Lessons I Learned in Law

Emilie Berge on mental health, wellbeing and performing at your best

September 28, 2023 Heriot Brown Season 5 Episode 9
Lessons I Learned in Law
Emilie Berge on mental health, wellbeing and performing at your best
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Lessons I Learned in Law, Scott Brown speaks to wellbeing advocate Emilie Berge. After an 18 year career in-house in the Tech and Defence sectors Emilie is now on a mission to empower high achievers to reach their career goals without burning out. She provides corporate training to companies who want to improve their staff wellbeing and host a retreat abroad once a year.

 Emilie shares the lessons she learned during her career in law, including:

·      Look after yourself, so that you can perform better. 

·      It’s OK to be wrong. Particularly in-house, you need to be able to negotiate and compromise to unblock a conflict.  Don’t allow your ego to get in the way.

·      Stay humble. 


Emilie began her mental health and wellness blog in 2017; she talks through her own struggles with mental health, how that inspired her to research and begin the blog, and how it has developed since.  Check out the blog here: How To Be Happier At Work - Me My Health And I


This episode is particularly appropriate as World Mental Health Day is coming up on October 10. 


Presented by Scott Brown of Heriot Brown Legal Recruitment


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This episode of Lessons I Learned in Law is brought to you by Beamery.

Beamery is an AI-powered talent platform, designed to hire candidates faster, develop the skills of your workforce, and increase employee retention.

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Scott Brown (0:01)
Hi, and welcome to Lessons I Learned in Law with me, Scott Brown, founder and managing director at Heriot Brown In-House Legal Recruitment. On this podcast, if you're an avid listener, which hopefully you are, you'll know that I sit down with someone from the legal profession, a top legal mind. They break down and share their three key lessons that they've learned from their career in law. And I really hope that you leave listening to this today armed with a bit more information that helps you along your career path that hopefully inspires you to go on and do big things in your own career in law. My guest today is Emily Berge. Hi Emily, thank you for joining me.

Emily Berge (0:45) 
You're welcome. Thank you for having me. 

Scott Brown (0:47)  
Emily is a wellbeing advocate and mental health blogger. And this comes after an 18 year career in-house, working in the tech and defence sectors with among others, BAE Systems, that position and her career took her all over the world, really well travelled, which I'm really keen to hear more about that here today. But Emily's now on a mission to empower high achievers to reach their career goals without encountering or hitting burnout. Currently, she's providing corporate training to companies who want to improve their staff wellbeing so amazing work, really looking forward to hearing more about the new venture. And we will jump straight in if that's okay, Emily and and get on with, with lesson number one, if you could share that with me, please?

Emily Berge (1:36)  
The first one is the importance of looking at yourself, so that you can perform better. And I think you know, as in house counsel, we're very good at creating work for ourselves. And we, you know, we tend to go around and teach people and even though we've been hired to do one specific say, we tend to find a lot of other things, and a lot of things to fix, and we see problems and we go into the submissions, you can create a lot of work for yourself, then quickly. And then you want to do it all. So you want to plug in longer hours. And that has been my experience in a number of roles I've had, the problem with that is that you're gonna very quickly run into a wall where you won't be able to do it all and you're gonna burn yourself out. That's been a lesson that I learned the hard way. However, when I learned to look after myself, then I completely changed again, because I became better at my job. I had more energy, I was more productive, I was more efficient. And as a result, I was actually progressing faster. It's learning how to do that shift which was a long. Yeah, which which took me a while 

Scott Brown (2:57)  
Long process when did that click in for you?

Emily Berge (3:02)  
We were actually talking about my assignments in Denmark earlier and when I when I went to Denmark, I was I ended up being sought counsel in gantry for period of time because my Danish colleague was was on maternity leave. And I was trying to do everything I was working 80 hours a week, there was you know, only a narrow difference with the UK, but I was there way before them and be there long after everyone else was gone. And I did that for about a year. And then I had a major, I want to say a depression actually, it was worse than a burnout. And, you know, like living in a different country, and you're living up north, where you have less sunshine, there's all these things. So that was the stage where I had to learn how to do differently. And it was really there was this moment where I had a chat with my boss who you know who I called and said, look, my GP wants me to to go part time, because I you know, I need to rest and I need to recover. And he was like, well, you're working 80 hours your contract's 37 and so why don't you try 37 and see how it goes? Yeah, that was like a huge revelation for me. Like I'd never tried to do 37 hours. Yeah. But, but but but it was kind of like it was that moment of you know, like, the work will always be there. So why don't we do work on the priorities and what needs to be done first and then we do that within your contract hours and then we move forward. So we work together with my was my boss to achieve that which we did, but it was very much the learning the boundary, learning to set boundaries and how to create that structure where, you know, you actually say stop to work at some point and you do stop your day. So you can go and relax and recharge because if you do that, you'll come back the next day and be more productive. When if you work 14 hours, and then you only rest for not enough, and you come back, but your brain isn't going to have time to recuperate and recharge. And so you're going to come back and you're going to continue to work when you're tired. And that's, that's how it goes wrong. 

