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Linda Lamb provides tips for family lawyers on how to cope with working from home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
It’s no secret that we as family lawyers deal with the anxieties and distress of others on a daily basis. No-one chooses to seek a family lawyer unless they are having relationship issues. To put it bluntly, we are a distress purchase. It is for this reason family lawyers often need to talk issues through with others in the field either to consider the decisions they have made in their cases or merely to receive support from others who understand the pressures they are under. These discussions can provide renewed vigour for the work and also provide a helpful exchange of ideas which provides alternative solutions.
The sudden shift to homeworking brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has severely interrupted this all-important communication, confirmed by a poll of Resolution members. Many lawyers derive a lot of energy and inspiration from working with others in an office environment, so it comes as no surprise that homeworking has had a negative impact on motivation, morale, work performance and mental health for family lawyers.
Since setting up my own private practice from home three years ago, I have had to seek alternative ways of working to make the transition from office work to homeworking a success, upholding the high standard of work expected of clients while ensuring I keep in close contact with others in the profession. Below I’ve provided some top tips to help make homeworking a success for the foreseeable future.
The prospect of mandatory homeworking stretching into the spring of 2021 seemed like a far-off prospect. With many firms considering more homeworking for lawyers once the pandemic has lifted, investing in good technology at home is a great way to maximise work efficiency. Your technology should keep up with your thought processes – any delay can disrupt workflow, often feel jarring and de-energising. As an example, using an old and slow laptop/PC for the occasional task may be manageable, but not for daily nine-to-five use. It is worth investing in a computer that is fast and works well with different programmes. This is very much the same for Wi-Fi – purchase the fastest possible Wi-Fi available in your area and boost this if necessary. I would also suggest investing in a large screen which I find makes it easier to work on numerous documents and screen share during the many Zoom meetings we have all had to get used to.
If your firm’s IT support team isn’t available or easily accessible, utilise an effective IT support network – I use a company that can access and resolve any issues with my laptop, PC and iPad. This reduces the anxiety and delay of trying to resolve issues yourself.
I would recommend using a cloud-based system for your own documents if not already used across your firm. This will make it easier for you to be located anywhere and still be able to work efficiently. If you are not already using paperless system, now is the time to move towards this. Paperless files allow you to work efficiently wherever you are located, and you do not need to worry about keeping a paper file up to date.
Similarly, I would also recommend using an electronic bundling system – I am able to create court bundles with a system that takes the documents directly from the client’s electronic file. The system then creates the index and paginates the bundle. This allows me to create a bundle at the beginning of a case which can be updated at any time.
Homeworking has made the age-old task of ensuring a good work/life balance all the more difficult. It can certainly be challenging to mentally switch-off after a busy day when there is no physical transition from one’s working space to a place of relaxation. Not having a clear distinction can be particularly detrimental to one’s mental health. I would encourage trying to set up an area of the home used exclusively for work, which you can then leave at the end of a working day – this should hopefully help making the mental switch easier. I am fortunate that I had converted the attic in my home to create a home office. When I walk downstairs, I consider this my ‘going home at the end of the day’. If you cannot create a separate area, try to create a way in which you can put away ‘work’ to assist you to move into ‘home’ mode. Make sure that you have invested in a comfortable chair too – your back is important to maintain.
Health and wellbeing
Ensuring that your physical and mental health is on good form is also vital to make homeworking a success. Much as you would on a normal workday in the office, make sure that you have regular breaks during the day including setting aside time for lunch.
Taking the time to stay active (particularly with gyms closing in this second lockdown) will be an important aspect in an individual’s wellbeing. Everyone’s needs are very different and specific to them personally, so make sure to take the steps which work best for you.
For physical health, I have found that working out three mornings a week before I start work sets me up for the day. I will never be an Olympian, but the training keeps me flexible and energised. You will find the best way for you, and it’s important to listen to your body. If you are tired, take a break. This also helps with mental health and will assist in avoiding feeling overworked.
Day-to-day, we do not know how much our contact with others is going to be restricted. Over the past few months, as restrictions from the first lockdown began to lift, I found it important to have as much contact as possible when the opportunity is possible. Entering a second lockdown will be mentally tasking for many as we flood back to our screens for even more video calls. However, communication with all social circles in this time is necessary to keep both wellbeing and work performance high.
Before the pandemic, I would regularly meet clients in London and the South-East. There were also regular social events and professional group meetings which have been brought to a halt during the pandemic. Although face-to-face meetings have ended, I still manage to continue with the meetings virtually, and while video calls may not have the personal touch of an in-person conversation, they can be imperative in keeping contacts close and staying in the loop. With social contact now limited outside of the house, regular Zoom meetings with colleagues and professional groups are a great way to avoid feeling isolated with ‘cabin fever’. Zoom is also a great tool in allowing family lawyers to continue to engage with clients for consultations and for mediation.
For many, it is also helpful to have external support. I have worked with a business coach for a number of years, and I find that our sessions together, whether this be face-to-face or virtual, regenerate me.
For lawyers, mental health and work performance can often be interlinked, even outside of a pandemic. In these testing times as the profession learns to adapt, it has never been more important for a family lawyer to consider their wellbeing.
Linda Lamb is a solicitor and director at LSL Family Law
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