How to manage stress in the legal profession

How to manage stress in the legal profession

 

With the effects of Covid-19, in 2020, lawyers, law firms and legal teams have found themselves working from home on an immediate, semi-permanent basis. Considering that most lawyers are able to carry the majority of their work from any location, at any time, they are arguably good candidates to take advantage of flexible working.

However, as with any workplace change, culture, ways of working and employees are invariably impacted, and businesses therefore need to adapt in order to thrive in the new environment.

The aim of the article is to help legal professionals work from home more effectively, by providing practical advice on reducing stress, solving communication issues and managing remote teams.

 

Dealing with stress and mental health

 

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, lawyers who attempted flexi-working felt pressure to overperform. Law firms are a breeding ground for presenteeism – the perceived importance of being seen at your desk and hitting billable hours targets well into the evenings and weekends.

In a team, stress promotes more sickness absence, higher staff turnover, complaints, grievances and decreased performance, meaning that employers are addressing the ‘wellness’ issue head on, and certainly more proactively during the Coronavirus pandemic.

 

To manage the potential stress, flexible working requires a hefty dose of self-regulation. Here are a few ideas:

  • Define clear parameters with your clients and your team around when you’ll be available
  • Create a plan for your day, including a realistic start and end time. It’s important to switch off
  • Organise regular catch-ups with your team to avoid something important slipping through the net
  • Take regular breaks. You wouldn’t worry about taking a break for a cup of tea in the office – you shouldn’t at home
  • Speak to your team to make sure you have the equipment and technology you need for effective remote working, including high-speed internet access and any agreed-upon software
  • See LexisNexis’ practice note Dealing with stress and mental ill health in the workplace on the impact of work-related stress and mental health issues in the workplace and employees. It offers advice on  how a business and line manager can fully support employees, outlining minimum legal obligations and showcasing best practice

 

Communication

 

Communication is key when working remotely. A wide range of options in video-conferencing solutions means that face-to-face meetings are easier to replicate than ever, and chat platforms like Slack can make collaborative working quick and easy and keep the lines of communication open.

However, communicating virtually throws up more challenges than are immediately obvious, particularly when communicating online becomes the new, and every day, normal. Our tips for avoiding common issues for virtual meetings are as follows:

  • Ensure you allocate a host or chair who can help steer the conversation proactively and allow everyone to have to the chance to speak. Unfortunately, online meetings make missing the usual conversational queues very easy. A slight technical glitch and someone’s point is lost, they are accidentally talked over, or shy away from raising their point at all
  • Be clear on the format and expectations so everyone knows what’s happening. During change, it can be beneficial to provide a supportive and clear atmosphere and set objectives for the meeting beforehand. This is not only reassuring, but also ensures a success outcome to the meeting
  • Avoid common technology issues by sending joining instructions to meeting in the online invite, including screen shots on how to use the platform if you feel it’s necessary. This kind of preparation is perhaps more needed for formal or legal meetings being conducted online, rather internal team meetings
  • Our practice note Managing virtual meetings offers further tips and hints on running these meetings professionally and effectively, be it internally, with clients or senior stakeholders.

 

Managing teams remotely

 

Similarly, managing teams of lawyers remotely requires line managers and employers to focus on getting the basics right. Managing a remote team varies widely from managing a team in an office, here are our hints and tips:

  • Keep in touch regularly, but not too regularly. It is a common error to overload your virtual team with meetings, which can lead to burn out and frustrations on the part of the employee. Video calling via Teams or Skype can be far more personal than a phone call, so make the technology work for you
  • Consider how you can use your touchpoints for improving your bonding as a team. Virtual teams lunches, quiz evenings and informal chats are good for team moral and inclusivity
  • It’s also important to consider more informal channels of communication – many teams also find that group chats on Whatsapp can be beneficial for boosting team morale and feeling “connected”, counteracting the loneliness that can stem from solitary working
  • Our practice note Managing remote teams will help you to get the tone and balance right when managing a team remotely come with practice. It offers fundamental advice on shifting your management style to better fit with remote management whilst getting the most out of your team

 

Businesses need to help create environments that nurture talent and manage legal employee’s wellbeing effectively. This is more challenging when working remotely, as the usual communication queues and motivational tools can become lost online.

Lexis®PSL offers practice notes, precedents, forms and timelines—helping you to win cases, close deals and save time in your day-to-day role.

 

Click here to take a free trial.

 

 

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About the author:

Amy is an established writer and researcher, having contributed to publications, such as The Law Society, LPM, City A.M. and Financial IT. Her role at LexisNexis UK involved leading content and thought leadership, as well as writing research reports, including "The Bellwether Report 2020, Covid-19: The next chapter" and "Are medium-sized firms the change-makers in legal?"