Scott Brown (5:20) 
Yeah. Sounds like a good boss to have had that conversation as well. And to have had the push back. 

Emily Berge (5:26)  
Yes, it really Yeah, it really helped me out. Because obviously, you know, there was 43 hours of work that were no longer being done. So you had as a manager, that was a problem, because you had to you know, reshuffled work as well. But yeah.

Scott Brown (5:40)  
How do you wind down and relax then outside of outside of work?

Emily Berge (5:44)  
What I created in the, you know, when I was at BEA, my last role was, I had become really, really good at that. So the tip was to pre pandemic, by the way, because that was when we used to work at the office nine to 5 then I had to really change again, but when we were in the office, or that I would actually do a, I would say a 9 to 6 was what I basically I would really be very strict. And to make sure that we do a 9 to 6, I would plan things before work and after work. So before work, I would have a morning routine when I go to the gym. It's not for everybody. But it was it was my thing, from gym, first thing in the morning, when I turned up at nine, I'd had loads of energy, I feel like I've done something for me first. So I'd feel really good. And then in the evening, I would usually have a plan. It didn't have to be a crazy plan or going out or anything. But it would have a plan that by a certain time, I would have to be doing something different. So that during the day, I'd be like, I've got to get this finished, because I am leaving at six. And this is particularly a problem for single people. Because if your family is there waiting for you, like when I was not single, I found it much harder to do over time because I'd be like no I've got to I've got to go home because like my partner is waiting for me. But when I was single, there was no limit anymore. I was like, who cares if I'm home or not? And so having having things having appointments, even if it's an appointment with yourself, helps you make sure that you leave.

Scott Brown (7:20)  
Yeah. Yeah, that's that's good advice. And everyone's going through different like, yeah, single people with families, what have you there's different challenges, too, right? It's, yeah, I don't know. I've got like dad guilt sometimes from not being home and fully present when I'm round my kids and feeling like my head's somewhere else. Because I'm not, yeah, I've not discharged at work and my head's elsewhere or I've had a bad day, the impacts on what I'm like in those bed time or whenever I'm with you on the on the gym in the morning, though I'm, that's my time.

Emily Berge (7:54)  
Yeah. And I think it's really interesting what you're saying, because I think one one way to deal with that guilt is to create a SASS where as to work, there's a moment for yourself, where you let go of your day, and maybe 10 minutes, like when it was when we used to commute, that was a good time, the commute would be the same way just like you just you think about you, they let it all go. So that you can be more present with the people waiting for you. And if you're not commuting anymore, then you can create that way by going for a short walk or whatever. Or having a moment where you said to family, look, I'm gonna go and, I was gonna say meditate, because that's my answer for everything, 

Scott Brown (8:36)  
that's a good answer. 

Emily Berge (8:38)  
You find your one thing, sit back 10 minutes out, because then you can be present again.

