are different ways to better health.”
The legal profession needs a change in culture
Adds Tom: “I would like to see the mental and physical health of employees becoming a focus for business leaders within law. Far more support must be offered at every level, particularly given the pandemic’s impact on employee mental health.
“Remote working has increased feelings of isolation and helplessness for those suffering from mental health issues, and I would like to see business leaders focus purely on this extremely underrepresented area.
However, we do not yet live in a perfect world, and I particularly want to encourage those in the workplace who feel they want to leave the profession to consider their options and make the right choice for them personally.”
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