I had to get to know myself (my strengths, struggles, skills, unique talents, etc.) to find the right career path. I had to learn to listen to myself and not to what others thought would be a good career for me.
As the current global pandemic continues to restrict physical boundaries, thousands of lawyers worldwide have transitioned from their office to home, facing a prominent struggle to find their work-life balance in the midst of personal and professional challenges. Here are 5 effective tips to ensure a healthy balance in your life, while maximizing productivity.
As a lawyer who is brand new to running a freelance business from home, I notice a comforting solidarity with our whole profession. Responding to COVID-19, we are all in a place where we have been forced to change, adapt, and embrace new ways of working and living. To varying degrees, we are all in the throes of transition.
Rigidity is a common lawyer characteristic. It is easy to rely on checklists, guidelines, policies, and tried-and-true advice. We expect that these formulas will achieve the intended result because we followed a ‘plan.’ Sometimes, however, we realize that there is no pre-charted course forward from where we are. This is true for most of us right now. We have to figure things out as we go. How do we do that? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Acknowledge the Negatives
It is difficult to embrace change when we are focussed on all the negatives that change has caused, but we do have to process our losses. There are likely real downsides to COVID-induced changes. Perhaps you have experienced loss of income, extra work, loneliness, health anxieties, a steep learning curve with new processes, and difficulties while working from home.
Grant yourself permission to grieve your losses. It is helpful to largely focus on the positives, but we know it is counter-productive to repress our negative emotions. This is an unprecedented time. It is understandable to struggle. Only when we have acknowledged our struggles can we move forward. If you feel like you are drowning, stop to calmly reflect on why you are feeling down. If this reflection is easier while accompanied by a pint of ice cream, a glass of wine, a run, or a bubble bath, indulge (responsibly, of course). Consider this a break-up with life as you know it. You have certainly waded through adversity before, and you will triumph again!
2.Focus on the Positives
So, you have allowed yourself a brief pity party. It is time to move on. There are things to be grateful for, and I am sure some of them might be COVID-related too. For me, I have enjoyed more time with my husband. With less running around in the evenings and weekends, we have had time to learn to bake bread, read books, garden, enjoy our neighbourhood, and obsessively watch a few law enforcement TV dramas. I have reconnected on a heart-level with things I took for granted, like long visits with friends and going to church. I have also felt confirmed in my vocation of at-home remote work. Starting a home-based business seems more acceptable now.
What positive changes have you noticed in your own life and work lately? If it helps, physically make a list of good things. If you cannot easily think of big things, acknowledge the little things, like a good cup of morning coffee. Make brainstorming the positives a regular and intentional focus to lift you out of your blues.
3.Translate Reflections to Future Plans Values
It can be hard to make plans in times of uncertainty. When I cannot predict the future to a degree that allows me to make concrete plans, I find it helpful to translate my reflections on positives and negatives to values that I can focus on going forward.
For example, we had to cancel a trip to Scotland that was scheduled for this month. While this was a loss to grieve, my disappointment highlighted a value I did not know I held: celebrating our family heritage. While we cannot plan a rescheduled trip in the immediate future, we can plan to let that value steer us towards cultural celebration. On the day when we were supposed to leave, we donned the family tartan, ate Scottish trifle, and had a wee dram of the good stuff.
I have talked to countless lawyers who are used to working in big offices and have had to work from home temporarily. Most of them enjoy it. Some of them might use this newly discovered self-knowledge to consider how they can advocate for more flexible working arrangements when things go back to ‘normal.’ While we cannot always plan ahead concretely, we can lean into our values and focus on how we can implement them in the future. This future-focus can greatly assist us in challenging times.
4.Maintain Empathy and Help Others
This is the simplest and most important suggestion for times of change, so it will be this post’s concluding word. As I have heard others say, we are all in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat. Quite simply, remember to be kind, and remember that everyone is doing the best they can. Comparison will not help you or others. You always have something to offer, and it is also okay to ask for help. If you need a hand with legal research assistance, please reach out to Flex Legal Network!
Kathleen is a freelance lawyer with Flex Legal. She assists lawyers with legal research and all their drafting needs. You can read more about Kathleen's experience here.