Scott Brown (8:51)  
We'll move on to lesson two

Emily Berge (8:52)  
With lesson two, nothing to do now with wellbeing. But it was the learning to admit that I was wrong to be able to unlock a conflict. And I think lots of lawyers have got that, you know, we we spent years of training to be right, you know, and the law is complicated. And you spend a lot of time learning, you know, what's what's right and what's wrong. And then you go with house and the world is a different place where you've got to make compromises. And you've got to, you know, especially if you're negotiating commercial contracts, which which was my role, the right and wrong is always there. Yeah, the law is the law, right? But when it comes to contracting decision, it's about finding what's going to be right for both parties is to find a win win. If you haven't got a win. We know contract isn't gonna work long term. It's all about the relationship with the client. And lawyers can be very set in their ways. So I've had a lot of negotiations where I would be like, you know, this is this is right and the other side would be like, no, no, you You're wrong, and then start attacking each of its ego on who is right or wrong about the law, and you will not move like you're the cover, the next session is not going well, from that point. And I, I've been in that situation so many times, and I, I was like, I'm gonna, I've got to find a better way, because I haven't got time to negotiate this contract score six months, I get very angry stakeholders at me for, you know, like, for making the client angry. And I mean, I had all these problems that I actually rather Junior, if a house counsel probably would, we may have gone through that as well. And so everything changed when I read, you know, How to Win Friends and Influence People from Dale Carnegie. And it was, yeah, it was a book that saved my life. And suddenly it was all about, it's okay to be wrong. It's okay to say to be wrong, even if you're not it, you know, when he looks like, it really made me think like that. Have you ever been that there was ever one time in your life where you were 100% sure you were right? And then you find that you were wrong. And I was like, oh, yeah, that had happened. That's a painful memory. I remember that. And, and when you think of that, then suddenly like, Okay, I'm annoyed. But I'm also a human being, I can make mistakes, and that's okay. So, one way I started to, I, one thing I've changed, and I started changing the way I would start a conversation, when I knew there was a potential company coming ahead, I would say, okay, look, I, you know, I could be wrong. I'd have been in the past, but I believe this is, you know, what we're trying to achieve? Or this is what I understood the situation is I understood the stack the way and then it gives room for the other side to say, Oh, actually, yes, you are, right, because you just admitted that you were willing to say you were wrong, it kind of left that will wait and you start Oh, actually, if she, if she's winning, say she's wrong, that it's okay for me to say I am and changing the game. But also what I have found is that sometimes I was wrong. Because I would have, you know, I would have missed some flack. Like and it happens a lot in house, like, you know that there's like a huge team of like, 20 people working on a contract. And not everyone is communicating efficiently. So sometimes go into negotiation, being dead sure that this is what you're trying to achieve. And then you say to unsane fish based on this and that and that. And then they're like, Well, hey, A and B are good, but seeing is incorrect. And then I turn around to my team and say, Oh, how interesting when it does change the game? And then you can you can reach an agreement with the other side. That's been a leverage gain of time. I have to say, because then you reduce the length of the negotiation when you when you're willing to do that. But it's also been really good for my reputation. Because people no longer for our she's one of these rogue and lawyers who always think they're right, and nobody else can have opinion. And then they're like, no, actually, she she's okay. 

Scott Brown (13:13)  
Great lessons in there. I think it's like the disarming of people that you you sort of spoke about and being able to, I love that book, How to How to Win Friends and Influence People. It's like, so old, but it's such a classic, so much. It's so applicable. Yeah, it's, it's a good sales book as well for for us recruiters. When, in terms of that, like with working with junior people in your team, how did you how did you try to encourage them to take the same mindset switch?

Emily Berge (13:43)  
Yeah, yeah. So I mean, this was part of the job, I love the most actually training junior lawyers in the team, because you can really help them understand what's the difference between, you know, their ego, and what's the right thing to do. They're fresh from uni, they've learned all these things that just come through their training, you know, they feel like it's been a long road. And then they they go, and they suddenly, you know, talking to colleagues who have 15 years of experience, and they're back to square one, and it's hard. It is hard. I mean, I remember for me when I realised that how I felt and and so being able to kind of like help them through that and say, Look, you know, just be an actually that leads me straight into lessons three, which was about being humble. And any, like, just be humble, like, yes, you know, all these things, and it's fantastic. But these people may not know the law as well as you do, because maybe they forgot it because there's a long time ago, and they're not using it every day, all of it, but they have seen it in action. And they have a lot of experience and they know that agreeing BizTown for example, Pool doesn't actually really matter that, you know, on the long term. Do you really need that close? Maybe you need it. Yeah, maybe it's nice to have that actually makes one even better. And that's where you should be focusing on and also just getting them to use that. Oh, okay, look, I'm, you know, on you. So this is what I saying. Because they, they could say that, that there's nothing wrong with that, like, you know, I'm beginning or I'm not doing this for very long time. And, but instead they go, no, no, no, I'm still right. I'm still right. And, you know, percent of the time that they're not actually Yeah.

Scott Brown (15:34)  
And there's no, there's no points. There's no points for being right. To have a private private practice mentality. Yeah. Yeah. So you've been blogging about mental health since 2017? How did how did that come around? How did you What inspired you to do that? 

