Clifford Chance lifer Jeremy Connick joined the firm straight out of university in 1986, and it was there that he met his wife, Alison.
The couple relocated to Hong Kong, where Alison took a role at a telecoms company, before they later moved to the United States. By the time they returned to London in 2003, he had been made a partner in the Magic Circle firm’s energy department and they had three children.
Then, in April 2014, everything changed. Alison received terrible news—she had breast cancer. She battled through a lumpectomy and radiation therapy but tragically, three months later, in the midst of a depressive episode, she took her own life.
Immediately after his wife’s death, Jeremy couldn’t think about anything. Tasks that were once simple became impossible to complete as he suffered with memory loss and an inability to concentrate on anything.
Despite his deteriorating mental health, Jeremy’s priority was to look after his children, who were 18, 17 and 14 years old at the time of Alison’s death. He ended up taking a year off work to recuperate and deal with the tragedy.
“I didn’t care about work at all at that point, it didn’t feature in my thoughts,” Connick says. “I didn’t think I’d ever come back, it was totally unimportant to me.”
When he returned to the firm the following year, getting back into the working environment was made even more challenging by his poor mental health. “Your brain doesn’t suddenly work again as it did,” he says. “I had to teach myself to work in a different way until my brain did function again.
“My clients were amazing about it, as were my colleagues, but pretty much everyone around me had to accept that I wasn’t functioning as well as I used to.
“I was in survival mode. My primary reason for going back to work was to demonstrate to the kids that it was recovery time and it was time to move forward. And then after a while, putting on a suit, interacting with people and laughing again, taking myself out of my heartbreak—it helped. Slowly, I’ve gotten back to being pretty fully functional.”
As he started to settle back into the work environment and his mental state improved, he “spent some time thinking about what it would be like if you weren’t at my level of seniority—fully supported—and not having to think about whether you earned an income.”
“I realized that the support systems that were already in place were inadequate for a large proportion of the organization. It’s been interesting in the last five years to see how much the dial has moved in terms of mental health awareness in law firms and generally speaking.”
Connick is now a trustee for grant-giving organisation Beyond Shame Beyond Stigma, a mental health charity supporting young people—something that he finds ”incredibly rewarding.”
While his motives for getting involved in the mental health sphere were to “get some good out of what was a sh*tty situation,” he now feels a responsibility to speak about mental health awareness.
“It’s easy to recognize poor mental health in other people if you’ve been through some trauma. I used to think I was quite an empathetic person but I couldn’t really have put myself in someone else’s shoes. Now I think I feel what other people feel when they suffer.
“At the firm and across [London], people are waking up to the idea that people are not working to the best of their ability, because of things that are happening in their life. It’s just all too much for them to operate to the best of their ability. Whether you care about the business or about the person, it’s essential that we find a way to look after that person.”