Do some days just fly by and you feel like you worked all day but got nothing done? Do you wake up and realize that it’s Friday and you didn’t accomplish half the stuff you were supposed to that week? I’ve been there! I understand how hectic running a law practice and a business can be. Below are 5 of my top productivity tips for busy lawyers:
1.Lists, Lists, Lists
Lists are not for everyone, but for some they can be a lifesaver. I have a main list of my open files and the next steps to take on them. Then on Monday morning of each week, I set my weekly "To-Do" list, divided into four parts:
1) My legal work (priority files, next steps)
2) My business work (marketing, admin, blog writing)
3) My volunteer work (meetings, next events to organize) and
4) Personal List (birthday presents to buy, class trip forms to return, house maintenance, etc.).
Under each list, the most important task goes first. Prioritize those tasks. Emergencies come up that might take you away from your list, but once they are dealt with you have your list of tasks (in order of priority) to ground you. If an item does not get done that week, I add it to the list the following week. If a task is not on the list, I forget about it, and it doesn’t get done. So, for me, my lists are all important.
2.Find Your Most Productive Time and Respect It
I belong to a business book club for women entrepreneurs. One of the first books we read was The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey. The main takeaway for me was to find the time of day that I was most productive and to block off that time for work only. For me, I am most productive between 7am-11am and then again between 1pm-3pm. I block that time off for the work that requires my strict attention and my deep-thinking skills. The rest of the time I schedule my phone calls, meetings, answer emails, take a break, exercise, eat, do routine tasks, admin, etc. Everyone has different times for their peak productivity – when is that for you?
3.Give up Perfectionism
This is a hard one for me. I desire perfection. However, perfection is a myth that cannot be achieved in law and this quest for perfection hurts my productivity. I end up spending a lot longer on a factum or pleading or legal opinion than I need to, leaving less time for other important tasks on my list, and I cannot bill for that extra time spent. As Lorne Michaels from Saturday Night Live said: “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” It helps when I set a deadline or time limit for my work.
4. Say “No” When You Need To
I wrote a blog post on my personal website called “Building a Legal Practice: Say “Yes” Until it is Time to Say “No”” I’ve learned that it is important to say “yes” to new opportunities to build your brand, bring in clients, increase business, but you must be careful of burnout. Be selective of the files you take on, the volunteer opportunities, the speaking engagements, etc. Is the opportunity one that you are excited about? One that brings in some money? Or, one that will help build your personal brand? Assess the opportunity before you say “yes” and add another thing to your to-do list.
5.Delegate, delegate, delegate.
Are you doing admin tasks that are taking you away from your legal practice? Is there a part of your client in-take process that can be automated? Are there routine steps that a junior lawyer or law clerk can do to free up your time? I understand why lawyers feel like they must do everything (they are ultimately responsible for their law practice), but you are the billing lawyer. You are making the money. You should not spend the majority of your time doing non-billable work. Have your assistant answer the phones or outsource this to a call service, automate your intake process or automate your social media posts, consider outsourcing any overflow legal work to freelance lawyers…there are so many ways to free up your time so you can focus on the work that you really want to do!
What are your productivity hacks?
The holiday season is right around the corner, and while it may be a time of joy and laughter for some lawyers, for others it is a time of increased stress, anxiety and depression. Lawyers may be overwhelmed trying to balance family obligations and holiday preparations with all of the work they must finish before the year end. Others may find that the season reminds them that they are estranged from their families or are alone over the holidays. These feelings are often mixed with higher alcohol consumption due to the multiple festive parties hosted by law firms and legal associations.
It is important that lawyers put their mental health first during this time of the year. There are several resources available to lawyers who may be struggling over the next few weeks:
1. The Law Society of Ontario’s Member Assistance Program (MAP)
The MAP is a confidential service funded by (but fully independent of) the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) and LawPro. The MAP is provided by Homewood Health and provides secure telephone access to counselling, coaching, online resources and peer volunteers. Members can get professional help with issues related to addictions, mental or physical health, work-life balance, career, family and more. This program is open to lawyers, paralegals, law students or paralegal students. Similar lawyer assistance programs can be found in each province.