Emily Berge (15:51)  
So started with sub left when I came back to UK to Denmark, because, you know, in Denmark, I really went back to square one harsh starting to look after myself so that this doesn't happen again. And you know, like a lot of people when something like this happen, you know, you start with you, you go into your GP and you have counselling, you have a sometime medication, and you kind of like settling through that. But for me, and I think a lot of ambitious people might feel the same way, I felt the process of recovery was too slow. And I was like, I did it, I felt like just cancelling and having a 15 minute conversation once a week, and medication wasn't like, I wasn't getting better, faster, like very fast it was, and they were not always going through plus says you got to take your time. And then I don't like to take my time. It's not in my temperament. I don't do that. With that I had, I had issues with the traditional way of doing it. So I started to do a lot of research or just spend hours in what is the browsing, you know, on books, and this is we're talking this is about 10 years ago, I found it very hard to find information. And I was researching online, I was going through books, and I started to create a checklist of all the things that helped me that I was learning that was that were helping me, and all the things that were in working. And then I and this is other tied cuts where I wasn't open at all about my mental health, because it's a completely different topic. But I, I really felt that I was going to be judged. And I was going to lose my career opportunity. And that I wasn't going to be given the projects anymore, that people weren't weren't going to trust me. I mean, I had a huge thing in my head, about the fact that I couldn't tell people about this. And so when I called my boss in Denmark, you know, this was after weeks of discussion with my GP telling me that I couldn't continue to why was it took a lot of convincing for me to call him so you know, so going from there. To to a blog is because it's huge. But what happened was I was like a big a lot of research. And I started writing down everything that was working. And then I started I wanted to open up to friends. But it was very difficult to talk about it. So I had written this, what becomes my first article, which was like, you know, five things that you should do for yourself, when you have depression and voicings that you can help. If you want to help a friend who has depression, this is what you can do. And that was that that for me, it was like my it was like my Bible, it was in two years of research. And that's what I came up with. And I and I would very slowly start to people, people who I would open up about the personnel. And it would be like, Oh, I don't know what to do. Because that's the other thing is like, I would I would have friends would be like, I have no idea how to help you right now I want to help you. And I don't know how, which was the second part of the article. So are we be like, Okay, well, this is like, this is me, basically, I would just be like, instead of having the discussion, which I found, at the time very hard to have. I would just say, You know what, why don't you read this article, this thing I wrote, and then we can talk about it. And it really helped me open up those discussions. And one day, a friend of mine read it, and she's like, she's like, wow, that would be great article for a blog. And I was like, okay, and be happy to share it because I think it could help other people. But I was like, What would I say? Like, I've got one thing to say. And I've said it already and so we took like about maybe a year later. I was like well, actually I'd give that a go. So because by then I had done so much more research that I had more things to share. So we It really became as you really start to that, as it took me such a long time to do all this research that I wanted to speed it up for other people. Yeah, yeah. So yeah. 

Scott Brown (20:14) 
And how do you think the landscape around mental health in the workplace has changed in that time from from your time in, in Denmark to now? Because obviously, we've gone through the pandemic and working from home and it's been spoken about, I feel a lot more. Obviously, there's, there's, there's still room for improvement. But what changes have you seen?

Emily Berge (20:33)  
I've seen companies taking it a bit more seriously. And I felt that it up like, I think especially the pandemic, really started to help discussions. But when I mean, when I was at BAE, free pandemic, we started to create a group to talk about mental health. And, you know, when you think of the size of the company, and, you know, it was like, it felt like there was a big gap that there was really missing, and starting those discussions was fantastic. That was just before the pandemic. So obviously, with the pandemic, things became, and I loved it during the pandemic, I was like, I would hear all this conversation about mental health, oh, well, it looks like fine the knee, you know, this is good. And I'm really good. Like, you know, we just been through, you know, mental health week aware there, I love to see that I loved it, people are opening up, I think there's still plenty of work to do. But I think the fact that this is no longer a taboo, that we can talk about it. I mean, I, during the pandemic, I started a YouTube channel where I was interviewing people, I was interviewing alternative therapists, so people who would help relieve depression for lots of different ways. And, you know, we had like, yoga teacher, we had a lot of sports people there, because that's one way that I use meditation on things. And it was brilliant, you know, like everyone would just come in and share their own experience with mental health. And I was like, this is such a great open forum. And I think it's, it's changed a lot for the better, I think there's still plenty of work to do. I'm sure there are still plenty of people who felt the way I felt 10 years ago, with a never, I will never tell anyone, because otherwise there's going to be a massive red cross on my file.

