Responding to the Pandemic: Resources for Attorneys Working Remotely

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Replicate What Works Best For You

There may be as many articles advising on best practices to work from home as there are attorneys in the workforce. While some suggestions are less applicable to legal work than others, often the simplest approach is best: take stock of what about your workplace makes you productive and do your best to replicate those qualities at home. 

For starters, it’s paramount to have structure and get into a daily rhythm. Stick to your regular morning routine, eat breakfast, and pause to appreciate the extra time you have since you are not commuting today.  If you are a morning gym person and now find yourself without a facility due to the temporary closures, try to do some sort of physical activity whether it is outside—with proper social distancing—or at home with or without gym equipment.  If your body is accustomed to morning exercise, a sudden shift away from this habit may throw your day off balance more than you initially realize. 

Next, you’ll want to assess how your work-from-home environment compares to a normal day at the office.  Are you used to a relatively quiet office with few interruptions but now have family members, especially young children, who are competing for your attention? You may need to shift to start working a bit earlier and accept that you will need more frequent breaks to attend to your family’s needs.  Creating schedules for your school-age children and sticking to them on the weekdays will give them much-needed structure by making it feel more like school. Temporarily loosening screen-time restrictions may also be a worthwhile tradeoff for the time being.

Conversely, are you used to a relatively busy office and now find yourself in a quiet apartment?  You may instead need to build in some interruptions to make your day progress more “normally.” One method that many who work from home have found focuses their attention and energy is the Pomodoro Technique. In short, this calls for you to plan your work as much as possible in 25-minute chunks (“pomodoros”), each followed by a 3-5 minute break.  After several pomodoros, you should take a longer break (15-30 minutes). Use the time to refresh your coffee, check your messages, or do whatever you would normally do at the office for a quick break. The relative shortness of the working time allows you to maintain focus while the breaks will make your day seem more like a busy day at the office with regular interruptions.

In addition to the strictly work-related conversations you have in an office every day, any communal workspace also provides daily “watercooler moments.” We may not realize how valuable these interactions are until a situation like a sudden shift to working from home occurs.  Find some time throughout the day to recreate these moments by checking in on co-workers to maintain a sense of cohesion in a chaotic time. Even better, if you have a scheduled team call, make an effort to spend a few minutes to ask how everyone is doing instead of jumping right into business. 

Move. Whether it’s a walk around the block with your dog, checking on the kids in another room, or even doing a few stretches, for many people working from home means more sitting than your body may be used to.  Listen to your Apple Watch, set a reminder on your phone, or just make a point to stand every hour.

Set “defined” boundaries and endpoints for your work.  For attorneys, this is easier said than done, but working from home means work can naturally stretch more easily into family and dinner time than if you had to leave the office and commute.  If you can, close your laptop, ask the family how they’re doing–or, if you live alone, check up on a friend who is also working from home alone–and revisit work emails after what would be your usual break to commute home.

Finally, for those accustomed to being in an office, it can be difficult to appreciate all the work you’ve actually accomplished in a day if you’re doing it in a room next to where you had your breakfast.  Take a moment to appreciate all that you were able to accomplish remotely today and take a moment to appreciate that your job affords you this luxury.

Mental Health Resources

With the shift to remote-working and social distancing comes the potential for increased isolation and loneliness and it is important to maintain good mental health.  Mental health professionals have offered specific guidance. As ATL recently detailed here, some suggestions by law firm mental health consultant and certified alcohol and drug counselor Patrick Krill are to limit pandemic-related news and media intake to combat anxiety, and as lawyers already have an increased risk for isolation and loneliness, it is important to schedule and follow-through on times to check-in with family and friends via video.   National and local bar associations also offer mental health resources for attorneys. The ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs has a centralized online COVID-19 mental health resource center with a range of mental health resources for legal professionals during COVID-19, including information on crisis support lines, online support groups for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, articles and books on coping strategies, and guidelines for law firm operations and management.  The Lawyers Depression Project also offers a confidential forum and bi-monthly online peer to peer support group meetings for those in the legal profession suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

We are also grateful to see many firms implementing wellness and mental health initiatives, including resources such as licensed therapists, certified coaches, meditation programs, billable hour credit for time spent on mental health/mindfulness, and having dedicated firm-wide directors of wellbeing.