2. Your Employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
If you are employed by a law firm or you are in-house or work for the government, your employer likely has an EAP that you can access as well. An EAP is similar to the MAP discussed above but is provided by your firm/company.
3. The Canadian Bar Association’s Wellness Subcommittee
This committee exists to help legal professionals manage personal, emotional, health and wellness challenges. Their website provides several resources including a free online course: “Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession”.
4. The LSO’s Coach and Advisor Network (CAN)
While the CAN does not provide counselling or therapy, it provides an opportunity to reach out to Coaches or Advisors who are practicing lawyers and paralegals. Sometimes stress can be alleviated by simply talking through a legal issue with another lawyer. An “Advisor” provides a one-off 30-minute phone call to deal with substantive law or procedure in the context of a particular client file. Being paired with a “Coach” is a longer commitment (approx. three months) that deals with assistance with practice management systems or skills development. This program is free. See our blog post on this service here.
5. PracticePro by LawPro
PracticePro is an online source that provides risk management, claims prevention and law practice management information to Ontario Lawyers. They have a section on Wellness and Balance that provides some helpful information.
6. The Ontario Bar Association’s Mindful Lawyer CPD Series
The OBA has archived videos that are complimentary for OBA members focusing on mental wellness. There are 19 different videos with helpful topics ranging from: “Re-Setting Your Priorities: How Can You Be a Happier Lawyer?” to “Support Networks for Lawyers Who Work Alone” and “Avoid Burnout: Train for Resilience”.
7. Lawyers with Depression – Blog
This is a blog by an American attorney, Dan Lukasik (and guest authors) to help law students, lawyers, and judges cope with and heal from depression.
8. Flex Legal Network
Yes, we can be a resource as well for lawyers struggling this season. If you are a lawyer who is overwhelmed with work, consider outsourcing some of your tasks to our qualified freelance lawyers. Most of our work is litigation based (although we do assist with some corporate work as well). In particular we can assist with drafting, legal research, court appearances, etc. For more information see our Services page and our FAQs.
We also prepared a blog miniseries addressing mental wellness called “Balancing the Bar” that features three mini-mental-workouts: Mindful Breathing; Managing Stress by Expanding Your Vision; and Transform Tension.
We hope this blog post helps and if you know of any other resources we should add, please reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you work from home or hope to work from home more often?
As freelance lawyers who work remotely we know it is not always easy. You can read some of Erin's tips for successful remote working for freelance lawyers (and regular lawyers alike) in the article: The Lawyer's Guide to Working from Home in Precedent Magazine's Fall 2018 Issue.
Do you have any other suggestions for a better remote working experience?
Happy New Year! We hope you took some time over the holidays to connect with family and friends, but also with yourself. We are back at it over here at Flex and very much looking forward to making 2017 fantastic. We are continuing with our Wellbeing Workout series and hope that these bite sized daily practices help support you in your success. We know that when we "be well", we "do well".
Today, we are going back to building the connection between mind & body. This meditation helps develop an awareness of how stress and tension may be manifesting in our bodies and provides a way to release it. This is a fantastic practice to remember on those particularly challenging days.
DAILY DOSE: Breathe In CALM; Breathe Out TENSION
Find a comfortable seated position.
Tighten your fists; and release them (x3)
Hike up your shoulders; and drop them down (x3)
Scrunch up your face; and release the muscles (x3)
Now, become aware of your entire body as you breathe in;
As you breathe out, visualize the release of tension in your body.
Allow your body to relax into this breathwork.
On the INHALE, say silently: I breathe in calm.
On the EXHALE, say silently: I breathe out tension.
Repeat the practice with your eyes closed so you can be fully present.
Repeat this breath-cycle of "I breathe in calm; I breathe out tension" 5 times.
Ashleigh Frankel, a former lawyer with Flex Legal Network, is also an applied mindfulness specialist & transformational leadership coach. During articling, Ashleigh began to develop her mindfulness practice to survive and thrive within the profession. The tools have been so transformational, that she went back to University of Toronto to complete intensive study in mindfulness & mindfulness meditation, with the vision to bring these resources to others to support their success. We hope you enjoy this mini-series.