Scott Brown (22:25) 
Yeah, yeah. But yeah, this is like taking steps forward, I guess you're helping to have that helping to have that conversation, which is, which is great to see in here. Then some of the work you're doing with with companies and your business. Now. Tell us a bit more about about that.

Emily Berge (22:39)  
Yeah. And I think it's, it's basically it's all about how to not do what I did. And, and I found that the best tools, actually, there's a lot of sub skills that have nothing to do with mental health. But if you can become better at dealing with conflict, and dealing with stress, and how to handle the difficult stakeholders at work, and how to manage your time better and your workload, if you can get these things under control, you're going to have a much smoother ride, and you're going to your mental health will benefit. So, I mean, what I do with one of my corporate clients, we've got six sessions. The first one is the basic of wellbeing, which I think people are more or less familiar with. Now, you know, it's all about, you know, sleep, food, exercise, gratitude, and being positive, you know, all of these things, which are kind of like, they had been shared so many times now, you know, other traditional media, which was the basics of what was on my blog. So I'm like, I used to do a two day workshop on that. And now I'm like, one hour, these are the basics. Do you want to see more? I've got a free guide that you can download on my blog, and you've got it, but I think people have this stuff now. But what's more difficult is when something goes wrong, how do you deal with it. And when I was travelling, I used to feel that going to work was like going to war, which is a bit strong. But it was the pension I was holding, I was like I'm going in, and I'm going to have cause and you know, like on the hour, every hour, no break. For the next seven hours, I probably have 30 minutes lunch, and every call, I'm going to be working hard to influence people and convince them to do the right thing and I'm going to be negotiating. And when I have five minute to breathe, I'm going to draft a contract. These are not these are not good condition to be productive and to be good. Batting contraction in space. You need space, you need quiet. So it's very much about okay, if you know how to manage your emotions, and you know how to manage that stress. You can then see a huge chunk of wasted time or want to say, away and you you clear that away, you have more time to work. Second without conflict, you know, we were talking about it earlier, with, you know, difficult negotiations, you're gonna have the same problems with clinics as well. So you're going to have difficult colleagues like, and the internal negotiations I've been through, or worse than some of your colleagues are worse than the clients, okay? And it's it, but but it can work on this relationship and learn how to work better with your colleagues and still the conflict, you are winning a lot of time because, I mean, honestly, they would make decisions that were very difficult with the clients. And as a result, internally, we did, we disagreed how to deal with it. And then we got into a conflict internally, because we disagreed so badly, it looks bad, it really looked bad. And we then wasted hours, trying to solve all these agreements, you know, and that's not productive, that's not good for the company, it's good for no one, and it creates a lot of stress a lot of drama, you then spend hours talking about it, then you go home, you take that stress with you, it's you can kill that stuff, you win time, valuable time back where you can actually do productive work. So yeah, so that's what I'm doing. And these are basically, that's where we deal with, with my corporate clients is, one session will need to be seen as practical things, you know, like, five steps method to get rid of stress having to deal with stress when it comes up. Cool.

Scott Brown (26:43)
So it's beneficial to both the individuals and the and obviously, the corporate is to have a more productive workforce. 

Emily Berge (26:50) 
So one of my clients came up to me because they were having a lot of people are sick and burnt out, they were like, We got to do something for them. Because this is a sort of cost of business. Like, it's not just people being more productive. It's it's people actually, you know, going off on sick leave. And obviously, they don't want their people to to feel that badly. But equally, it's a huge impact on their business. So I think this is what yeah, this is what the you know, some companies need to look at is look at your staff, you know, how many people do you have, that are sick for actual mental health issues that could be linked to to work and it's usually not just work, but it's usually nit as well, that when you've got if you've got a huge proportion of your people burning out there's a problem with with the way you are set up as a business. 

Scott Brown (27:44)  
Yeah, definitely a problem I think and challenge for for a company. So, so yeah that's a good, that's a really good way of putting it. Well. Thank you. Thanks, Emily. And I look forward to hearing more about it and checking out the blog. I will share the link to that in the show notes as well and so people can sort of follow and and keep up with with that. But it's been great talking to you. 

Emily Berge (28:05)  
Yeah, thank you so much. Really, really appreciate the opportunity and it was great to catch up with you as well.

Scott Brown (28:13)  
Thank you for listening to Lessons I Learned in Law. For more info on all of the guests from the seasons gone by head over to heriotbrown.com/podcast. Until then, see you next time.